Jeb Bush playing to all sides of the Republican foreign policy spectrum

Friday 01/05/2015
Making choices

Washington - Jeb Bush, a likely Republi­can presidential contender, is a novice in the foreign policy field. In this respect, he is more like his brother-president George W. Bush than his father-president George H.W. Bush.

While the latter is more identified with the “realist” school of foreign policy, the former, especially after 9/11, is associated with “neo-con­servatives” who wanted to bring about regime change in Iraq and transform the Middle East.

Seemingly unsure where to plant his staff, and wanting to attract as much Republican Party support as possible before the gruelling prima­ry season, Jeb Bush has gathered around him a group of advisers that represent both foreign policy wings of the Republican Party. How he reconciles these two wings is a guessing game.

Bush’s political credentials come from his stint as governor of Flori­da, a state that is connected to Latin America because of trade with and immigration from that region. With his Mexican-born wife and his flu­ency in Spanish, Bush can speak with some authority about Latin American affairs but his knowledge of and political fluency in Middle East affairs is limited.

All we know is that he is a strong supporter of Israel and has praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netan­yahu’s address to Congress on the Iran nuclear issue. But all of the de­clared and undeclared Republican presidential candidates have done the same, so Bush is clearly in the middle of the pack.

To establish his foreign policy credentials, Bush gave a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Af­fairs in February. The speech was noteworthy only for his attempt to distance himself somewhat from his father and brother, saying that while he loves them both, he is his “own man” and that his views are shaped by his “own thinking and own experiences”.

On the controversial issue of the Iraq war of 2003, Bush offered some criticism of his brother’s adminis­tration but not of his brother, say­ing “some mistakes” were made, particularly on intelligence matters and for failing to provide for secu­rity in the post-invasion period. The rest of the speech centred on US President Barack Obama.

Like other Republicans, Bush has said that Obama has made the United States less influential in the world. He added that the United States should have “no reason to apologise for our leadership and our interest in serving the cause of global security, global peace and global freedom”. Presumably, the last phrase was added by his neo-conservative advisers who still yearn for his brother’s so-called Freedom Agenda.

In addition, Bush called for: more economic growth at home to aid US force abroad; increased defence spending; greater global engage­ment and a strategy to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS); the need to face “radical Islamic terrorism”; and a “liberty diplomacy”, which is based on American values of “individual­ism and liberty”.

He then criticised the negotia­tions that led to improved relations with Cuba, said the West should provide more military help to Ukraine and praised the congres­sional invitation to Netanyahu.

These were all standard Repub­lican positions. Where he tried to distance himself somewhat from the pack was his comment that the United States needs an immigra­tion reform policy (sounding like Obama) because multiculturalism is “one of America’s strengths”.

So who is advising him on these positions? The list is a sort of Who’s Who in the Republican foreign pol­icy field. They include realists such as former secretaries of state James Baker and George Shultz, and for­mer Middle East adviser to George H.W. Bush, Richard Haass, now president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

They also include a few neo-con­servatives, such as Paul Wolfow­itz, a former deputy secretary of defence under George W. Bush, and former adviser to former vice-president Dick Cheney, John Han­nah. The list includes former CIA directors Michael Haydon and Por­ter Goss.

An unnamed Republican foreign policy veteran told a reporter that Jeb Bush is “trying to be everything to everybody”.

Perhaps because his foreign policy speech in Chicago was not a rousing success, Bush recently hired a couple of congressional staff members to give more life and more direction to his foreign policy. They include Robert Karem, who was a foreign policy adviser to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and later to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.); and John Noonan, who was spokes­man for the House Armed Services Committee and a former defence adviser to former Republican presi­dential candidate Mitt Romney.

Although Karem and Noonan are more on the side of the real­ists, they will have to placate the neo-conservatives for the time be­ing. The latter’s wings have been clipped because of the problems as­sociated with the Iraq war but they are still a force within the party.

Ultimately, Jeb Bush will have to choose one side or the other but he is unlikely to do so before the pri­maries, which will consume the first half of 2016.