Jeb lugs big brother’s weighty baggage

    Jeb Bush says he’s not his brother’s keeper (“I’m my own man”), but, alas, he’s stuck being his brother’s baggage schlepper.

    As evidenced yesterday during a foreign policy speech, Jeb has the unenviable burden of running for president at a time when painful memories of W’s toxic tenure are still abundantly fresh. Obviously he can’t denounce his brother – quite the opposite: “I love my 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 Iraqs would “greet us as liberators”).

    And Jeb was hardly his “own man” when he sought yesterday to make excuses for his brother. In his telling, it was the intelligence community – not the W administration – that screwed up. Here’s the way Jeb put it (and you may need to read this sentence twice, because it’s only semi-articulate): “Using the intelligence capability that everybody embraced about weapons of mass destruction was not, turns out to not be accurate.”

    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 intellgence that did not exist. Any candidate who is truly his “own man” need only consult the historical record to see the truth. A few random examples from 2002, when the Bush salesmanship was in full swing:

    On Oct. 4, intelligence officials, speaking anonymously for fear of retaliation, told the press that the Bush team was wildly inflating the Saddam threat, suppressing credible evidence to the contrary, and that this behavior was “typical of the way the administration has been handling intelligence about Iraq.” On Sept. 26, a classified Defense Intelligence Agency report (which didn’t surface until after the war began) said there was “no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons.”

    On Sept. 23, the non-partisan, non-government Institute for Science and International Security said that the Bush team was exaggerating a Saddam nuke threat, and reported that “U.S. nuclear experts who dissent from the administration’s position are expected to remain silent. ‘The president has said what he has said, end of story,’ one knowledgeable expert said.” Because, 16 days earlier, Bush had cited a new U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency report, which supposedly stated that Iraq was six months away from developing a nuke. Turned out, there was no such report.

    And so on. No way Jeb was going to go there.

    During his foreign policy gig yesterday – 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 needlessy 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. (Obama’s fault, natch.) But somehow Jeb failed to connect the dots. 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 yesterday 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.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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