Jeb Bush’s foreign-policy speech yesterday aimed at the exact center of the Republican party, and it was sure to please. I was cheered by his rejection of both Obama’s disastrous withdrawal of U.S. leadership in the world and Rand Paul’s misguided libertarianism. Over the next few months, he will have to show that he has the chops not only to brush aside neo-isolationists, but also take on Hillary Clinton and her more hawkish views.
Perhaps the most heartening takeaway from the speech was Bush’s rejection of excessive libertarianism in national security. In a part of this speech that received less attention, Bush described the National Security Agency’s metadata-collection program as “hugely important.” He said, “For the life of me, I don’t understand the debate” over the program, despite the cries of civil libertarians that the NSA is violating individual privacy rights. Paul, for his part, is suing the NSA to stop the program — an odd approach for someone who can oppose the program through the political process in the Senate.
Bush’s position on the NSA is reasonable and sensible. Its balancing of security and liberty agrees with the views of most Republican primary voters and a majority of Americans, whose security and privacy, after all, is at stake. It suggests that he would take similarly reasonable views in keeping Guantanamo Bay and military tribunals open, using a combination of drones and surveillance to pursue al-Qaeda leaders, and even turning to more direct military measures to destroy terrorist groups. Bush also probably represented the views of a majority of Republicans in criticizing the Obama administration’s withdrawal from world leadership, its failures in the Middle East, and its shrinking response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. “The great irony of the Obama presidency is this: Someone who came to office promising greater engagement with the world has left America less influential,” he said. Bush’s call for a reinvigorated American role in world affairs will be popular among Republicans and will hopefully help send Paul and other neo-isolationists to the margins.
But Bush’s speech aimed, understandably, at the low-hanging fruit. He should take the important next step of offering a vision of U.S. foreign policy that will go beyond just reaction to current hot spots. Obama’s foreign policy (and that of Hillary Clinton) suffers not just from its shrinking response to global challenges, but from its failure to develop and follow a consistent strategy. President Obama has become a ping-pong ball bouncing from one crisis to the next, trying out policies on the fly, without any broader understanding of central U.S. interests. America has ceded the initiative to others because of the White House’s lack of strategic vision.
So what would make sense of Bush’s positions on the wide variety of foreign-policy challenges facing the nation? He could begin by returning to the traditional goals of U.S. foreign policy. In order of importance, these have been: a) defense of the nation’s territory; b) hegemony in the Western Hemisphere; c) preventing any single power from controlling Europe or Asia; d) securing free navigation of the seas and the airspace above them; and e) maintaining a liberal world order for us and our allies that allows free trade and democracy to flourish.
Redoubling the pursuit of al-Qaeda and ISIS — including the NSA programs, drones, Guantanamo Bay, and support for our Middle East allies fighting in Syria and Iraq now — is fundamental because it advances the defense of our homeland. Bush can restore American hegemony in the Western Hemisphere by reversing Obama’s opening to Cuba and pressuring Venezuela to overturn its hostile regime. He can focus our response to Russia’s revanchism and China’s rise in the most effective way by building blocking alliances to balance against their moves toward regional dominance. We must restore spending on the Navy, Air Force, and Army, because they are essential to maintaining open and free seas and air, secured by American bases and forces in maritime nations, and because free trade helps the American economy and supports friendly democratic regimes. This renewed spending on defense will also require, as Bush recognized, stoking economic growth at home to support it.
So let’s give Jeb Bush a B-plus for his speech — no grade inflation out here in Berkeley — as a down payment for a deeper vision of U.S. foreign policy.
— John Yoo is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of Point of Attack: Preventive War, International Law, and Global Welfare.