So that’s the bad news. The good news is that Bush is sounding perfectly reasonable in his foreign policy rhetoric while in Germany. Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news.
Here’s an excerpt from the Reuters writeup by Michelle Martin of Bush’s most recent statements:
“Ultimately I think to deal with Putin you need to deal from strength – he’s a bully and … you enable bad behavior when you’re nuanced with a guy like that,” Bush, the former governor of Florida, told reporters in Berlin.“Just being clear – I’m not talking about being bellicose – but saying ‘here are the consequences of your actions,’ that would deter the kind of bad outcome we don’t want to see.”Bush said signaling what further sanctions Russia could face, and reassuring Poland and the Baltic states that the United States would meet its NATO obligations to view an attack on one member state as an attack against the whole alliance could help halt Putin’s aggression.“If he thinks we’re resolute I think that that’s the greatest possibility of restricting any kind of further aggressions,” he said….He said training exercises in Poland and the Baltic nations needed to be “more robust,” adding that while Moscow deployed tens of thousands of troops in areas near U.S. allies, the response from Washington was “far less meaningful.”“If I was president of the United States, I’d clearly take the advice of the commanders on the ground but from the outside, without having any kind of classified information, it appears that we could have a more robust response,” he said.He said, however, it was essential to ensure that the United States did not isolate Moscow to such an extent that it ended up in the arms of China.
What’s wrong with these statements? From a policy perspective, almost nothing. Putin is a bully. Bush wants the United States to be resolute without being reckless toward Russia. He’s savvy enough to note that simply isolating Russia will simply encourage a tighter partnership between Moscow and Beijing. All of this makes eminent sense.
The problem is that there is practically no daylight between what Bush wants and what the Obama administration is actually doing with respect to Russia. Obama’s September 2014 Tallinn speech did precisely what Bush wanted, and did it so well that it actually impressed some of Bush’s natural foreign policy allies. At the same time, the administration is trying to balance compartmentalized cooperation and a semi-frozen conflict with Russia.
So, in essence, Obama is doing what Bush wants to do. Oh, sure, Bush talks about his response being more “robust,” but we’re talking about extremely similar shades of gray. If I were advising Bush, I’d suggest focusing more on how Obama has failed to rally the European public into a more robust posture toward Putin. But that observation just raises the awkward question of whether European publics will trust George W. Bush’s brother on foreign policy.
Compared to the rhetoric coming from the rest of the GOP field, Bush’s perfectly sober and reasonable-sounding foreign policy language will not fire up the GOP base at all. Which means that in any war of foreign policy outbidding, Jeb Bush will lose and lose big.