What would the foreign policy look like in a third Bush presidency?
In an extensive interview with The Daily Caller, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush discussed his foreign policy vision. While many political observers see few foreign policy differences among the 2016 GOP contenders, if you dive deeper, there are actually real distinctions to be made. One fissure point among the candidates is the extent to which democracy and human rights promotion should drive U.S. foreign policy.
Former President George W. Bush famously made human rights and democracy promotion a cornerstone of his foreign policy. “[I]t is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world,” he declared in his second inaugural address.
Talking to TheDC, Jeb Bush seemed to place less emphasis on democracy promotion than his brother did and some of the other 2016 Republican presidential contenders, like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have. While Bush said liberal democracy is “one of the values that we need to promote,” he added it is hardly the only, or even most important, one.
“It has to be tempered with the realization that not every country is immediately going to become a little ‘d’ democratic country,” Bush said. “Iraq would be a good example of that I think.”
But, Bush argued, a focus on security can ultimately lead to liberal democracy.
“I think ultimately security will lead towards democracy and having an engaged America will help make that so, but you cannot have democracy without security,” Bush said when asked if he could imagine considering America’s missions in Afghanistan and Iraq as successes if those countries don’t end up as liberal democracies.
The day Bush spoke to TheDC, President Barack Obama announced that Cuba and the United States had come to an agreement to re-open their respective embassies in each other’s capitals after 54 years. Bush condemned the move and said it would only help “perpetuate” Cuba’s dictatorial regime. But why should the U.S. continue to isolate Cuba when it has normal relations with other despotic countries, like China and Saudi Arabia? (RELATED: Jeb Bush Calls Cuba Embassy Announcement ‘Heartbreaking’)
“The difference between, say, China or Vietnam is we got something in return when we negotiated diplomatic relations with those countries,” Bush explained. “We had China enter into the [World Trade Organization] and we’ve driven them in some way as it relates to just being a partner, not just a partner for us, but a trading partner with the rest of the world — embracing standards that were global.”
“In the case of Vietnam, we got parity as it related to POWs and MIAs,” he continued. “We’ve got nothing in return for this effort other than to have, I guess, Barack Obama claim that this happened under his watch. This is a legacy building thing that perpetuates the regime.”
Bush sees Egypt as a “great case” study in what he perceives as the Obama administration’s lack of grand strategy in foreign policy. The U.S. was “bouncing back and forth based on the conditions on the ground” during the 2011 Egyptian revolution and its aftermath, Bush said. (RELATED: See Part 2 Of The DC’s Interview with Jeb Bush)
“We didn’t stand for anything and we’ve managed to, I think, hurt a relationship that has been part of a reason why we’ve had security in the region,” he went on. “It’s not the most secure part of the world, but certainly Egypt has played a constructive role in that regard and now they are striving to do the same.”
Asked whether a President Jeb Bush would have more forcefully stood behind Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Bush didn’t directly answer. His main complaint was the United States “didn’t have a policy” and seemed to be “reacting to events on the ground.”
“There wasn’t a strategy there,” he elaborated. “My complaints about President Obama’s tenure as president is — apart from believing America’s presence in the world, America’s leadership in the world hasn’t been a force for good and as we pull back it creates, all over the world, insecurity — there isn’t a doctrine that guides our policy. It could be a mix of advocacy of freedom and democracy with security, with the focus also on our economic interests. But whatever it is, it hasn’t been expressed in a way that creates consistency, that creates transparency of what America believes in and what America stands for.”
Bush is bullish on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general who removed the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in a July 2013 coup. Bush sees Sisi as one of the few Arab leaders willing “to stand up against these Islamic terrorists.”
But, Bush added, Obama’s “indecision as it related to who we were going to support” after Sisi’s coup “escalated an estranged relationship that’s not as tight as it could be.” Bush believes Sisi “should be rewarded” for standing up to Islamist extremism. Such a policy would help the U.S. “have influence and a relationship with the government” and once you have that, Bush said, “you can also express the desires of other elements of our foreign policy.”
Presumably, Bush means the U.S. would gain the influence and trust to persuade Sisi to temper the illiberal excesses of his dictatorial regime.
Another potential fissure point within the Republican presidential field is Libya. Some 2016 contenders, like Graham, see America’s failure in Libya as a failure of implementation — meaning it was right for America to intervene to remove Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi but the U.S. failed to lead the way to assure Libya became a stable country in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s fall. Other 2016 contenders don’t believe the U.S. should have intervened at all.
Bush seemed to side with those who argue that America’s failure in Libya was one of strategy and implementation. When first asked whether the U.S. should have intervened, Bush responded by criticizing the Obama administration’s policy of “leading from behind.”
“That’s an oxymoron, and there was no long term strategy to deal with the aftermath of taking Gaddafi out,” Bush said. “And now we have at least two governments, plus insurgents throughout Libya, that has created an ungovernable situation. I think the United States was wrong [not to develop] a strategy beyond just airstrikes.”
Pushed on whether it was a mistake for President Obama to intervene at all, Bush only said that it was a mistake to do so “without a strategy.”
“President Obama was playing a secondary role if you recall,” he continued. “We left them behind, which I don’t think is the proper place for the United States.”
Over the last several weeks, TheDC has conducted in-depth foreign policy interviews with several of the 2016 Republican presidential contenders. You can find them below: