You could hear the air in the inflated balloon of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign leak out rather noisily as he made his debut foreign policy speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
As Dana Milbank ruthlessly pointed out in the Washington Post, the speech "combined his father’s awkward oratory with his brother’s mangled syntax and malapropisms" – not to mention the aura of a factually challenged foreign policy stumblebum. In what Juan Cole speculates may have been a "Freudian slip," he said Iraq when he meant Iran: and in describing the Islamic State, Jeb claimed they have 200,000 fighters when the number is a bit closer to 20,000. His people later claimed he "misspoke," but threat inflation is a distinctly Republican habit that seems inherent in the species – so who knows what he really thinks?
By the time he was through, you could see the relief on Jeb’s face as he manspreaded in his chair and took questions from the audience, at one point confessing his amateurism: "Look, the more I get into this stuff, there are some things [where] you just go, you know, ‘Holy schnikes.’ "
The voters may well have a similar reaction to his candidacy, if this speech is any indication.
American power projected abroad, Jeb averred, "is a force for good." The people of Iraq may contest this, but, hey, they aren’t voting in the next presidential election, now are they? It’s good, he says, because it’s "grounded in principle" – so what is the principle involved? Here it is:
"American leadership projected consistently and grounded in principle has been a benefit to the world. In the post-World War Two era, the United States has helped hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, secured liberty for an equal number, and has been a force for peace and security.
"Only our exceptional country can make that claim. This has happened because our presidents, both Republican and Democrats, have accepted the responsibilities of American power in the world with the belief that we are a force for good.
Let’s pass over the claim that US foreign policy has been a "force for peace and security," and just let today’s headlines out of Iraq and the Middle East speak for themselves. What’s interesting is the assertion that America’s "responsibility" is to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty when our own country is going bankrupt in the process. I’m sure both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would agree with that – but what about Republican primary voters?
Back to the drawing board, Jeb!
Having no voice or views of his own when it comes to foreign policy, Jeb does his best Bibi Netanyahu imitation, launching into a lengthy condemnation of the Obama administration’s efforts to prevent World War III in the Middle East. Iran, he avers, has attacked US "troops directly" – without offering any specifics. When? Where? How? He doesn’t say. But who needs facts when you’re channeling the Israeli Prime Minister?
"Today, four world capitals are now heavily influenced by Iran and its proxies, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Saana. Iran’s ambitions are clear in its capabilities are growing. For many years they have been developing long range missile capabilities in their own nuclear weapon program. And during those years America has opposed those efforts."
Ah yes, Baghdad – once a gleaming capital bereft of terrorists, lorded over by a former US ally, now a pile of rubble due to the deadly antics of brother George. If Jeb is going to mourn Baghdad’s fate then he’ll have to start a family feud, and that wouldn’t be very presidential, now would it? As for Beirut – the Bush II administration, like the would-be Bush III administration, stood by and cheered as the Israelis bombed the crap out of Lebanon. Is it any wonder the Lebanese seek what protection they can get from Tehran? On to Damascus – where the regime helped us track al Qaeda terrorists and in our gratitude we launched a campaign to unseat them. We withdrew our Ambassador, and snubbed theirs. Is it any wonder they’re turning to Tehran? As for Saana: what does this dolt even know about Yemen? If he’s so concerned about Saana, why not let those best friends of the Bush family, the Saudis, do something about it? Or are the weapons we sell them only for show?
Jeb doesn’t know or care anything about these issues: his only goal is to kowtow to Tel Aviv:
"Yet the Obama Administration has launched negotiations in which the goal has shifted. The administration no longer seeks to prevent nuclear enrichment. Now it seeks merely to regulate it.
"Prevention of nuclear weapons in Iran was once a unifying issue with an American foreign policy. Leaders of both parties agreed to it. When he launched his negotiations, President Obama said that was the goal – stop Iran’s nuclear program. Now we’re told the goal has changed and the point of these negotiations isn’t to solve the problem, it’s to manage it.
"Iran’s intent is clear. Its leaders have openly expressed a call for the annihilation of the state of Israel. This is an existential threat on Israel and to the world, including the United States. We could face large-scale proliferation issues throughout the region if Iran has the ability to launch a nuclear weapon. Iran’s neighbors will want their own nuclear capability because of this existential threat."
