SIMI VALLEY, Calif., Aug. 11, 2015 — In his first major foreign policy speech since announcing his candidacy for president in June, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush finally gave his supporters the comprehensive explanation of his foreign policy vision that they have been waiting for. The speech was full of specifics, including arming and supporting the Kurds, engaging our allies and the strategy of a “no fly” zone in Syria in order to support our friends on the ground in their fight against both ISIS and the Assad government.
Standing in front of a sold-out crowd at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Los Angeles, Bush explained the need to “look candidly” at policies that have failed over the past eight years. “Above all,” Bush said, “what we used to call the War on Terror.”
Jeb then went on to criticize the president for not being able to even acknowledge this struggle by name.
While very different from his brother in many ways, Jeb used the word “evil” several times to clearly articulate his belief that America has an obligation as the world’s super-power to defend the defenseless and restore order to a part of the world falling apart at the seams. One couldn’t help reminiscing about the similarities between this speech and some of his brother’s speeches from a decade ago referring to the “axis of evil” and the severity of threats from that part of the world.
Foreign policy has been a sensitive subject for Bush the younger over the past several months, exacerbated by a poorly executed response to the question of whether he would have invaded Iraq “knowing what we know now.”
Jeb has stayed relatively quiet on foreign policy issues since that campaign misstep, but tonight he opted not to shy away from his brother’s Iraq legacy and instead came out swinging at Hillary and Obama for their roles in that country’s downfall.
Bush referenced the successful 2007 troop surge in Iraq as “one moment that stands out in history as the turning point we had all been waiting for” despite many ups and downs revolving around tactical errors and faulty intelligence.
That surge, which Bush dubbed a “brilliant success,” was handed to President Obama, who then, according to Jeb, committed the “fatal error” of completely withdrawing from the region and creating the void that ISIS would ultimately fill.
He also lumped Hillary into this fatal error by pointing out her initial rejection of the surge, which evolved into an eventual attempt to take credit for its success.
“Who can seriously argue that America and our friends are safer today than in 2009 when the president and Secretary Clinton, the storied team of rivals took office. So eager to be the history-makers, they failed to be the peace-makers.” Bush said to strong applause from the crowd.
Jeb made the distinction that the mistakes of Iraq are in the past and when it comes to Iran, this administration is making mistakes in the present. He hammered the “Obama, Clinton, Kerry policy of treating the mullahs in Iran as a stabilizing force in the region when in fact they are deceitful dictators causing nothing but instability.” He went on to question the rationale behind pumping $100 billion back into an Iranian economy that blatantly acts as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.
While his speech was forceful and articulate, his most authentic responses and most pointed criticisms came during the Q&A portions of his remarks.
When asked if the United States had a moral obligation to intervene in order to stop the Christian genocide taking place in the Middle East, Bush responded, “But for us, who? Who? Who will stand up for the persecuted?”
Bush took exception with the way President Obama compared those who disagree with him about the Iran deal to the “Death to America” hard-liners in Iran. Jeb incredulously asked how Obama could have the “gall” to make that comparison, considering those “hard liners” are the ones who Obama made the deal with in the first place.
“You can’t keep pushing people down who disagree with you, ascribing horrible motives to them, calling them warmongers every time they have a principled view, and make your view this illustrious intelligent view that no one in their right mind wouldn’t embrace,” Bush explained, in a clear reference to Obama’s divisive reputation and chronic struggles with working across the aisle.
Gov. Bush added that the Obama and Clinton foreign policy will be “remembered as a foreign policy based on grandiose talk and little action. It will be based on wonderful speeches and then grandiose things like red lines, Russia is a ‘regional power’ and 30 days later they invade Crimea, ISIS is the junior varsity and then they create a caliphate literally and announce their objective is to put the black flag of ISIS on top of the White House. This is the language of this administration, and their inability to back it up has created real dangers in the world. They believe in soft power. I don’t have a problem with soft power as long as there’s hard power behind it … You can’t just talk about things.”
Many have criticized Jeb Bush in the past for being too moderate and for staying above the fray, especially in the most recent debate. There was no doubt that Jeb energized the room of conservatives in the shadow of President Reagan, who still looms large in the Republican circles to this day. The mix of detailed plans and sharp jabs at his Democrat counterparts checked off all the boxes that supporters were looking for. Whether he can turn this positive momentum into a catalyst that will strengthen how people view his foreign policy stance remains to be seen.