During Jeb Bush’s speech on foreign policy yesterday, Chris Cillizza was quick to praise the Republican. “What Bush is proving,” the Washington Post reporter said, is that Jeb “doesn’t need much coaching on foreign policy. He knows this stuff cold.”
That’s one way to look at the former governor’s remarks. There is, however, another.
We can start with Bush’s clumsy oratory, which was at times legitimately cringe-worthy. Dana Milbank noted the unfortunate family tradition.
When he addressed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs luncheon at the Fairmont, he combined his father’s awkward oratory with his brother’s mangled syntax and malapropisms.[…]“As we grow our presence by growing our ability to produce oil and gas,” Bush went on, “we also make it possible to lessen the dependency that Russia now has on top of Europe.” Russia’s dependency on top of Europe? It was, in addition to being backward, a delightful echo of his brother’s belief that it is hard “to put food on your family.”
Bush said “Iraq” when he meant “Iran.” He mispronounced the names of leaders, countries, and groups. He clumsily leaned on the most notorious passive-voice phrase in politics. The Republican at one point said ISIS is comprised of “a fighting force of more than 200,000 battle tested men,” which is at odds with all available intelligence on the group, and which even Bush’s staff later said was wrong.
At another point in the speech, Jeb declared, “Our military is not a discretionary expense.” Military spending is, quite literally, a discretionary expense.
Ari Fleischer told the New York Times yesterday, “Jeb is very much a policy wonk and comes across that way.” I heard the speech; this praise is wildly misplaced; he comes across as largely the opposite.
At this point, however, I suspect many Republicans would argue that his rhetorical clumsiness is unimportant. The former governor hasn’t even been a candidate for any office in 13 years, so it stands to reason he’ll be rusty while trying to read a speech on a subject he knows very little about. It’s early in the process, and Bush will almost certainly get better and more polished as the cycle moves forward.
What matters, then, is substance. We should focus more on what Bush said and less on how he said it.
Fine, let’s do that.
* Bush criticized the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran in a way that didn’t make much sense.
* He said he doesn’t “understand” opposition to blanket NSA surveillance. There’s no better way to prove that Bush his “own man” than by embracing his big brother’s NSA program, right?
* “I believe fundamentally weakness invites war,” he said. Both his father and brother felt the need to launch wars. As Jeb Bush sees it, was this the result of pre-war weakness?
* Apparently echoing Mitt Romney, Jeb said, “We have no reason to apologize for our leadership.” That’s nice, but no American official has ever suggested we should apologize for our leadership, making this foolish.
* On the failed Cuba embargo, Bush added, “Had they waited, had the administration, if they were serious about creating the climate for a free Cuba, had they waited, they would have seen significant economic strains that would’ve probably brought Cuba to the table.” Yes, the policy that never worked over the course of a half-century would have finally paid dividends if only Obama had been patient.
Asked about NATO and the Baltics, Bush responded, “I don’t know what the effect has been because, you know, it’s really kind of hard to be out on the road and I’m just a gladiator these days, so I don’t follow every little detail.” Asked about tribalism in the Middle East, he said, “As it relates to the breakdown of the – you know, the nation states, I don’t have a solution. I mean, I – I – I’ve read articles.”
And asked about nuclear proliferation, the former governor said, “Look, this is a – the more I get into this stuff, there are some things you just go, you know, holy schnikes.”
Jeb “doesn’t need much coaching on foreign policy” because “he knows this stuff cold”? I’m inclined to disagree.