To begin with his last point first: Iran’s neighbor, otherwise known as Israel, already has quite a significant nuclear arsenal, but we’re not supposed to mention that. None of the others has the technology or the ability to create one: certainly the US would step in and put a stop to it if they tried.
Secondly, notice the conflation of nuclear power with nuclear weapons, a common rhetorical trick used by the Israelis which we now see imported into Republican campaign rhetoric. "The problem" is nuclear weapons: under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran – and all countries, everywhere – has the right to develop the peaceful uses of nuclear power. Iran is a signatory to that treaty: Israel is not. Whatever agreement is reached with Tehran – if one is reached – you can bet there will be a robust inspection regime to make sure the Iranians are complying with this stricture. Israel, for its part, is flying completely under the radar.
Jeb’s hypocrisy and willful blindness is simply breathtaking: he dares bemoan the fact that "everywhere you look you see the world slipping out of control," citing ISIS, "the rise of tribalism and unspeakable brutality," beheadings, the "wiping out of millennia-old Christian communities in Iraq and Syria" – and this last is particularly egregious coming from an intransigent defender of his brother’s war. Those communities were intact before Bush II decided to "liberate" them.
But then again making a rational argument against Jeb’s talking points assumes a modicum of sincerity on his part. He’s just going through the motions, literally reading a script put in front of him by his neoconservative advisors, who have yet another dim bulb to light up with their evil energy. This is someone who doesn’t know Saana from Santa Fe, and could care less: he’s an empty shell, like his brother, and like his brother-in-spirit Romney, a megaphone for the neocons to spread their by-now-very-tired message.
Threats are everywhere, in BushWorld, "looming under the surface" in Asia, in cyberspace, and in Europe where Russia "subverts its neighbors" (we, of course, never subvert anyone). So what’s the solution? We must "project power and enforce peaceful stability in far off areas of the globe" – because that’s worked so well in the past.
It’s just the same old boilerplate, which the American people are damned sick and tired of. Imagine if, by some miraculous chance, Jeb utters these bromides against someone like Jim Webb! Webb would wipe the floor with him.
The hypocrisy of these neocons and their sock puppets knows no bounds. After throwing the word "freedom" around in nearly every paragraph, we are told:
"We must be prepared for a long-term commitment to fight this battle. These attacks require response on many levels, but most of all we should focus on preventing them. That requires responsible intelligence gathering and analysis, including the NSA metadata program, which contributes to awareness of potential terror cells and interdiction efforts on a global scale.
"For the life of me, I don’t understand the debate has gotten off track where we’re not understanding and protecting — we do protect our civil liberties but this is a hugely important program to use these technologies to keep us safe."
We’re for "freedom" – except when it comes to spying on Americans, who must be watched by Big Brother government 24/7. So we must have "liberty diplomacy," as Jeb puts it, around the world, but liberty at home – forget it, brother!
After the Republicans throw the election to Hillary, it’ll be interesting to see if they change their tune on metadata when she and her gang have the power to listen in on Karl Rove‘s phone calls and read the RNC’s emails.
And, no, I’m not joking about the Republicans throwing the election. The positions outlined by Jeb in Chicago are enormously unpopular with the American people, as Romney discovered to his sorrow. No one thinks the Iraq war was a brilliant move, not even many of the neocons who engineered it. Americans aren’t just "war-weary," they’re dubious of the whole proposition that the world is Washington’s oyster, to be plundered and bombed at will. They want solutions to their problems here at home: projecting American power in "far off" areas of the globe is not on their agenda. Saddling the GOP with this ideological baggage is a recipe for defeat.
Jeb Bush, despite his last name and all the money he’s raising, is not ready for prime time, especially when it comes to foreign policy. But maybe that’s the idea. Content to hold majorities in both houses of Congress, it could be the Republicans don’t really want the responsibility of governing – because then they’d have to come through on their promises to actually reduce the power of government and solve the country’s problems. And Hillary Clinton isn’t that far from Jeb Bush when you get right down to it: Common Core, immigration, a more efficient welfare state – and, most importantly, an interventionist foreign policy that has us invading countries and "enforcing peace and stability" from Libya to the straits of Taiwan. Better to block someone like Sen. Rand Paul than to actually win a presidential election.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.