Potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush gave his first formal address on foreign policy to the nonpartisan Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015 in Chicago. Bush tried to portray himself as “his own man” clearly distancing himself from his father George H. W. Bush (1989-1993) and his brother George W. Bush’s (2001-2009) administrations, while also sharply criticizing President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and by extension, his former Secretary of State and front-runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy positions.
The former Florida Governor spoke to an audience of 750 at Chicago’s Fairmont Hotel, where Bush’s main message from to the public and potential voters was “I am my own man.'” He did acknowledge his presidential family relations, and expressed that he was “fortunate to have a father and a brother who both have shaped America’s foreign policy from the Oval Office.” Bush took the early part of his speech to address the elephant in the room, his father and brother’s past presidencies.
Continuing, Bush stated, “I recognize that as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs. In fact, this is a great fascinating thing in the political world for some reason, sometimes in contrast to theirs. Look, just for the record, one more time, I love my brother, I love my dad, actually I love my mother as well, I hope that’s OK and I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make. But I am my own man and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences. Each president learns from those who came before — their principles, their adjustments. One thing we know is this: Every president inherits a changing world and changing circumstances.”
The present GOP frontrunner indicated that his foreign policy would be different because “New circumstances require new approaches.” Bush noted how different the landscape was when his father was president during the “Gulf War time frame” when “hardly anyone knew the Internet existed or who al Qaeda was.” Still the time was much different during his brother’s tenure and he pointed out that “at the beginning of the liberation of Iraq, neither Twitter nor ISIS existed.” Still Bush tried to turn it around and indicate the advantage of his presidential education invoking the Republican’s greatest president in the 20th century Ronald Reagan. Bush recounted that he “grew up politically I guess in the ’80s, where I got to watch Ronald Reagan and my dad with incredible people serving by their side…and the slogan that I think drove the foreign policy of the ’80s was peace through strength.”
Bush made little mention of Iraq were both his father and brother oversaw wars during their presidency. The only time Iraq was mentioned was during the question and answer period, Bush admitted, “Mistakes were made in Iraq for sure,” and admitted that the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in the country was “not accurate.” Bush indicated, “There were mistakes made in Iraq for sure — using the intelligence capability that everyone embraced about weapons of mass destruction turned out not to be accurate, not creating an environment of security after the successful taking out of Hussein was a mistake because Iraqis wanted security more than anything else.” George W. Bush’s invasion and long drawn out war in Iraq was the criticized element of his presidency.
The former governor believes his brother’s 2007 troop surge was a “heroic act of courage.” Continuing, Bush elaborated, “But my brother’s administration through the surge, which was one of the most heroic acts of courage politically that any president has done, because there was no support for it and it was hugely successful and it created a stability that when the new president came in he could have built on to create…a more stable situation that would not have allowed for the void to be filled, the void has been filled because we created the void.”
Bush admitted to the faults in his brother’s Iraq policy, but he also believes Obama’s failure to “provide post-invasion security was ‘a mistake.'” The majority of Bush’s speech criticized President Obama and his administration’s foreign policy, which he called “inconsistent and indecisive” Bush believes “The great irony of the Obama Presidency is this: Someone who came to office promising greater engagement with the world has left America less influential in the world.”
Bush points that Obama relies on too much on flash, “With grandiosity, they announce resets and disengage… Hashtag campaigns replace actual diplomacy and engagement. Personal diplomacy and maturity is replaced by leaks and personal disparagement.” Bush thinks, “America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world. Our security, our prosperity and our values demand that we remain engaged and involved in often distant places. We have no reason to apologize for our leadership and our interest in serving the cause of global security, global peace, and human freedom.”
Former Governor Bush laid out his own foreign policy with “broad principles” and specifics viewpoints relating to “Cuba, Iran, Israel, and ISIS.” Among those broad principles included a number of economic initiatives “economic growth at home, regulations and tax reforms” comprehensive immigration reform and increased defense spending. On the world stage, the U.S. needs to have “greater global engagement,” and there is an emphasis on the fight against “violent extreme Islamic terrorism” there has to be action when “red lines” are crossed, facing “non-state threats,” through increased intelligence and through the National Security Agency. Finally, he discussed “liberty diplomacy,” because “If we withdraw from the defense of liberty anywhere,” he said, “the battle eventually comes to us.”
On the specific issues, Bush was critical of Obama and the Democrats opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing Congress on Iran, Bush stated, “I’m eager to hear what he has to say. It will be important for the American people to hear…I’m surprised that the administration is upset to hear from a close and valuable ally on such a sensitive topic. If we want to build confidence and trust…we have to listen.” The former governor believes the Obama’s strategy with dealing with Iran’s nuclear weapons talks is wrong because the “goal is not to solve the problem but to manage it,” and Congress needs to pass additional sanctions should talks fail. The same with opening relations with Cuba, Bush does not think Castro should have not been allowed to stay in power, and that freedom is not just going to happen in Cuba. As for the Ukraine, Bush expressed “To ignore a request for defensive support seems feckless.”
In addition to his address, Bush also unveiled his foreign policy advising team at his Right to Rise political action committee, which includes 21 experts mostly from Reagan’s and his father’s administrations, and predominantly from his brother’s administration. They consist of former secretaries of state James Baker and George Shultz, former secretaries of homeland security Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff; and former CIA directors Michael Hayden and Porter Goss, and the national security advisor from his brother administration Stephen Hadley and John Hannah among others.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.