Jeb Bush’s Foreign Policy Fluency

Edward Luce finds much to like in Jeb Bush’s recent speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

Jeb Bush knows George W Bush, he was raised with George W Bush and can safely declare that he is no George W Bush. That — in a manner of speaking — was the message the former governor of Florida wanted to convey in Chicago. Billed as his first foreign policy speech since he chose “to actively explore” a presidential bid, Mr Bush has doubtless garnered the “I am my own man” headlines he sought. Yet people listening to the detail of his address had already drawn that conclusion for themselves. The older brother was all hat and no cattle, as one saying had it. On the evidence from Chicago, the younger Bush has plenty of cattle — but is not so big on the hat.

Their personalities could hardly be more different. In his first campaign in 2000, George W famously was unable to name the leaders of several foreign governments — Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf among them. George W happily wore his ignorance on his sleeve. Jeb Bush, on the other hand, is a fluent wonk. Mr Bush corrected one questioner about the general failure of the Arab Spring — “not Tunisia,” he said, “Tunisia is doing OK.” When asked about the decline of the nation state in today’s Middle East, Mr Bush skipped back to 1915 as the birth of the modern Arab nation state (when the Ottoman Empire began to collapse). Asked about the risks of Iran acquiring a ready-made nuclear weapon, Mr Bush gave a brief summary of A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani freelance nuclear salesman, who was arrested in 2002. Asked about how to tackle poverty on Chicago’s south side, phrases such as “stickiness at the top end and the bottom end” of the income scale tripped off Mr Bush’s tongue.

I’d be delighted to have a president who actually knows what he is talking about when it comes to foreign affairs and national security policy. Luce does critique Jeb Bush for not having the retail campaigning skills of his brother. To be sure, in order to win an election, one has to actually be a good campaigner, and to the extent that Jeb Bush is not a good campaigner, he needs to do something really quick in order to augment his campaigning skills. There is no getting around that.

But it would be kind of nice if the voters tried to meet him halfway on this issue. We currently have a president who is a very good campaigner, and whose foreign and national security policies have been quite disappointing; we are, after all, talking about sending troops back into Iraq in order to combat the ISIL threat because Barack Obama hastily promised to remove all troops from Iraq and hastily delivered on that hastily considered promise. Jeb Bush many need to be a better campaigner, but more importantly, America needs a better president and this American, for one, is willing to have a president who can actually do the job and who shows familiarity and fluency with the issues, even if the president in question may not be the world’s greatest glad-hander.