Commentary / World

GOP candidate Jeb Bush finds his inner neocon

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has amassed a sizable war chest and positioned himself to be the safe establishment pick after Donald Trump’s expected implosion. Alas, on foreign policy Bush has turned hard right.

“Our security,” he recently claimed, is “in the balance.” Yet the United States continues to dominate the globe as no other nation before it.

Moreover, Bush contended, “if we withdraw from the defense of liberty elsewhere, the battle of eventually comes to us anyway.” Actually, the world long has been filled with horror which Washington chose not to make its own—and it did not then become America’s own.

Bush followed the Republican stereotype in demanding more military spending. He warned of moving “straight in the direction of the greatest risk of all — military inferiority.” To whom?

“We are in the seventh year of a significant dismantling of our own military,” he falsely claimed. Real spending continued to increase until 2012.

In Bush’s view two and a half percent of GDP for the Pentagon is too low. But as President Ronald Reagan observed, military spending should reflect the threat environment, which is vastly improved from Reagan’s time. Bush seemed to recognize this reality when he suggested a strategic review since “the world’s changed. I mean, we’re, the Soviets aren’t going to launch a tank attack across Eastern Germany into Germany.”

Very true, which makes you wonder how he could speak of “multiplying” threats when the biggest ones have disappeared. He should launch a strategic review first, which would suggest fewer defense responsibilities and thus lower military outlays.

Bush first called his brother’s policy in Iraq “a mistake.” More recently, however, he declared that ousting Saddam Hussein by President George W. Bush was a “pretty good deal.”

Maybe so, if you don’t count dead Americans, dead allied personnel, dead Iraqis, widespread sectarian violence, mass refugee flows, increased Iranian influence, regional instability, and the rise of the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS.

Bush misleadingly argued that Islamic State “didn’t exist when my brother was president” and that a continued U.S. military presence “would not have allowed” the group to flourish. This is false in almost every detail.

Islamic State is an outgrowth of al-Qaida in Iraq, which developed in response to George W. Bush’s invasion. The group grew in opposition to the U.S. occupation and Shiite-majority regime installed by Washington. Although badly battered, the precursor to Islamic State survived the famed “surge” and more important “Sunni Awakening.”

Alas, the surge did not foster sectarian reconciliation, as intended. Islamic State exploded when the Sunni Awakening went into reverse in response to oppressive sectarian policies begun by the Iraqi government under George W. Bush, who also failed to win approval of a status of forces agreement and continued U.S. military presence.

President Barack Obama only followed the Bush timetable. Explained U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno: “Us leaving at the end of 2011 was negotiated in 2008 by the Bush administration. And that was always the plan.”

Nor would a continuing presence of U.S. troops have achieved much, unless augmented and used in continuing anti-insurgency operations — contrary to the fervent desire of most Americans. And maintaining the military occupation would have provided a target for radicals of every sectarian viewpoint.

Nevertheless, Jeb Bush urged a new war dedicated to “throwing back the barbarians of ISIS, and helping the millions in the region who want to live in peace.” Actually, those millions, rather than Americans, should fight Islamic State.

Even scarier, Bush proposed that Washington join Syria’s civil war. He urged “a coordinated, international effort” to strengthen moderate forces. Few Syrians appear interested in fighting at Washington’s behest, however. Worse, Bush advocated not only a “no-fly zone” but “multiple safe zones,” which would require substantial and sustained U.S. military involvement.

On Iran, Bush complained that the administration didn’t deal with Iran’s malignant regional behavior. True, because Washington focused on the far more important issue of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Bush advocated additional sanctions, which would not have been matched by other nations. He also recommended that Washington support the Iranian opposition. Does he believe the Islamist regime would allow increased international interference promoting its ouster?

Bush also contended that America’s “alliances need rebuilding.” Which means increasing subsidies for rich industrialized states, which are capable of defending themselves. Bush’s alliance policy also means placating authoritarian governments — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others. So much for democracy and liberty.

Finally, like other Republican presidential wannabes, Bush is oblivious to the consequences of U.S. policy. Droning, bombing, invading, and occupying other nations creates blowback. While Washington’s behavior doesn’t justify terrorism, promiscuous intervention helps explain it.

Jeb Bush is wrong for the U.S. Americans — and the rest of the world — can’t afford a rerun of George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

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