CORALVILLE, Iowa — Jeb Bush believes he’s got the best prescription for American foreign policy, from his strategies for deterring North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, to destroying the Islamic State.
However, unlike his rivals in the crowded 2016 Republican race for the White House, Bush’s foreign policy pitch comes with a caveat: he’s as much his own man, as he is a member of the Bush family.
In an extended interview with The Associated Press, the former Florida governor praised the approach of his father, former President George H.W. Bush, who built a broad coalition to wage the Persian Gulf War, and mobilized U.S. military might to drive Iraq out of Kuwait.
Jeb Bush says the aggressive military policy he would pursue as President Barack Obama’s successor would signal to the world “we’re back in the game.”
While he said he would seek the advice of his brother, George W. Bush, in foreign affairs, especially on the Middle East, a Jeb Bush doctrine would more closely resemble that of Bush the father.
“It was a very successful foreign policy and one that I think one could envision a bipartisan consensus emerging around,” Jeb Bush said of his father’s approach, “and one the American people could support.”
He speaks of using military intervention “sparingly” but with “awesome force,” taking a page out of the playbook of Colin Powell, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under his father and as his brother’s first secretary of state.
Powell laid out a doctrine of “overwhelming force” which he applied in the 1990 Gulf War. But Jeb Bush stresses the need for a military and political strategy to play out hand-in-hand.
“The one ingredient that I think is so essential is to not just have a military exit strategy, but have a political strategy not create another void that has to be filled again…where we have to respond again to that void being filled,” he said. “Syria is a good example of that.”
When Obama leaves office in a year, he’ll hand his successor military conflicts in the two countries in which he vowed to end prolonged wars: Afghanistan and Iraq. There will be far fewer troops in each, and the American forces there do not have a direct combat role.
U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq in late 2011, despite failed last-minute negotiations between the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to leave some behind. Some viewed the withdrawal as an end to a dark legacy in U.S. foreign policy, while others say it created the security vacuum which ultimately gave rise of the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
Still, while Jeb Bush urges a forceful stance against Islamic extremism, his rhetoric has been far more subdued to that of some of his rivals — among them, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who vowed to carpet bomb areas in which the Islamic State operates, suggesting civilians would be caught in that campaign; and billionaire Donald Trump, who vowed to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States to prevent attacks — comments that sparked widespread international condemnation.
At Thursday’s debate, for example, he cautioned that America shouldn’t be “the world’s policeman” but that it should take measures to protect its own national interest and its allies.
He was the only Republican candidate to denounce Trump’s proposal at Thursday’s Republican debate, noting that the United States needs support from Muslim nations such as Egypt and Jordan to move on the Islamic State.
“All Muslims? Seriously? What kind of signal does that send to the rest of the world?” Jeb Bush said to Trump on stage in South Carolina.
While he continues to lag behind some of his more outspoken rivals in the polls, his comments may have earned him the coveted endorsement of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said Friday that Jeb Bush “has stayed true to who he is (and) hasn’t tried to get ahead in a contested primary by embracing demagoguery.”
Jeb Bush has said in interviews that he holds different policy opinions from George W. Bush, but he has never criticized his older brother, who left office in 2009 with a foreign policy legacy that many warned could haunt his younger brother’s presidential ambitions.
“Having gone through what he did, most of his tenure as president was defined in a lot of ways by what was going on in the Middle East,” Jeb Bush told the AP. “His knowledge and insights would be invaluable.”
He said he would seek the advice of his father, his brother and all the former presidents, if elected, but admitted that with Obama: “I don’t know if I would agree with his advice.”
Jeb Bush commended his brother’s approach to other major foreign policy issues, particularly engagement with China, his efforts to fight AIDS in Africa and his ability to maintain close ties to Israel, a relationship he said the Obama administration has left to sour.
The former governor says Obama leaves behind a legacy of “leading from behind,” one he claims the current Democratic front-runner and President Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will inevitably continue.
His criticism of Obama echoes that of his Republican rivals. All of them have expressed their disdain for the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, vowing to reverse it if they win the White House. And they say countries like North Korea would never step out of line if America asserted itself more forcefully.
Jeb Bush pointed to reports last week of an alleged hydrogen bomb test in North Korea. Bush said he would keep all options open for dealing with North Korea, but stopped short of calling for a pre-emptive strike against it.
However, he said he would consider reinstating sanctions on North Korea that were lifted under his brother’s presidency.
“With North Korea, we should make sure they understand this rogue status that they seek won’t yield a good result. It will be an ugly result for the regime,” he said.
“If people believe we’re serious about engagement, and they know we’ll use that kind of force, it will deter the kind of aggression that requires it.”