Jeb Bush is terrible at foreign policy
There are many reasons George W. Bush was unpopular when he left office. A big one was the Great Recession, which crested and crashed down on the world in his last few months in office. Then there was Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 New Orleans debacle that helped kneecap Bush's second term in office not long after it started. But the most enduring stain on Bush's tenure is the Iraq War.
Not only is Iraq still a mess — worse, America's mess — but the effects of toppling Saddam Hussein are being felt in everything from Iran's expanding influence in the region to Islamic State's rise. So it's odd that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, making his case for following his older brother and father into the White House, would double-down on the Iraq War.
Even knowing that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Jeb Bush told Fox News' Megyn Kelly on Sunday, he would have still invaded Iraq in 2003, "and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."
First, let's dispatch with that pathetic blame-sharing nonsense. Hillary Clinton — if, for some reason, voters had elected her right after her husband — would not have invaded Iraq, and neither would President Al Gore. Both probably would have invaded Afghanistan, because, after all, that country's Taliban government was sheltering the terrorist group that had just murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, destroyed a cluster of skyscrapers, and damaged the Pentagon.
But Iraq was a textbook war of choice. There was some faulty intelligence, but it was being pushed and exaggerated by a Bush White House that wanted to invade Iraq already. I don't think that's even in dispute anymore.
Nobody named Clinton has ever invaded Iraq — in fact, since Somalia's "Black Hawk Down" incident, Democrats bomb countries; they generally don't send in ground troops. Two presidents named Bush have invaded Iraq. Voters remember that.
And just how unpopular is the Iraq War now? Last summer, some major news organizations asked voters.
In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll from June 2014, 71 percent of respondents said the Iraq war "wasn't worth it," including 44 percent of Republicans. A CBS News/New York Times poll from the same month similarly found that 75 percent of respondents said the war was not worth the costs, including 63 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of independents. Another June 2014 poll, from Quinnipiac, was a bit more favorable, with only 61 percent saying that "going to war with Iraq" was "the wrong thing." In all those polls, the Iraq War disapproval numbers have continued to inch upwards.
The biggest obstacle to a President Jeb Bush was always going to be his last name — a polite way of saying his brother. He knows that. He even jokes about it.
But because of family loyalty or pride, or the advisers he has hired from his brother's administration, or core convictions, Jeb Bush isn't willing to throw his brother under the bus. From a tactical standpoint, it must be helpful having a father and brother who have collectively won three presidential elections, but acknowledging in public that George W. Bush is your most influential adviser on Middle East affairs? That's something different.
Jeb Bush seems determined to win this or lose this as a card-carrying member of the Bush dynasty.
Is that a deal-breaker? Well, people who care about foreign policy often lament that voters don't. But that's not going to help John Ellis Bush. Because while most voters probably do vote on pocketbook issues, Republican voters are fired up about foreign policy, especially the sort of engaged partisans who vote in primaries.
And they're revved up about foreign policy because that's what Republican lawmakers and politicians and pundits have been attacking President Obama on since the economy improved enough, ObamaCare started showing positive dividends, and Osama bin Laden's death under Obama's command became a part of American history.
"Attacking President Obama's record on Israel and Iran is now one of the biggest applause lines for presidential candidates," note Josh Kraushaar and Alex Roarty at National Journal, in a write-up on a poll about how Republicans believe 2016 will be a foreign policy election.
Jeb Bush is going to have to step up his game if he wants to ride the GOP's foreign policy wave. His big coming out party on the subject wasn't promising — even with his A-list of Bush-linked advisers, he "delivered a nervous, uncertain speech on national security," reported Tim Mak and Jackie Kucinich at The Daily Beast, "full of errors and confusion."
That's something Jeb Bush can fix. After all, none of the Republican governors, former governors, senators, former CEOs, or celebrated pediatric neurosurgeons running against him have much experience with war or international diplomacy or other key elements of foreign policy, either.
But running as a Bush on foreign policy in 2016 is folly. Even if the Dick Cheney wing of the Republican Party pushes him through the primaries, it's poison in a general election. Jeb Bush has a tough choice to make: Does he want to try to resuscitate his brother's foreign policy reputation, or does he want a shot at the White House?