Go­ing abroad to im­press at home

Jeb Bush aims to build his for­eign pol­icy cre­den­tials and dis­tin­guish him­self from fa­ther, brother.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Seema Mehta seema.mehta@la­times.com Twit­ter: @LATSeema Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak con­trib­uted to this re­port.

World af­fairs are con­stants in Jeb Bush’s life.

He met his wife while a teenager study­ing in Mex­ico, ma­jored in Latin Amer­i­can af­fairs in col­lege and lived in Venezuela as a young busi­ness­man. He speaks flu­ent Span­ish.

He had a front-row seat to the pres­i­den­cies of his brother and his fa­ther dur­ing times of great over­seas tri­umph and tribu­la­tion.

Bush, 62, spent the bulk of his adult life in south Florida, one of the most mul­ti­cul­tural places in the na­tion. As gover­nor of Florida, he led more than a dozen in­ter­na­tional mis­sions, and he has vis­ited 29 coun­tries since then.

But Bush still feels com­pelled to em­bark on a mod­ern-day rite of pas­sage for pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates — an over­seas tour to show­case his states­man­ship and bur­nish his for­eign pol­icy cre­den­tials. This week, he will take a whirl­wind spin through the cap­i­tals of Ger­many, Poland and Es­to­nia be­fore of­fi­cially kick­ing off his White House bid on June 15.

The trip is a nod to the dom­i­nant role for­eign pol­icy is ex­pected to play in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign — one of Demo­cratic fron­trun­ner Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s top cre­den­tials is her ten­ure as the na­tion’s top diplo­mat. Vot­ers, in­creas­ingly alarmed by de­vel­op­ments over­seas such as Is­lamic State’s bru­tal­ity and the threat of a nu­cle­ar­armed Iran, are ex­pected to pri­or­i­tize for­eign pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence as they se­lect the next pres­i­dent.

A for­eign trip of­fers can­di­dates up­sides: a chance to be seen as a strong, ca­pa­ble leader on the world stage ad­dress­ing is­sues vi­tal to the na­tion’s in­ter­ests. But as some of Bush’s Repub­li­can ri­vals can at­test, any er­ror could be mag­ni­fied.

Bush faces an ad­di­tional, unique test — dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing his views from the for­eign poli­cies of his fa­ther, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, and his brother, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. The for­mer gover­nor has yet to ar­tic­u­late an agenda, but he fre­quently seeks to dis­tin­guish him­self from the two pres­i­dents.

“Just for the record, one more time: I love my brother, I love my dad,” Bush said dur­ing a for­eign pol­icy speech in Fe­bru­ary in Chicago. “And I ad­mire their ser­vice to the na­tion and the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions that they had to make. But I’m my own man, and my views are shaped by my own think­ing and my own ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Bush noted how much the world had changed since his fa­ther formed a coali­tion to fight the Gulf War in 1991 and his brother in­vaded Iraq in 2003. Then he em­pha­sized: “New cir­cum­stances re­quire new ap­proaches.”

For a can­di­date whose big­gest cam­paign stum­ble to date was his dif­fi­culty an­swer­ing a ques­tion about the war his brother started, it’s a recog­ni­tion that his fa­mil­ial ties cut both ways.

The shad­ows of the two el­der Bushes loom large in the na­tions the for­mer gover­nor is vis­it­ing.

In Ger­many, for ex­am­ple, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush is re­mem­bered fondly for his role in the ne­go­ti­a­tions for Ger­man uni­fi­ca­tion af­ter the fall of the Ber­lin Wall in 1989, said Kori Schake, who was a se­nior for­eign pol­icy aide in Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But Ge­orge W. Bush’s poli­cies af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks, such as the pre­emp­tive use of mil­i­tary force, prompted hand­wring­ing among Ger­mans, she said.

“They thought they knew us,” Schake said. “Our re­ac­tion af­ter 9/11 scared them.”

Bush will spend much of his five-day trip meet­ing pri­vately with gov­ern­ment, busi­ness and civic lead­ers in Ber­lin, War­saw and Tallinn, Es­to­nia, about the econ­omy, transat­lantic re­la­tions and se­cu­rity. Public events in­clude a Tues­day speech at a ma­jor eco­nomic con­fer­ence in Ber­lin along­side Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and Es­to­nian Pres­i­dent Toomas Hen­drik Ilves.

