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Jeb Lugs Dubya's Weighty Baggage
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Jeb Bush insists he’s not his brother’s keeper, but, alas, he’s stuck being his brother’s baggage schlepper.
As evidenced Wednesday during a foreign policy speech, Jeb has the unenviable burden of running for president at a time when painful memories of George W. Bush’s toxic tenure are still abundantly fresh. Obviously he can’t denounce his brother, so the best he can do is spin his brother’s Iraq debacle in the best possible way, and hope that voters will no longer sniff the ever-lingering stench.
Good luck with that.
For starters, it’s hard to view Jeb as his “own man” when, in truth, his nascent foreign-policy team is studded with retreads from his brother’s team - including Robert Zoellick (who called for Saddam Hussein’s ouster long before Bush’s elective war), Stephen Hadley (who circulated false intelligence that Hussein was seeking WMDs), and, most notoriously, Paul Wolfowitz (who said the war would be inexpensive, and that Iraqis would “greet us as liberators”).
And Jeb was hardly his “own man” when he sought to make excuses for his brother. In his telling, it was the intelligence community - not the W administration - that screwed up. “Using the intelligence capability that everybody embraced about weapons of mass destruction was not, turns out to not be accurate,” Jeb said semi-articulately.
That spin is lifted directly from his brother’s 2010 memoir, “Decision Points.” It is a crock.
The Bush White House cherry-picked the intelligence that seemed to buttress its case for war, and simply ignored the intelligence that did not. At other times, it sold the public on pro-war intelligence that did not exist. Any candidate who is truly his “own man” need only consult the historical record to see the truth.
No way Jeb was going to go there.
During his foreign policy gig Wednesday - this was at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs - Jeb did laud his brother for the ‘07 troop surge (“one of the most heroic acts of courage politically that any president’s done”), which seemed a tad over the top, considering the fact that his brother had needlessly ignited Middle East flames before finally finding the right fire hose four years later. But Jeb loves his brother, so there’s that.
As for the current Middle East, Jeb lamented the fact that Iran has so much influence in Iraq and Syria, but failed in connecting the dots to Obama. The reason Iran has so much sway these days is because W’s removal of Hussein created a regional power vacuum that Iran speedily filled. Hussein and his ruling Sunnis were replaced by Shiites loyal to Shiite-run Iran. That’s Foreign Policy 101, but apparently Jeb can’t grasp it - because he’s blinded by his loyalty to his brother, or because he’s unsure which country is which (in his speech, he kept mixing up “Iraq” and “Iran”).
By the way, when he was asked to expound further about the Middle East, here’s what he said (don’t bother trying to comprehend the second sentence): “I don’t have a solution. I mean, I- I- I’ve read articles, you know, about whether the 1915 kind of breakout of the Middle East and how that no longer is a viable deal.”
Say what? And this guy is supposed to be the Bush family braniac?
Bottom line: Jeb has already proven himself adept at raising money from deep-pocket donors loyal to the Bush brand, but you have to wonder whether swing voters will buy a guy who’s lugging his brother’s baggage. Jeb said recently that his bid “is not about re-litigating anything in the past,” but it’s hard to see him gaining major traction if he’s out there spinning excuses for the past.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia ( and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at