Scott McConnell looks for some sign that Jeb Bush might not be as horrible on foreign policy as he seems to be. He finds one in the latter half of George W. Bush’s second term:
But it is often overlooked that by the middle of his second term, George W. Bush had ceased pursuing a neoconservative foreign policy.
This is partly true from late 2006 on, but the change after the midterms can be exaggerated. While it might be an improvement over the horrible record of the first term, the substance of Bush’s record from the second term is also nothing for advocates of restraint to get excited about. Bush responded to the repudiation of his agenda and his party in the ’06 midterms by ignoring the public’s preferences on Iraq and choosing instead to escalate the war. One can find evidence that some neoconservatives were less than thrilled about some of the administration’s policies late in the second term, especially where Iran and North Korea were concerned, but they were the biggest cheerleaders of the “surge” and they remain the fiercest defenders of the myth that the “surge” was a great success.
Even if the last half of Bush’s second term was not as strongly defined by neoconservative ideological excesses, there were still many issues on which Bush continued to display arrogance and recklessness. It was the second-term Bush who delivered the insane, ideological Second Inaugural, and it was from late 2004/early 2005 that the disastrous so-called “freedom agenda” really got started. Bush’s enthusiasm for this project never really waned, and arguably only intensified as it produced one failure after another. This was the “freedom agenda” that helped Hamas get elected, unwittingly strengthened Hizbullah in Lebanon, empowered a sectarian government in Iraq (a mistake for which Iraq is still paying), and backed a semi-authoritarian ruler in Georgia and a new dictator in Kyrgyzstan in the name of “democracy promotion.” Rice may have prevailed on Bush to back a cease-fire in the Lebanon war, but she was also the one to defend the excesses of that war by declaring that they were the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” That statement reflected the mostly uncritical backing that the U.S. gave to Israel during that war.
During the last two years of the Bush presidency, the administration committed one of its most irresponsible acts by promoting NATO expansion that included Ukraine and Georgia. Fortunately for the U.S., some of our major European allies balked at this at the Bucharest summit, but U.S. support for NATO expansion and for Saakashvili in Georgia nonetheless helped contribute to the increasing tensions between Russia and Georgia that led to the August 2008 war. Even when W. was under more “realist” guidance, he still had terrible judgment. It’s not clear that Bush had learned very much from his earlier blunders by the end of his second term, and so I wouldn’t have any confidence in another Bush administration that was relying on the advice of such a failed president.
As for Jeb Bush, it is true that many neoconservatives are less enamored of him than they are of Rubio, but the same could be have been said of then-Gov. George W. Bush in his contest with John McCain. Like McCain, Rubio offers the neoconservatives the unvarnished, ideologically hard-line candidate they long to have, but as we learned only too well in the 2000s they didn’t need to have a McCain administration to get many of the policies they wanted. Unlike his older brother in the 2000 campaign, however, Jeb Bush isn’t even pretending to support foreign policy restraint of any kind.