Joe Raedle/Getty Images(CHICAGO) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday gave his first foreign policy address since indicating he is exploring a 2016 run for the White House, and aimed to distinguish himself from his brother and father — both former presidents.
Bush told attendees at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that he is “fortunate to have a father and a brother who both have shaped America’s foreign policy from the Oval Office.”
“I recognize that as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs,” he said. “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.”
Bush continued, noting in 1991 during the “Gulf War time frame” when his father was in office, that “hardly anyone knew the Internet existed or who al Qaeda was,” and in 2003, when his brother was in the White House “at the beginning of the liberation of Iraq, neither Twitter nor ISIS existed.”
“New circumstances require new approaches,” he said.
Despite that distinction, he did acknowledge 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 spent most of his speech criticizing President Obama and his foreign policy, but he did note mistakes of “past presidents” without mentioning other names. He said U.S. presidents often mistake elections for democracy, mentioning Venezuela, Hamas and Hezbollah as examples.
Bush also noted “mistakes” were made in Iraq but said that his brother showed a “heroic act of courage” by implementing the 2007 troop surge, adding that the “void” filled by ISIS could have been prevented by Obama.
“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,” Bush said. “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.”
He warned that it is a “mistake to think that ISIS is not what it is, it’s violent extreme Islamic terrorism,” adding that to defeat them it’s necessary to “tighten the noose and take them out.”
“And the more we try to ignore that reality, the less likely it is that we are going to develop the appropriate strategy to garner the support of the Muslim world to do that,” he said.
An aide to Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee confirmed a group of 21 veteran foreign policy experts advising Bush, many of whom worked in the administrations of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
The group includes former secretaries of state James Baker, who served under George H.W. Bush, and George Shultz, who served under Ronald Reagan; two former secretaries of homeland security who served under George W. Bush: Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff; and two former CIA directors who also served under the later Bush presidency: Michael Hayden and Porter Goss.
Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security advisor, is on the list, as well as former Works Bank presidents Paul Wolfowitz and Robert Zoellick. John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence has also been advising Jeb Bush, as has John Hannah, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former national security advisor, amongst others.
The former Florida governor’s aide describes the list as a “preliminary group of foreign policy experts” Bush will be “in touch with in coming months” to discuss “some of the challenges and opportunities on the foreign policy front.”
In his speech, Bush said “we definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies,” saying the president’s administration “draw(s) red lines and then erase them, with grandiosity they announce resets and then disengage, hashtag campaigns replace actual diplomacy and engagement.”
“Weakness invites war, strength encourages peace,” Bush said.
Bush stuck to his previous stance on Cuba, but said the Obama administration “lobbed insults” at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As for Netanyahu’s speech to Congress next month, Bush said he is “for one really eager to hear what he has to say.”
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