POLITICS

Jeb Bush says warming ties with Cuba was 'the wrong thing to do'

Former Florida Gov. Jeb. Bush at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, in Chicago.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb. Bush at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, in Chicago.

Possible presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Wednesday called President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba a mistake that disproportionately benefits the Communist nation.

Speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the former Florida governor said that the deal – which took shape, in secret, over almost two years — between the U.S. and Cuba that resulted in the release of jailed U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross amounted to “bad negotiation.”

"The notion that somehow you're going to have freedom just kind of outbreak in Cuba, I think is false," said Bush, who is Republican. "I think it was the wrong thing to do. Had they waited...they would have seen economic strains that would have probably brought Cuba to the table."

Bush said his views about America's place in the world will often be compared with those of his father and brother, but insisted, "I am my own man."

Bush said he's "lucky" to have family members who have "shaped America's foreign policy from the Oval Office," according to excerpts released ahead of the speech.

"I recognize that as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs' — sometimes in contrast to theirs'," Bush said.

"But I am my own man — and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences," he said. "Each president learns from those who came before — their principles, their adjustments."

Sen. Marco Rubio, also a Republican from Florida, is said to be considering a presidential run in 2016 as well. 

Rubio has made many overseas trips, and without referring to anyone by name, earlier this year said that as a U.S. senator he has more knowledge about foreign policy than a governor would possess.

Be that as it may, the bets among many Florida Republican lawmakers seem to be on Bush, according to The Hill, which surveyed the state's 17-member GOP delegation.

Many are pledging their support for Bush if he chooses to run for president, The Hill said.

They include Rubio's South Florida congressional colleagues and fellow Cuban-Americans, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, the Hill said.

Jeb Bush is courting Republican lawmakers from Florida and securing their endorsements for his likely bid for the White House.

“I’m with him, I’m all in with him,” Díaz-Balart told The Hill. “I don’t think there’s anybody more prepared to be president than Jeb Bush.”

Bush aides on Wednesday released what they called a preliminary group of experts who would provide him advice. 

They included familiar names, such as James Baker III and George Shultz, both secretaries of State under President Ronald Reagan; former Homeland Security secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, all three of whom served under George W. Bush.

Otto Reich, the former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a fellow Floridian and former congressman, will be advising Bush on foreign policy, according to the Washington Post.

The list also included some lesser-known names, such as Meghan O'Sullivan, a former national security adviser to George W. Bush, who now teaches at Harvard and is seen as key to Jeb Bush's idea of lessening U.S. dependence on Middle East energy.

Besides opposing Obama’s approach to Cuba, Bush had harsh words for other aspects of the president’s foreign policy, depicting it as "inconsistent and indecisive.” He said the Obama administration has led the U.S. to lose "the trust and the confidence of our friends."

"The great irony of the Obama presidency is this: Someone who came to office promising greater engagement with the world has left America less influential in the world," Bush said.

While Bush has not yet formally declared his candidacy, he is all but certain to run for president in 2016 and has already faced questions about how he would distinguish himself from his family, particularly his older brother, former President George W. Bush.

The older Bush brother finished his second term in 2009 amid an unpopular war in Iraq, an economy in freefall and with a majority of Americans disapproving of his job performance.

Among donors, Jeb Bush has noted a strong family and religious bond with his older brother, but has also said they are not clones and have differences common among siblings.

Some foreign policy experts say Bush must go further. Peter D. Feaver, a former national security adviser to George W. Bush, said that includes taking a stance on whether George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was appropriate.

Jeb Bush did not answer that question directly when asked about it last week after an event in Florida for his mother's literacy charity.

"The answer he gave last week, about not litigating the past, that's not a satisfying answer," Feaver said. "He has to come up with a better answer than that."

But Feaver said Bush, should he win election, would inherit an international landscape far different from the one his brother left behind. Instead of the lurking threat of al-Qaida, Jeb Bush would take on a map dotted with violent and unstable spots that include Syria, Iraq and Ukraine.

It's something Jeb Bush appears ready to address, according to the excerpts of his speech.

"The United States has an undiminished ability to shape events and build alliances of free people," he plans to say. "We can project power and enforce peaceful stability in far-off areas of the globe."

Bush aides also confirmed late Tuesday that former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, a senior policy aide to 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, was advising Bush.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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