Jeb Bush knows just how to crush Vladimir Putin: He'll do exactly what Obama's doing, but harder!

In his final pre-campaign tuneup, Jeb is pledging to impose sanctions on Russia. That sounds familiar, no?

By Jim Newell
Published June 10, 2015 11:58AM (EDT)
  (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Jeb Bush is bolstering his foreign policy credentials by taking a plane ride to Europe and delivering speeches to friendly parties. There's this fellow, Putin, over there in Russia, he told attendees at a speech in Berlin on Tuesday ahead of visits to Poland and Estonia. And guess what? Jeb Bush simply does not care for this Vladimir Putin guy. Some really bold foreign policy stuff here -- though oddly enough, one area where his foreign policy judgment may differ from that of his brother.

So Jeb Bush hates Putin and wants to check Russian regional aggression, got it. He does not believe that the Obama administration is doing enough to show Putin that there will be consequences to Russia violating the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors, got it. If he is President, Jeb Bush will stand up to Vladimir Putin, by doing various unspecified things! Got it?

"Putin, [Bush said], must know in advance that there will be consequences to his actions," the AP writes, "because the Russian president is a ruthless pragmatist who 'will push until someone pushes back.'" Indeed, this is the precise psychological diagnosis that practically every person in the world has made of Vladimir Putin -- including the current spineless president, Barack Obama. So what does Bush want to do differently re: Putin? He wants to impose sanctions on Russia until it curbs its abuses! As in... the precise path that the Obama administration is following now.

Bush was critical of what he termed a reactive approach to crisis in Eastern Europe by the Obama administration. But his prescriptions were largely along the lines of what the U.S. is already doing, primarily pushing economic sanctions on Russia and sending military equipment and economic aid to Ukraine.

This, of course, came just after Obama visited Germany himself and dangled the threat of tougher sanctions before Russia.

This is only the most recent example of a Republican presidential candidate criticizing the Obama administration for not taking a hard enough line, and then pledging to take a harder line that's more or less exactly what the Obama administration is already doing. (Plus a few extra touches, like boldly calling for Ukraine's entry into NATO, which continues to not seem like a good or properly thought-out idea.)

In the 2012 cycle, Mitt Romney went around bashing the Obama administration's Iran policy for not applying nearly enough pressure on Tehran. He'd offer his prescription repeatedly: "crippling sanctions." It was delightful, really, to watch Romney emphasize crippling with each successive utterance, as those he was about to beat himself up just to demonstrate how crippling they would be. Of course, umpteen layers of sanctions had already been imposed on Iran and the administration was able to do something with that shortly after the Iranian elections in 2013.

And now, of course, we have Marco Rubio, the child senator who's marketing himself as some sort of 60-year veteran of the State and Defense Departments, respected and feared in equal measure by all of America's worldly adversaries. Rubio put out a statement criticizing Obama's ISIS strategy and, as he's been doing so much recently, responded by calling for... precisely the strategy that the administration has been pursuing. According to Rubio, the missing ingredient is "leadership." If you put Marco Rubio in there, his more leadership-y visage will somehow be the key to convincing Turkey and Saudi Arabia to throw hundreds of thousands of troops into Syria and Iraq.

How nice it would be if a Republican candidate came along and said that various problems in the world are difficult to solve overnight and being president is about putting in place structures to eventually bend results in a positive direction. But that sounds boring. Our next Republican leader will promise to squash out all the bad guys overnight, with leadership, you'll see!

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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