Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave his first foreign policy address since indicating he is exploring a 2016 run for the White House and aimed to distinguish himself from his brother and father, both former presidents.
He told the audience “I am my own man,” even though he is seeking guidance from many of their former advisers.
Bush told attendees at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs he is “fortunate to have a father and a brother who both have shaped America’s foreign policy from the Oval Office.”
“I recognize that, as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs,” he said. “Look, just for the record, one more time: I love my brother, I love my dad. Actually, I love my mother as well. I hope that’s OK. And I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make. But I am my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences. Each president learns from those who came before -- their principles, their adjustments. One thing we know is this: Every president inherits a changing world and changing circumstances.”
He noted that in 1991, during the “Gulf War time frame” when his father was in office, “hardly anyone knew the Internet existed or who al Qaeda was,” and in 2003 when his brother was in the White House “at the beginning of the liberation of Iraq, neither Twitter nor ISIS existed.”
“New circumstances require new approaches,” he said.
Despite that distinction, he said he “grew up politically, I guess, in the ‘80s, where I got to watch Ronald Reagan and my dad with incredible people serving by their side ... and the slogan that I think drove the foreign policy of the ‘80s was peace through strength.”
Bush spent most of his speech criticizing President Obama and his foreign policy. But he did note mistakes of “past presidents,” without mentioning other names, saying U.S. presidents often mistake elections for democracy, mentioning Venezuela, Hamas and Hezbollah as examples.
“These groups are not supportive of democracy,” Bush said.
Bush also noted “mistakes” were made in Iraq, such as "using the intelligence capability that everyone embraced about weapons of mass destruction [that] turned out not to be accurate." But he said his brother, President George W. Bush performed a “heroic act of courage,” by implementing the 2007 troop surge, adding that ISIS filling a “void” could have been prevented by President Obama.
He warned that it is a “mistake to think that ISIS is not what it is, it’s violent extreme Islamic terrorism,” adding that to defeat it, it’s necessary to “tighten the noose and take them out.”
“The more we try to ignore that reality, the less likely it is that we are going to develop the appropriate strategy to garner the support of the Muslim world to do that,” he said.
An aide to Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee confirmed a group of 21 veteran foreign policy experts advising Bush, many of whom worked in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
The group includes former secretaries of state James Baker, who served under George H.W. Bush, and George Shultz, who served under Ronald Reagan; two former secretaries of homeland security who served under George W. Bush, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff; two former CIA directors who also served under the later Bush presidency, Michael Hayden and Porter Goss. Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security advisor was on the list, as well as former Works Bank presidents Paul Wolfowitz and Robert Zoellick. John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence, has also been advising Bush, as has John Hannah, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former national security adviser, among others.
The former Florida governor’s aide described the list as a “preliminary group of foreign policy experts” Bush will be “in touch with in coming months” to discuss “some of the challenges and opportunities on the foreign policy front.” Reuters first reported many of the names on the list.