Former Florida governor Jeb Bush answers questions at a Chicago Council on Global Affairs luncheon. (M. Spencer Green/AP)
Opinion writer

Jeb Bush was mere seconds into his speech Wednesday informing the world that he’s his “own man,” and not his brother or his dad, when he did something reminiscent of both. He flubbed his line.

“We definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies,” the nominal front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination said at the start of his ballyhooed address. “The problem is perhaps best demonstrated by this administration’s approach to Iraq.”

Whoa! He’s going there — right into the failure that pretty much destroyed his brother’s presidency? Bush continued reading from his text, as if for the first time.

“We’ve had 35 years of experience with Iran,” he went on, then realized his earlier mistake. “Excuse me, Iran. Thirty-five years’ experience with Iran’s rulers.”

Dr. Freud would have been amused.

During a speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, former Florida governor Jeb Bush attempted to distinguish his foreign policy views from those of his father and brother, two former presidents. (Chicago Council of Global Affairs)

Bush leads in the early GOP 2016 polls because his name is Bush, but that name could bring about his downfall, as well, because his brother’s tenure is remembered for misery in Iraq and economic collapse. Try though he did to differentiate himself from George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, John Ellis Bush’s delivery gave him away.

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. Like his brother, he said “nucular” instead of “nuclear,” and he hunched over the lectern with both hands on it — but instead of exuding folksiness, as his brother does, he oozed discomfort.

A top priority, he explained, is “reforming a broken immigration system and turning it into an economic — a catalytic converter for sustained economic growth.”

Presumably he was reaching for “catalyst” but instead came up with an automotive emissions-control device.

“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.”

At another point, discussing NATO’s aggressive stance in the Baltics, Jeb explained that “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 the weakening of nation states in the Middle East, he admitted: “I don’t have a solution. I mean, I—I—I’ve read articles, you know, about whether the 1915 kind of breakout of the Middle East and how that no longer is a viable deal.”

Bush, eschewing teleprompter, read his speech quickly and, during the question time that followed, leaned forward in a chair, jacket buttoned and legs spread, swigging water with Marco Rubio’s gusto.

The former Florida governor recited his foreign policy credentials, such as opening a bank office in Venezuela. He touted a Latin American free-trade agreement and noted that “where Columba and I live is going to be right in the center of the universe of that free-trade agreement.”

He can see Cuba from his house!

Even the money line of his speech, that he’s his own man, received a distracting grace note when he said: “I love my brother. I love my dad. I actually love my mother as well — hope that’s okay.” (It’s unclear who had suggested otherwise.) “I grew up politically, I guess, in the ’80s,” asserted Bush, who turned 27 in 1980.

Bush mimicked some of his big brother’s bravado, using phrases such as “enemies of freedom” and “tighten the noose” and “take them out,” and he defended the surge in Iraq. But what brought him closest to his kin were the random oddities in his speech. He declared that “whoever created the terminology BRIC would have to change the name,” without explaining that BRIC referred to emerging economies Brazil, Russia, India and China.

At another point he had trouble coming up with the English name for “Plan Colombia” and explained, “Sometimes my mind switches, and I apologize.” He propounded the curious theory that “the more tepid the economic growth” the less likely NATO members are to “defend themselves” militarily. He said that with President Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, “the rest of the world wonders, am I the pivotee?” And he described the Islamic State leader as “the guy that’s the supreme leader, whatever his new title is, head of the caliphate.”

Bush admitted that his foreign policy was still in the training phase. “Look, the more I get into this stuff, there are some things [where] you just go, you know, ‘Holy schnikes.’ ”

If he keeps talking like this, Americans may say the same of him.

Twitter: @Milbank

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