Jeb Bush Hasn't Learned Enough From His Brother's Failures

Views he recently expressed on foreign policy suggest inadequate reflection on the Iraq War and its lessons.

In an interview on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, probable GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush discussed his attitudes about foreign policy, having been asked if he would be "overly cautious about using force for fear of having a 'third Bush war' occur." At first, he gave a perfectly acceptable answer. "I wouldn’t be conflicted by any legacy issues of my family," the former Florida governor said. "Actually, Hugh, I am quite comfortable being George Bush’s son and George Bush’s brother. It’s something that gives me a lot of comfort on a personal level, and it certainly wouldn’t compel me to act one way or the other based on the strategies that we would be implementing and the conditions that our country would be facing."

If any of you were concerned that a Jeb Bush presidency just wouldn't be sufficiently warlike, perhaps he has gained your trust. And for those who worry that he hasn't learned the non-interventionist lessons George W. Bush's tenure suggest? The next portion of Jeb Bush's answer suggests that he has failed to clear that hurdle:

I don’t think there’s anything that relates to what my dad did or what my brother did that would compel me to think one way or the other. I think that history’s a good guide for our country. And the simple fact is you start with the premise that America’s role in the world is a force for good, not for bad things to happen, you’ll have, lessen the likelihood of having to use military force around the world. America’s foreign policy is more successful when we’re clear about who we’re supporting in terms of our allies, and that our enemies fear us a little bit rather than take advantage of us, to create insecurity that then compels the world and the United States to react. I think a better solution is to have a forceful foreign policy where we’re supportive of our friends, where there’s no light between our closest allies, like Israel, like our neighborhood, like NATO. These are the alliances that have kept us safe. And the more that people are assured of that, the more likely it is that we’ll live in a peaceful world.

What's the problem?

First off, the premise that "America's role in the world is a force for good" is problematic—the U.S. has played many different roles in world history. It has often been a force for good. But that in no way guarantees the next intervention won't do more harm. In Iraq, a war of choice that many supported with the best intentions, George W. Bush began with the premise that America is a force for good and unleashed carnage that killed hundreds of thousands and gave rise to ISIS.

Here are better premises to start with when weighing an intervention: War is an unpredictable enterprise that carries great risks, and all U.S. interventions have at least the potential to do great harm to ourselves or to others, so careful judgments are needed to discern which interventions would make us a force for good.

There's another error in analysis, too.

If Jeb Bush weren't so inured to the actual content of his foreign policy boilerplate, he might have noticed that his metrics for what makes America successful in the world—forcefulness, clear enemies, no distance between us and our closest allies—were all met when his brother decided to invade Iraq with the support of Israel and England (even as he gave speeches denouncing the "Axis of Evil").

And yet, despite forcefulness, clear enemies, and support from our very closest allies, George W. Bush's foreign policy was a disaster. Jeb Bush needn't be an expert in geopolitics to recognize that recent history obliterates his thoughtless heuristic.