Why do all the GOP candidates sound like George W. Bush?

August 12, 2015
U.S. President George W. Bush during a press conference in the press briefing room at the White House

President George W. Bush at his final press conference in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, January 12, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

President George W. Bush left office in January 2009 with some of the lowest poll numbers ever recorded. Nowhere were his policies more reviled than in foreign policy. U.S. global leadership had suffered severely during his administration, and voters, well aware of the damage to America’s reputation and the enormous addition to the national debt, handed the White House to the Democrats.

So why are so many of the candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination rushing to revive the exact same Bush-era approach to international affairs?

The best case in point is the recently concluded Iran nuclear deal. The agreement blocks any path to an Iranian bomb, establishes unprecedented verification procedures, largely eliminates Iran’s enriched uranium and sharply curtails Tehran’s other nuclear research.

Republican 2016 presidential candidates pose at the start of the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland

Republican 2016 presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul and Ohio Governor John Kasich at the start of the first official Republican debate of the 2016 election in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

In the Bush administration, there was a definite preference for unilateral action — international cooperation was downplayed. The White House undertook the major foreign-policy gamble of the new century — invading Iraq — almost alone.

By contrast, President Barack Obama chose diplomacy with Iran to make clear to the world that such unilateralism had ended. His administration slowly and painstakingly built a sanctions regime that brought to bear the combined power of the world’s major economies and dozens of other countries. It was a slower, more methodical approach.

Though most now agree that “crippling sanctions” brought Iran to the negotiating table, many tend to gloss over the fact that it was diplomatic engagement — not unilateral action — that made the sanctions possible and produced the agreement. We should also not forget that many of the current opponents of the agreement strongly opposed the diplomatic effort to build that international consensus.

Yet leading Republican candidates are now struggling to outdo one another over who would abandon U.S. allies first. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has implied that military action might be required on “Day One” of his presidency. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has implied that it might take a little longer. There’s little sign that either of them realize the critical importance of Washington leading an international effort.

And if U.S. allies are of little importance to these candidates, international institutions like the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency appear to be held in even lower esteem. In denouncing the pact with Iran, despite its unprecedented verification and enforcement provisions, several candidates declared their outrage over the fact that the atomic energy agency was responsible for the details of inspections. Given that the agreement was successfully negotiated by all the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, it was expected that critical enforcement of the agreement would be managed by the atomic energy agency.

U.S. President George W. Bush waves as he returns from Camp David to the White House in Washington

President George W. Bush waves as he returns from Camp David to the White House in Washington, January 18, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

All this brings to mind George W. Bush’s similar dismissal of existing international institutions. For example, when the head of the U.N. inspectors in Iraq, Hans Blix, reported in early 2003 that he had doubts about the presence of weapons of mass destruction there, and that, in any event, a few more months of inspections would settle the issue, Bush disregarded his counsel and invaded Iraq. We all know now that there were no WMD in Iraq.

In stark contrast to that foreign-policy disaster, the Iran agreement has the unanimous support of the Security Council, as well as backing from major economic powers, including Germany, India and Japan. This week, the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, joined Egypt in fully endorsing the deal.

The value of this global support is immeasurable. It is a force multiplier of enormous consequence. By contrast, if the deal is abandoned, and the United States finds itself moving toward war with Iran, Washington should expect to fight that war alone. Even if America does not bomb or invade Iran, it would still be a pariah because the other countries will resume relations without Washington — again relegating the United States to lower status in the world.

For decades, the Republican Party — my party — was widely viewed as a party of wise and thoughtful national-security leadership. That brand was severely damaged by the Bush administration. It now appears that the field of Republican presidential candidates is looking to make that damage permanent.

7 comments

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In a time when 100% opposition has become essential, no part of any policy can be accepted.
The logic of the position does not matter any more. Authoritarianism – the leader leads, the followers follow – can thrive with 100% opposition.
Not so good for the country, good for the party.

Posted by Brent1023 | Report as abusive

Why do all the GOP candidates sound like George W. Bush?

Because they like losing Presidential elections.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Patriot Act

Domestic Warantless Wiretapping

2 trillion dollars on a war that yielded nothing but a new home for ISIS

No Child Left Behind Federal Education Act

Medicare Spending Expansion Act

Yes, keep sound like him. See how that goes.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Why do all the GOP candidates sound like George W. Bush?

Because that’s what conservatives do, live in the past.

Posted by Calvin2k | Report as abusive

This is a very serious man who has been at the fulcrum of power. What he says is both true and alarming. It is as alarming as the current president who has an operational kill list and goes to war without declaration. I am not saying both parties are the same. I shall say they have both strayed from the constitution that Col Wilkerson, myself and 19 million veterans have sworn to uphold.

It seems to me the structures of both parties, when the hundreds of millions go for the ad buys, are aligned in war…. and that is what we see the candidates sucking up to. The money.

I just have this to say. There will be no profit in WWIII. Et tu Bunkie?

Posted by TheOldSodbuster | Report as abusive

GW Bush’s father, GHW Bush, did an excellent job assembling the Desert Shield coalition. Its mission was clear and limited … liberate Kuwait.

So Republicans are clearly capable of coalition building. But that was in the days when there were still moderate Republicans. The rise of the Tea Party has forced Republicans to move sharply right to get nominated, then sharply left to try get elected. This is untenable. Voters are left wondering where they really stand.

The result has been a party with few if any moderates, that campaigned to repeal “ObamaCare” (the Affordable Care Act) without doing so, and opposed the Iran nuclear agreement before they knew its details.

I believe all Republican hopefuls except Trump have distanced themselves from the official party position that all undocumented immigrants should be deported. (Small wonder).

Donald Trump doesn’t sound like the rest of the candidates, but then there’s some question whether he’s even a Republican.

Until the Tea party pro-life litmus test is a thing of the past, and moderate candidates start to reappear, I don’t expect to be voting Republican any time soon.

Posted by Curlee | Report as abusive

It’s pretty clear, the republicans they can’t win a presidential election for quite some time. The Bush/Cheney foreign policy boondoggles, GOP runaway spending, and domestic economic crash will be remembered for a long time…. by anyone with half a brain.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive