Jeb Bush: US needs to lead

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) called on the U.S. to take a more active role on the international stage during a major foreign policy speech on Tuesday in Germany.

Bush’s speech before German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s economic council did not criticize President Obama or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by name, but his description of the U.S. as a nation that has “pulled back” from its global responsibilities was a clear swipe at both.

“If events can be turned in the direction of peace, then who else but us, the great democracies of the West, will do the turning?” Bush asked.

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He focused heavily on Russia, arguing that the U.S. must take tougher actions to limit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive moves. Bush called Putin a “ruthless pragmatist who will push until pushed back.”

“Reacting in a tepid fashion only enables the bad behavior from Putin,” Bush said during a question-and-answer session after his speech. “We’re beginning to realize the ‘reset button’ didn’t turn out so hot.”

In 2009, Clinton famously pledged to “hit the reset button” with Russia, and Republicans have since gleefully sought to highlight that moment as evidence of the Obama administration’s failed policies in the region.

Bush on Tuesday was careful not to attack the president directly while on foreign soil; instead, he measured his words to draw a distinction between Obama and him.

The president has argued against providing arms to Ukraine, believing that such a move would escalate tensions in the region. Bush has argued that the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies against Russia aren’t enough to deter further aggression from Putin.

“I don’t think we should be reacting to bad behavior,” Bush said. “We need to be clear in advance that there will be consequences to bad behavior to deter that kind of aggression.”

Bush spoke in Germany a day after Obama attended meeting of leading industrial nations there.

Obama and his G-7 counterparts said they would maintain economic sanctions against Russia and pledged to ramp up those sanctions if Putin meddles in the region.

Bush couched many of his foreign policy arguments in economic freedom, arguing that prosperous countries make natural leaders on the world stage and increase stability by providing better opportunities for citizens.

That message is the basis for Bush’s campaign slogan, “Right to Rise,” which is also the name of his super-PAC.

The likely GOP presidential candidate is on a five-day swing through Germany, Poland and Estonia — a trip meant to bolster his foreign policy credentials.

Upon returning to the U.S., Bush is expected to launch his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on June 15 in Miami.

Bush on Tuesday joked about the news of a staff shake-up ahead of his announcement.

Bush tapped Danny Diaz, a 39-year-old veteran of campaigns for the past three GOP presidential nominees, to be his campaign manager.

It had long been expected that David Kochel, an Iowa GOP operative, would fill that role. Instead, Kochel will serve as the campaign’s chief strategist.

The news provoked rumblings of strife within the Bush campaign.

“I don’t know about the change in the campaign team,” Bush said. “I’ll find out about that when I get home.”

— Updated at 6:20 p.m.

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