Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush directly blamed the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) forces and other crises in the Middle East on a widespread lack of trust in President Barack Obama's statements.
"A president's word matters," Bush said at a dinner for the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice in New York City on Thursday night.
"Language matters. The use of their bully pulpit matters. So when you say things like, 'We're gonna have a red line,' you need to mean it. You can't just say that and then say, 'Well, I was talking about the world's red line,'" Bush said, adding, "Give me a break."
Bush, who says he will decide by year's end whether to run for president, was referring to Obama's declaration in August 2012 that Syria's use of chemical weapons would cross "a red line for us," necessitating U.S. military intervention.
Obama reneged on that commitment following Syria's apparent actual use of such weapons a year later, claiming "I didn't set a red line; the world set a red line."
Economist and Newsmax columnist Larry Kudlow interviewed Bush on the stage of a ballroom packed with donors and other supporters of competition-based educational reform, including Republican New York businessman John Catsimatidis, at Manhattan's Metropolitan Club on Central Park East.
"Presidents need to accept responsibility for their language," Bush told Kudlow. "It needs to be taken to the bank. The problem in America today is that our friends have no clue where we will be, and so they change their behavior."
By contrast, he said, "our enemies have a clue where we will be and they change their behaviors as well. And so these voids are created and bad things happen."
Trust was just one of a series of principles Bush outlined as necessary for an effective U.S. foreign policy.
"The appropriate traditional foreign policy," Bush said, "requires you to nourish the alliances that exist in the world and have kept us safe. That means NATO. That means our relationship with Israel."
The younger brother of George W. Bush added: "these alliances have been built by American leadership and we need to nourish them so that they're real rather than just paper tigers."
Bush also blamed Obama for "gutting the military and our intelligence capabilities in a world where these asymmetric threats are real."
Bush concluded that "in every one of those four or five principles of foreign policy I would say that the president's let us down."
In explaining Obama's failures, Bush came close to psychoanalyzing the president. "It may be when he started, because the adulation was just spectacular," that Obama thought, "'well, maybe I don't need to think about this. I've got a Nobel Prize,'" and "the world was saying, 'the sheer force of your personality is foreign policy, and it'll all work out.'"
But Bush noted, "you need to lead, and reacting is not leadership."
Bush compared keeping forces in Iraq to the post-World War II missions involving U.S. troops in Japan, Korea, and Europe, which "created a security for the world and allowed people to rise up from poverty." According to Bush, those missions "should be something that we are really proud of," and not doing something similar in Iraq "created a void that has allowed ISIS to emerge in Iraq as a force to be reckoned with. And not fulfilling the commitment of the red-line threat created a similar kind of situation in Syria."
According to Bush, "there is a consistent foreign policy for our country that has worked" since World War II under Democrats and Republicans alike, "and it starts with saying that we lead the world. We're not part of the 'community of nations,'" a term Bush said gave him nausea.
He said that under traditional U.S. foreign policy, "we encourage people to step up with us, but we lead the world … And if you don't start with that premise in foreign policy, bad things happen."
A speaker who preceded Bush was former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who was the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee. Leiberman gave a humorous near-endorsement of Bush.
"I want to make clear at the outset that I will not be a candidate for president in 2016," Lieberman said. "And I hope I'm the only person here tonight who makes that announcement."
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