'I am my own man' on foreign policy, Jeb Bush says – not his father or brother

In his first major foreign-policy speech, Jeb Bush said Wednesday that his views are shaped by his own thinking and own experiences, and he offered an energetic defense of immigration.

M. Spencer Green/AP/File
Former Florida Gov. Jeb. Bush speaks to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Feb. 18, in Chicago. The likely Republican candidate says his views about America's place in the world will often be compared to those of his father and brother, but plans to tell the audience Wednesday, 'I am my own man.' according to excerpts released ahead of the speech.

Jeb Bush used his first major foreign-policy speech Wednesday to underscore how he would do almost everything differently from the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

No surprise there.

But what stood out in the former Florida governor’s speech and question-and-answer session at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs was an energetic defense of immigration – and the role he sees it playing in delivering the prosperity that will allow America to remain a force for progress and democratic values in the 21st century.

In the much-anticipated talk, the not-yet-declared 2016 hopeful was to deliver his worldview and offer a glimpse of how he sees America’s role in the world. Mr. Bush said America was the one developed democracy with the prospect of being “young and dynamic” and leading from a state of prosperity and optimism – in large part because it is a nation of immigrants.

Immigration is a “catalyst for growth,” Bush said, as he described economic prosperity at home as a prerequisite for America leading abroad.

Representatives of the Chicago Council said the Bush speech appeared to attract the largest audience ever for an event sponsored by the foreign-affairs organization. The big topic before Bush spoke was how he would handle the question of his father’s and brother’s foreign policies, and Jeb Bush did not shy away from the public interest.

He declared himself “lucky” to have family members who have “shaped America’s foreign policy from the Oval Office.” But, he added, “I am my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and own experiences.”

Bush described how his views on national prosperity and democracy had been shaped by the period when he lived with his young family in Caracas, Venezuela, and by his extensive travel overseas in the years since, particularly to Asia.

As if anticipating the questions that would arise in a presidential campaign concerning his brother’s unpopular Iraq War, Bush said that no doubt “mistakes were made.” But he also lauded the “highly successful” surge strategy of his brother’s second term and laid Iraq’s subsequent deterioration at the feet of the current president for having pulled US troops out of Iraq too soon.

Indeed, Bush offered one foreign-policy issue after another where he said President Obama had been “indecisive” or “feckless” and had lost the trust of important allies.

On Cuba, Bush said Mr. Obama got nothing in exchange for his opening to the communist island. He suggested that the five-decade-old Castro regime had been on the verge of collapse, but that now thanks to Mr. Obama, American tourists’ “piggy banks” would keep the regime afloat.

Saying America’s “words and actions must match,” Bush criticized what he called Obama’s tendency “to draw red lines – and then erase them.”

He jumped into the controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress next month, saying that instead of displaying a “careless disregard” for close allies, he would listen eagerly to what Mr. Netanyahu has to say. The Israeli leader’s message on the Iran nuclear talks – so at odds with the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts – is “important for the American people to hear.”

And he repeatedly and pointedly referred to the “greatest threat” of “Islamic radical terrorism” – on the same day Obama convened a White House summit on countering “violent extremism” that purposely played down connections to Islam in an effort to differentiate Muslims from terrorists.

None of those points are likely to rub Republican voters the wrong way, and may indeed win approving nods from a few others.

But if Bush does seek the presidency in 2016, he’ll have to pass through the Republican primaries first. And it’s there that his paean to immigration may cause his some trouble.

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