Magazine article The American Conservative

Jeb vs. the Neocons? A Catholic Bush Just Might Be a Peaceful One

Magazine article The American Conservative

Jeb vs. the Neocons? A Catholic Bush Just Might Be a Peaceful One

Article excerpt

There is probably no way Jeb Bush could have avoided awkward moments discussing foreign policy in the months before his official campaign launch. He might have prepared sharp answers to the inevitable Iraq questions, but what could they have been? Much of his party yearns, if not for endorsement of the war, at least for the kind of blame-shifting that denies it was a tragic mistake. References to "intelligence failures" and "what everyone believed" and "the surge" now abound in Republican discourse and were part of Jeb's response too.

So conventional has this sort of excuse-making become that Jeb was unprepared in early May when Fox News's Megyn Kelly asked him whether he would have invaded Iraq "knowing what we know now." The former Florida governor seemed to mishear the question and sought cover by invoking faulty intelligence: "I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."

But there is broad realization among the public and political class alike that whatever the excuses, the actual decision to invade Iraq was the most costly American foreign-policy error since Vietnam, and so Jeb later reversed himself and clarified that he would not have gone to war. A more incisive statement--noting that the neoconservatives who formed the core of his brother's foreign policy team had long agitated for an Iraq invasion, adding that American intelligence conclusions about WMD and Saddam's ties to terror were being "fixed around" a policy already decided upon--would have had the benefit of being true. But it would also have been political suicide, for which Jeb Bush has shown no propensity.

Before the Iraq questions arose, Jeb faced inquiries about his foreign policy advisors. In February he released a long list of them, weighted towards officials from his brother's administration, including Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz and hawkish Cheney aide John Hannah. But he also included realists from his father's administration, most notably former Secretary of State James Baker, then and now a lightning rod for neoconservative criticism. The neocons' problem with Baker is that he is a forceful advocate of a two-state Israel-Palestine solution; as secretary of state he pushed hard to stop Israel from building settlements on the West Bank, and in the process was less than deferential to Israel's right-wing prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and his then-ambassador, Bibi Netanyahu. "Pro-Israel" hawks never forgave him, and when it was announced this winter that Baker was speaking before J Street, the liberal Zionist pro-peace organization, they went into high attack mode. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson reportedly demanded that Bush force Baker to cancel the speech, and when that didn't happen, Adelson was reported to be "ripshit" and said it would cost Bush dearly.

Jeb responded defensively: he noted the wide ideological range of his advisor list, added that he disagreed with what Baker had said at J Street, authored a column at National Review repeating standard hawkish talking points about demonic Iran and treacherous Palestinians and peace-loving Israel, and announced the hiring of two hardliners, one a Weekly Standard writer, as foreign-policy staffers. Finally, at a fundraiser in New York, he said that on most Middle East questions the person he most looks to for advice is George W. Bush. Clearly Jeb wanted to convey that he is as hawkish on Iran and deferential to Netanyahu as everybody else in the Republican field, save perhaps Rand Paul.

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Yet despite the loyalty oaths, there remains doubt over where Jeb's actual inclinations lie. The neoconservatives who pay the closest attention to such matters are pushing other candidates, particularly Marco Rubio. Jeb has not repudiated his brother's foreign policy, far from it, but he has not repudiated his father's either. …

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