The for­mer gover­nor is ex­pected to be asked about Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in Ukraine, and whether the United States has been a strong enough ally in the re­gion. NATO, of which the United States is a mem­ber, is be­ing urged to more force­fully con­front Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin by per­ma­nently sta­tion­ing troops in Poland and the Baltic na­tions.

He could face ques­tions about the CIA tor­ture re­port, made public in 2014, that con­firmed the ex­is­tence of a se­cret in­ter­ro­ga­tion site in Poland dur­ing his brother’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, and Pres­i­dent Obama’s de­ci­sion to scale back Ge­orge W. Bush-era plans to build a mis­sile-de­fense site in Poland.

Pol­icy ex­perts said Bush’s chal­lenge would be to show­case his views with­out ex­plic­itly at­tack­ing Obama on for­eign soil.

“Ob­vi­ously you want to demon­strate how you’ll be able to con­trast your for­eign pol­icy if you’re pres­i­dent.... But at the same time, you have to do it del­i­cately,” said Lan­hee Chen, a top ad­vi­sor to 2012 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney. “For­eign pol­icy and na­tional se­cu­rity are go­ing to be a huge part of this cam­paign, and they’re go­ing to be a huge part of how Repub­li­can can­di­dates con­trast them­selves with the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion … and also po­ten­tially with other Repub­li­can can­di­dates.”

Such over­seas jour­neys have re­peat­edly proved per­ilous for Amer­i­can politi­cians.

Rom­ney’s for­eign trip in the sum­mer be­fore the 2012 elec­tion was dom­i­nated by mis­steps. In Bri­tain, he of­fended many when he ques­tioned Lon­don’s readi­ness to host the Sum­mer Olympics shortly be­fore the Games’ open­ing cer­e­mony. In Jerusalem, he sug­gested that “cul­ture” was re­spon­si­ble for eco­nomic dis­par­i­ties be­tween Is­rael and neigh­bor­ing Pales­tinian ar­eas.

“I don’t think it was a defin­ing mo­ment dur­ing the cam­paign, but at that point of the cam­paign, you can’t af­ford to lose many news cy­cles, and we lost a cou­ple,” said Kevin Mad­den, a Rom­ney ad­vi­sor who faulted the cam­paign for fail­ing to craft an over­ar­ch­ing the­matic nar­ra­tive for the trip. In the ab­sence of such mes­sag­ing, Rom­ney’s mis­steps were ex­ag­ger­ated, he said.

This year, New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie flubbed a re­sponse when asked about manda­tory child­hood vac­ci­na­tions while in Lon­don; he ap­peared to side with those who op­pose vac­ci­na­tions. At the same time, re­ports emerged about lav­ish trips he took that were funded by wealthy bene­fac­tors.

Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker in Fe­bru­ary took f lack for dodg­ing ques­tions about his views on for­eign pol­icy and cre­ation­ism at a prom­i­nent think tank in Lon­don.

Bush’s life ex­pe­ri­ences, some ar­gue, in­oc­u­late him from such blun­ders.

“So many of our GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are us­ing f lash cards to try to mem­o­rize the dif­fer­ent world lead­ers, and they’re trav­el­ing over­seas to prove they can re­mem­ber the name of a leader or a group,” said Richard Grenell, who served as the U.S. spokesman at the United Na­tions un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and is not aligned with any can­di­date. “This isn’t an ed­u­ca­tional trip for Jeb Bush.”

But oth­ers won­der about the wis­dom of mak­ing such a ven­ture.

“The up­side is limited but ob­vi­ous and that is you get your pic­ture taken with the queen of Siam or wher­ever you’re go­ing,” said Rich Galen, a vet­eran GOP op­er­a­tive who worked for for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Dan Quayle and for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich.

“The down­side, as Scott Walker found out, is that if you do one of th­ese for­eign trips — es­pe­cially now — you damn well bet­ter know what the hell you’re talk­ing about.”

Phelan M. Ebenhack As­so­ci­ated Press

FOR­MER Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, at an eco­nomic sum­mit last week, will go to Ger­many, Poland and Es­to­nia this week. Such trips have be­come a rite of pas­sage for can­di­dates seek­ing to show­case their states­man­ship.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.