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  1. Florida Politics

Jeb Bush sets out foreign policy vision as he mulls presidential bid

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush addresses the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC’s 11th annual luncheon Tuesday in Coral Gables. Bush said the United States must lead in the world, but with humility.
Published Dec. 3, 2014

MIAMI — The Bush Doctrine is on the verge of making a comeback.

As Jeb Bush weighs a presidential bid, the former Florida governor on Tuesday laid out his foreign policy precepts, which closely mirror those of his brother, former President George W. Bush.

Bush detailed seven points in all during a speech to the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, where he told the crowd that the United States shouldn't back away from engaging its friends or enemies anywhere in the world.

For Bush, that starts 90 miles from U.S. shores, with the Cuban embargo and travel policy.

"I would argue that, instead of lifting the embargo, we should consider strengthening it," Bush said, calling for free elections, free trade and the release of political prisoners on the communist island.

The crowd of donors, the backbone of Cuba's exiled elite, applauded loudly.

Bush called for more military and cyber-security spending, strengthening international alliances, robustly criticizing enemies and expanding free trade. He sounded notes of concerns with nearly every quarter of the world: Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel.

Bush's speech doubled as a campaign trial balloon and as payback against President Barack Obama, who successfully campaigned in 2008 against George W. Bush's foreign policy. Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq and generally called for a less muscular overseas engagement.

Jeb Bush inverted those criticisms of Obama, pointing to the chaos in Syria and the rise of the terrorist group ISIS.

"In this unstable and uncertain world, the United States has actually played a part in creating greater instability and greater unraveling," Bush said, adding that the United States, "because we've retrenched," now has "worse relations than what we had before."

Bush's foreign policy speech came a day after he outlined domestic policy points at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council gathering in Washington. Many of those who attended Tuesday's event said Bush's back-to-back policy addresses were the clearest sign yet that he intends to run for president.

Bush's remarks drew a rebuke from Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who accused the former governor of trying to "put America down."

"I'll put the Obama record of foreign policy leadership against the Bush record any day of the week," she said in a written statement. "Under President Obama's leadership, the U.S. has prioritized combating climate change by working with China and other partners, keeping America safe by killing Osama bin Laden and leading a coalition to defeat ISIS, and restoring our standing with our allies after the disastrous foreign policy blunders of the George W. Bush administration."

Wasserman Schultz' criticisms highlight what will likely be a recurring theme on the campaign trail if Bush announces his candidacy. Democrats plan to tie him as closely as possible to his unpopular brother.

But Republicans believe Obama will be even less well-liked in 2016 and that the Democrats' frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, will have a tough time criticizing the Bush Doctrine when she voted to authorize the Iraq war when she served in the U.S. Senate.

Bush said little about his brother and his father, spending far more time on President Obama. Bush said Obama violated his first foreign policy precept: to lead both the United States and the world.

"We are not an equal partner in this so-called community of nations. We are a leader among equals," Bush said. "First, I think the United States needs to lead. Lead with humility. Lead with respect. But lead."

Bush echoed his brother's call in 2000 to have a "humble" foreign policy. A year later, the United States became far more interventionist after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

To those who listened to the speech, Bush spoke with his own voice and not his brother's. Jeb Bush has more of a reputation as a cerebral, technocratic politician. George W. Bush was known as warmer, more hands-on and prone to making personal connections.

"I don't think this was George W. Bush's foreign policy," said Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-Dade School Board member and incoming Republican congressman who was backed by Jeb Bush in the November elections. "This is Jeb Bush's foreign policy. So it's the Jeb Bush Doctrine, or the Jeb Doctrine."

One of Bush's precepts was more of a slogan: "Words matter." He said that time and again, Obama has made threats or promises and failed to act.

"Presidents need to set United States aspirations and intentions where there is little gap between words and deeds," Bush said. "Think of the 'Russian reset.' Think of the 'Syrian red line.' Think of the 'pivot to Asia.' Think of taking out ISIS."

Bush said Obama failed to accomplish any of these goals.

"It undermines our credibility in the world. Our allies don't trust us. And our enemies don't fear us. There is no situation worse for stability and peace than that," Bush said. "The iron rule of superpower deterrent is 'Mean it when you say it.' And it has been broken by this president."

Contact Marc Caputo at mcaputo@miamiherald.com. Follow @MarcACaputo.

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