WASHINGTON -- Former governor of Florida and likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush says that he's his "own man" -- pushing back against critics who say he's beholden to the legacy of his brother, former President George W. Bush, and his costly wars overseas. But Jeb was largely absent from debates around the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, so much so that it was hard to conclude where he stood on those divisive issues. It wasn't until 2006, when Jeb joined three other governors in a surprise trip to Iraq, that he affirmed his commitment to the mission by borrowing one of his brother's favorite slogans.
"I'd just like to reiterate what the other governors have said, that it is very important that we stay the course, that we provide support for these incredible people that are doing such a service for liberty around the world and protecting our freedoms here," Jeb said during a press conference at the White House following the trip, with his brother at his side.
George W. Bush abandoned the phrase "stay the course" a few months later, as Iraq began to fall apart amid increasing sectarian violence.
In another statement following his trip, the Florida governor said: "I'm extremely proud of all the men and women serving our country to protect our freedoms and democracy. The spirit and confidence among the troops is high and the progress that's been made in Iraq is undeniable."
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, and for several years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush had remarkably little to say about the conflicts abroad. He focused instead on domestic matters, including the Terry Schiavo case, education reform and ballot issues in the 2002 Florida Senate race. He mostly left foreign policy to his brother. In 1997, Bush joined Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, among other hawks, in signing a set of principles devised by the conservative Project for the New American Century that called for a more muscular U.S. foreign policy. But he declined to join the group's other members in calling for the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
The comments from 2006 suggest, however, that Bush will have some trouble showing independence from his brother’s foreign policy record, despite what he may claim.
Bush delivered his first major foreign policy address on Wednesday in Chicago, where he made the case for increased military spending and a more robust U.S. role in global affairs.
"America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world -- our security, our prosperity and our values demand that we remain engaged and involved in often distant places," Bush said. "We have no reason to apologize for our leadership and our interest in serving the cause of global security, global peace and human freedom."
Despite his refusal to re-litigate his brother's conflicts, it's an open question as to whether Bush can convince voters that he would chart a different course on foreign policy as president. Both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars remain unpopular across the country, and Democrats have already begun pointing to George W. Bush's costly legacy as a reason why his brother is unworthy of the Oval Office.
Bush's newly announced circle of advisers may also give his critics pause. He will be consulting many of the same advisers his brother relied on, such as Paul Wolfowitz, who served as deputy secretary of defense and was an architect of Iraq War policy. Also on the list are former Homeland Security Secretaries Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, former national security adviser Stephen Hadley, former CIA Director Porter Goss and former NSA Director Michael Hayden.