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Would Jeb Bush's Defense Policy Look More Like His Father's or Brother's?

Apr. 21, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush signs the book 'Immigation Wars' at a book signing during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)
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WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush, the flavor-du-jour in Republican circles, likely would put forth a defense and foreign policy vision that closely resembles that of his father and the one pitched by Mitt Romney in 2012, analysts and GOP insiders say.

The former Florida governor reportedly is mulling a run for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination, courted by the so-called Republican establishment after a political scandal undermined its preferred candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Veteran national security officials and political observers say his philosophy seems to align more with his realist father, George H.W. Bush, than his neoconservative brother, George W. Bush.

One Republican source said Jeb likely would be less hawkish than “W,” but perhaps more so than the Bush family patriarch.

“There’s a big difference between classic realism and the passivism that we’re seeing today,” the Republican source said, noting Jeb Bush recently “criticized neo-isolationism” during a speech in Las Vegas. “Would H.W. Bush have just sat back and allowed the things that are going on in Eastern Europe to occur?”

One veteran of presidential campaigns, Larry Korb, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for American Progress, said “I think you’ll see a return, if he were to get the nomination, to the old-school classic realist Republican philosophy.

“He probably would fit the mold of his father, James Baker and Henry Kissinger,” said Korb, referring to his father’s secretary of state and America’s top diplomat under another GOP president, Richard Nixon.

One defense industry lobbyist with ties to the Republican Party agreed, saying Bush likely would propose “a strategy-driven policy” built on a framework of “what kind of military do we need for the threats we’ll most likely face.”

If Bush runs, insiders expect his campaign’s defense and foreign policy team to feature some familiar faces.

“The great [GOP] defense minds in town that had made up Romney’s defense group are going to be looking for a home,” the lobbyist said. “A lot of them really wanted to connect with Chris Christie, but that seems unlikely at this point. They will want the most reasonable candidate, and my gut tells me that’s Jeb Bush. I think they’ll take the same philosophy they applied to Romney and try to do that with Jeb Bush.”

Romney brought in veteran Washington hands like Eric Edleman and Dov Zakheim, who held high-level Pentagon posts under George W. Bush. Also on Team Romney were Zakheim’s son, Roger, a former senior House Armed Services Committee aide; John Lehman, a Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan; and Michael Chertoff and Michael Hayden, Homeland Security secretary and national intelligence director in the George W. Bush administration.

All prominent polls about the possible 2016 GOP field show Bush competitive with other possible candidates: Christie; Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida; and 2008 candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor.

“The kinds of people who went to work for Romney in 2012 certainly aren’t going to work for Cruz. Not going to go work for Cruz or Huckabee or Rubio, and certainly not for Rand Paul,” the lobbyist said.

Most analysts and GOP insiders interviewed said Bush would be unlikely to pitch smaller defense budgets than the Obama administration has been putting forth.

“It’s interesting: under Nixon, Ford, Reagan and even H.W. Bush, you didn’t see defense budgets the size we see today,” Korb said. “So I wouldn’t expect Jeb to propose a big increase, so around today’s levels is what I’d expect.”

Others said Bush would try to please the GOP establishment by proposing increases.

Bush has yet to say whether he will run, let alone lay out his views on Pentagon spending. But a March 2 post on his Facebook page said, “President Obama’s Pentagon budget: Plenty of cash for entitlements, but not enough for defense.”

The post is followed by a link to a Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing Obama’s 2015 military spending proposal: “Obama’s Shrinking Army.”

To get the nomination, Bush will have to outduel several Tea Party favorites, including Paul and Cruz. Analysts and GOP insiders say the party’s defense and foreign policy establishment is vehemently opposed to Paul, whom they derisively call an isolationist, as commander in chief.

“To win the nomination, I think Jeb just has to lay out a vision on foreign policy and national security,” the lobbyist said. “He is really the only one of the candidates who can capture the mantle of Ronald Reagan.”

As Bush and the other potential candidates make the rounds to early primary states and try to line their coffers with enough money to finance a serious modern campaign, the Republican source says voters can circle one date on their calendars for policy platforms to begin taking shape.

“You won’t really get a sense of the details of where any candidate stands on most issues until they begin naming advisers,” the source said. “And the whole business of who’s advising who won’t get serious until the day after the congressional elections.” ■


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