To answer questions on how his foreign policy would be different from that of his father and brother, Jeb Bush turned instead to attacking the office’s current inhabitant, President Obama.
The former Florida governor laid out his own national security vision in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Wednesday, assailing Obama for what he said were failures on more than a half-dozen foreign policy fronts.
Bush didn’t mince words against the president, calling him “feckless,” “inconsistent and indecisive,” and slamming him for a “lack of engagement” on Cuba, Israel, Iran, Russia and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends,” Bush said. “The greatest irony of the Obama presidency is that someone who came into office promising greater engagement with the world left the nation less influential in the world.
“Our words and actions must match so that the entire world knows that we say what we mean and mean what we say,” he continued. “This administration talks big but their words fade, they draw red lines and then erase them … their hash-tag campaigns replace actual engagement.”
The Obama administration is more focused on “attempting to win the news cycle” than on the “long-term interests of America,” Bush said.
Bush called Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons the “defining foreign policy issue of our time” and “an existential threat to Israel and to the world, including the United States.”
Bush said that when Obama came into office there was bipartisan consensus that Iran’s nuclear programs had to be stopped at all costs, but that the Obama administration is now “seeking merely to regulate” Iran’s progress towards a nuke.
The former Florida governor also accused Obama of not taking non-state terror groups like ISIS seriously, and of dismissing Russia as a regional power.
He bashed Obama for seeking to normalize relations with Cuba, saying the administration got nothing in return from negotiating with the communist country and that the outcome would empower the Castro regime with additional financial resources.
On Israel, Bush accused the president of “lobbing leaks and insults” against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said he was baffled that the White House wouldn’t eagerly welcome Netanyahu for a speech on Capitol Hill next month.
Some Democrats are boycotting the speech because Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) arranged it without the White House’s knowledge. The address has been viewed by some as a move by Netanyahu to meddle in U.S. politics and boost his own reelection just after his speech here.
Bush said he has visited Israel five times and that one of his greatest achievements was signing a trade agreement with former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Also on Wednesday, Bush laid out six principles he said would drive his views on foreign policy. At the top of the list is economic growth at home, which he said would make the U.S. a “force for peace and security.”
Another of Bush’s principles is to recommit financial resources to the military, which he said has been gutted by the sequester and budget cuts.
“Our military is not a discretionary expense,” Bush said. “I believe fundamentally that weakness invites war, while strength encourages peace.”
Bush also said U.S. foreign policy must match in word and deed, that the nation must remain engaged through key regional alliances, that taking out ISIS and other terror groups must become a top priority, and that the U.S. must seek to expand democracy and capitalism in countries that haven’t adopted those principles.
Bush made news earlier in the day when his leadership PAC leaked excerpts from his speech in which he said he’d be his “own man,” a response to critics who have sought to tie him to the controversial policies of his brother, former President George W. Bush, and father, former President George H.W. Bush.
"I also have been fortunate to have a father and a brother who both have shaped America’s foreign policy from the Oval Office," Bush said in his speech.
"I recognize that as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs — sometimes in contrast to theirs," he added. "I love my father and my brother … I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make. But I am my own man — and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences.”
"Each president learns from those who came before — their principles ... their adjustments," he added. "One thing we know is this: Every president inherits a changing world and changing circumstances."
Bush said Friday that he will not “re-litigate” controversial decisions that were made by his brother but acknowledged on Wednesday that “there were mistakes made in Iraq for sure.”
He cited the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and said the U.S. did not create “an environment of security” after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Still, he called the surge “one of the most heroic acts” of any president and said President Obama failed to build on it.
Bush said Obama “created the void” whereby non-state sponsored terror groups have been allowed to flourish.
Democrats are already linking Bush to his older brother on foreign policy.
Democratic National Committee communications director Mo Elleithee pushed out a memo on Wednesday arguing that Bush is standing by his brother’s decision to invade Iraq.
“No American has forgotten when Jeb’s brother, George W. Bush, led us into the Iraq War based on bad information, and pursued this entanglement even as it took important resources away from the hunt for al Qaeda in Afghanistan,” he wrote. “And now, more than a decade after the start of the war — even with the benefit of hindsight — Jeb Bush is one of the few people left who still stands by the decision to rush into Iraq.”
Bush could be giving his detractors added political ammunition through his choice of advisers. He is enlisting more than two dozen former aides to his brother and father as he prepares for a likely 2016 presidential run.
Those advisers include Paul Wolfowitz, a former World Bank president who was an architect of the second Iraq War while serving at the Pentagon; Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush; and Meghan O'Sullivan, another Bush aide on Iraq.