Jeb Bush asks to be judged as his own man, not as an extension of his older brother. He says that he’s earned that right, and he surely has.
But that doesn’t solve his problem. To the contrary, it clarifies it.
In fact, let’s take it a step further. For illustration’s sake, let’s give Jeb a new last name and a new family background. Let’s call him “Jeb Arbusto” and relieve him all familial obligations to defend or explain the policies of the previous President Bush. For the purposes of this thought experiment, he is now very much his own man, stripped of baggage and expectations.
What would distinguish the foreign policy approach of candidate Jeb Arbusto from those of President George W. Bush? What would lead voters to conclude that as president, “Arbusto” would not lead this country into another misbegotten foreign adventure like the invasion of Iraq, the worst foreign policy decision in this nation’s history? The answer is unfortunately nothing. In fact, voters would be struck by the remarkable similarities between the attitudes, approaches and policies advocated by this Arbusto fellow and those of President Bush.
“Arbusto” draws his collection of foreign policy advisers from the same pool that advised Bush, including men such as Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Hadley, who served as Bush’s national security adviser. “Arbusto” speaks in much the same mystical language as Bush about the transformative effect of military power. “Let us never forget that in fighting evil, we are doing good, in stopping the merciless, we are delivering justice, and in destroying the violent, we are defending the innocent,” “Arbusto” said this week in justifying a more militarily aggressive policy.
“Arbusto” is not willing to concede that the decision to invade Iraq has played any role whatsoever in the subsequent collapse of that nation, its swing into Iran’s control or the rise of ISIS, which suggests that he has learned nothing from it. To the contrary: “I’ll tell you, taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal,” “Arbusto” told a crowd in Iowa just yesterday. He also suggested that he would be open to resuming the use of torture, in violation of American and international law, even though most experts in the field now conclude that our grave breach of basic morality produced little intelligence that could not have been produced by more civilized means.
The problem, in short, is not that Jeb is being unfairly associated with the policies and failures of George W. Bush because they share a mother, father and last name. The problem is that even as Jeb protests that he is his own man, he also gives every indication that in the same situations, he would make the same decisions as did George. He does not believe that there was anything wrong with the decision to invade Iraq, with the basic concept of that invasion, with the means used to lure this country into that war, or with the lack of understanding that precipitated it. In his mind, whatever failures occurred were failures of execution that could be cleaned up and avoided next time.
So it is a problem of policy, not of family.