You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Jeb Bush's Big Speech Didn't Clarify His Confused Foreign Policy

Andrew Patron/AFP/Getty Images

In a speech Monday declaring his candidacy for president, Jeb Bush warned that our national security is threatened by the “phone-it-in foreign policy” of the “Obama-Clinton-Kerry team,” who "have failed to be the peacemakers." At the same time, he decried our impending “military inferiority” and vowed to "rebuild our armed forces."

That was just one of several foreign-policy contradictions in Bush's speech. He is trying to have it all, just as he has throughout his unofficial candidacy these past few months.

To be fair, a former Florida governor isn’t expected to have a fully formed foreign policy in the early stages of his presidential candidacy. At least Bush didn’t embarrass himself on his recent European trip, as so many other GOP candidates have. He demonstrated some ability to listen and learn, and he was smart enough to know what he couldn’t answer. “You know, I’ll talk to my national security adviser and get back to you,” he said at one point on the trip, deflecting a question about NATO.

But Jeb has made two stabs at big foreign affairs/national security events, a poorly received speech in February and the European trip, and both raised more questions than they answered about how he would distinguish himself as president. Some of his GOP rivals have managed to more definitively explain what approach they would take.

On the whole of his visit to Europe, Jeb found himself in accord with Obama on more issues than not. And naturally Jeb would rather talk more about his father than his brother in Europe, where the former has a solid reputation and the latter is generally loathed. Even in trying to avoid speaking about his brother in Europe, Jeb inadvertently reminded everyone of his familial ties to the last president: Stories that read, “Look, he’s talking about his dad, not his brother!” remind everyone who his brother is. 

Jeb has only himself to blame for the intense media attention to his position on Iraq. First, he said he would have gone to war in Iraq knowing what we know now. Then, he tried to dismiss the question because it was “hypothetical.” Finally, days later, he backtracked and said, no, he would not have supported the Iraq war after all. 

Jeb might want to be his “own man,” as he said in his February speech on national security, but even then there was some cognitive dissonance in the accompanying rollout of his advisers: 19 of 21 advised his brother and/or father.

And yet, in his speech on Monday, Bush claimed that Obama's team "is leaving a legacy of crises uncontained, violence unopposed, enemies unnamed, friends undefended, and alliances unraveling." The biggest crisis, though, was caused by Jeb's brother, who wanted to finish the job that his dad started in originally opposing the violence of Saddam Hussein. And ttraditional U.S. allies in Europe soured on the United States not because it left “friends undefended,” but because of its various overreaching national security adventures under George W. (some of which continued under Obama).

Or take his remarks on Cuba.

“Ninety miles to our south, there is talk of a state visit by our outgoing president,” Jeb said. “But we don’t need a glorified tourist to go to Havana in support of a failed Cuba. We need an American president to go to Havana in solidarity with a free Cuban people, and I am ready to be that president.”

One can imagine how eagerly Cuban government officials would welcome President Jeb Bush to Havana, knowing he’s there to tell them them off, right to their faces. As for Israel, even one of Jeb's own advisers—James Baker, who served as secretary of state under George H.W.—recently criticized President Benjamin Netanyahu for saying that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. Jeb's issued a statement saying he disagreed with Baker and vowing "unwavering" support of Netanyahu.  

“He’s trying to be everything to everybody,” one unnamed GOP foreign-policy veteran told Politico back in mid-February. Four months later, that remains no less true.