(Reuters/Rebecca Cook)

Shocking and awful: "Own man" Jeb Bush sounds as ill-informed on foreign policy as his brother

He mixed up Iraq and Iran, got ISIS wrong. Will “I am my own man” be the “I am not a crook” of a new generation?


Joan Walsh
February 19, 2015 8:42PM (UTC)

On Tuesday Politico told us about Jeb Bush’s “shock and awe” campaign to woo GOP donors: He rolled up so many so fast, we learned, Mitt Romney was blown out of the 2016 race before it started. On Wednesday Bloomberg's Josh Rogin told us that Bush likewise had a “shock and awe” approach to foreign policy: collecting advisors who served under at least three Republican presidents (only two of them named Bush) to show his Republican rivals that he couldn’t be challenged on that front, either.

Then came his long-awaited foreign policy speech in Chicago, where he apparently free-styled a riff about his family, acknowledging yes, his dad and brother were presidents too, but insisting “I am my own man.” Chris Cillizza found this late insert into the speech (it wasn’t in remarks distributed to reporters) rather, yes, shocking and awe-inspiring: “Assuming the Bush folks did this on purpose — and I am very strongly suspicious that they did — then it’s a very smart strategic move.”

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Maybe. But maybe Bush should have paid as much attention to getting ISIS right as he did to calibrating his remarks about his family. In the Daily Beast, Tim Mak and Jackie Kucinich had a saltier take, calling the speech “nervous, uncertain… full of errors and confusion.” Bush claimed ISIS has 200,000 members; later an aide acknowledged intelligence estimates put the number at 20,000.

Talking about the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Bush called him “the guy that’s the supreme leader or whatever his new title is—head of the caliphate.” Then he confused Iran and Iraq, and apparently pronounced Boko Haram “Beau-COUP Haram” -- maybe thinking of the beaucoup bucks he’s raised this year?

Bush may be his “own man” – but so far, on foreign policy, he’s a man who sounds a lot like George W. Bush.

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That “shock and awe” strategy of rolling up foreign policy advisors didn’t go so well, either. Maybe it seemed like a good idea to have a broad roster of support. But everyone was able to pull out the name “Paul Wolfowitz” from among the signatories, paying less attention to Robert Zoellick.

Bush’s Detroit speech on the economy wasn’t marred by the same kind of gaffes. But it was full of hot air and platitudes. He called himself a “reform conservative” but wouldn’t commit himself to any of the policy tenets of “reform conservatism,” few though they may be.

I know, I date myself, but “I am my own man” has an eerie echo of “I am not a crook,” Richard Nixon’s famous declaration after he was accused of taking gifts from campaign supporters. He was not convicted of crookery in that instance, but it added to his overall reputation for shadiness that was confirmed in Watergate.

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Some Republicans have publicly expressed doubt about whether Bush’s presumptive-nominee strategy is the right one. “It’s not a good thing for any campaign to project an air of entitlement,” former Romney advisor Eric Edelman told Josh Rogin.

But what if an air of entitlement is all you’ve got?

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Election Boko Haram Foreign Policy Iran Iraq Isis Jeb Bush Mitt Romney

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