Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush joined me on Thanksgiving Eve to cover the security concerns sweeping the world after the Paris, Mali and Tunis attacks and following shoot-down by Turkey of Russian fighter-bomber. We also talked about the state of the 2016 race and of course that means Donald Trump:
HH: To get you started on a long commute, I’m pleased to welcome back former Florida Governor and candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016, Jeb Bush. Governor Bush, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JB: Thank you, Hugh, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.
HH: And do you. I don’t know if you’re spending it in Florida or Texas. Wherever you are, have a great one. It’s a tough time in America right now. I talked to you a week ago after, during the Paris attacks.
HH: Do you believe the American response has been adequate to the crisis?
JB: No, not at all. In fact, yesterday, the President said something that I found breathtaking in its naiveté, which is that the best way to show our differences with ISIS is to convene a meeting about climate change. That’ll show ‘em. That’ll show ISIS what we mean, that we mean business, that our values are different. Of course, they’re different. This is a threat against Western Civilization, and the response has been very halting and very weak, and I think it sends signals to our allies that we’re not serious anymore, and has grave repercussions as it relates to the North American alliance. It certainly has, validates concerns in the Persian Gulf countries and Arab countries in general that the United States is not going to provide any security umbrella for them. The world has been turned upside down, and our President acts as though this is a law enforcement exercise, that just be patient, it’ll all work out. And he’s wrong.
HH: Now I don’t think any serious observer goes with the jayvee analogy anymore, Governor Bush, although I haven’t heard the President repudiate that. Nevertheless, the rules of engagement haven’t changed as far as we can tell, except for Russia and France. If you’re the president, what are your rules of engagement going to be vis-à-vis the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant?
JB: Well, first of all, the rules of engagement should be the international rules of engagement of war. And we should untie the hands of the war fighters who had additional constraints. We learned last week when there were attacks against a convoy of trucks taking fuel across the border in Turkey to replenish the treasury of ISIS, that we sent leaflets down to make sure that the drivers knew that those trucks were about ready to be bombed, and that the CIA was concerned, the CIA director, apparently, in another news report, was concerned that there was going to be environmental hardship if we cut off the oil supplies by attacking the convoy. I mean, my goodness, this is like Alice in Wonderland logic. We’ve kind of lost our way, and the President needs to declare war on ISIS, not to think of it as a law enforcement exercise, just kind of a bothersome thing that gets in the way of his legacy building. So number one…
HH: Some observers…
JB: You do that. Number two, you lead. You create a strategy. You ask the war fighters for an actual strategy, and to give options, including every option should be on the table, rather than put constraints on them.
HH: Yeah, some folks have called for the sort of massive air B-52 runs over ISIS strongholds like Raqqa and Mosul that we saw in the days of Vietnam, Operation Arc Light and others. Is that something that would be on the Jeb Bush menu of options?
JB: Well, I would like to see what the options are from the military commanders. I would respect them enough to ask them to provide options. I think it’s going to require more than just bombing a city of 800,000 people, most of whom are trapped in a city that’s controlled by these barbaric Islamic terrorists. I think it’s going to require a much more engaged effort where we forward lean, we have air controllers that identify where the bombing should take place, that our strikes are more precise. 75% of the sorties don’t even drop their ordinances. I mean, this is the world we’re in, and the number of sorties is far less than it was in Afghanistan. This is not a, there is no strategy here, and there’s no effort to be serious about it. But I know the military is capable of doing this, and we have the resources to do it. We lack the will right now with President Obama.
HH: Earlier today, the President appeared with his national security team, giving assurances to Americans. But a lot of people have lost confidence in him, Governor Bush. Have you?
JB: I have. I have. And I think his last, this trip overseas this last week also signifies that I think a lot of the world has lost confidence in him as well. This is a scary time. The attacks in Tunisia, the attacks in Lebanon and Egypt, the bombing, the taking down of a Russian jet because of our pulling back and allowing them to have a significant presence in Syria, and of course the tragedy in Paris and the unfolding drama in Brussels, and the potential attack to our own country, all of this should give our President resolve. But instead, he’s reshuffling the deck. He’s not serious about this, and it is quite troubling.
HH: Let’s turn to that Turkey-Russia standoff, Governor Bush. The Republican field is split. I’ve interviewed almost everyone except Donald Trump and Ben Carson since Paris, and everyone who will be on the main stage, at least, and they have, they’ve all divided on what we ought to do with Putin, some saying let’s work with him where we can and fight him in Ukraine, other people saying no, have nothing to do with it, that’s like throwing gasoline on the fire. What’s Jeb Bush’s assessment of Putin, especially after the Turkish shoot down of the Russian fighter/bomber?
JB: Look, I think we should deal with Putin from a position of strength, not weakness, and now we are weaker and weaker with each passing week. So if Putin wants to join a strategy to take out ISIS, he will have to abandon his support of Assad and his alliance with Iran as well. There are two challenges in Syria. One is ISIS, the other is the brutality of the Assad regime that is propped up by two client states – Russia and Iran. And that’s their interest. Their interest is to protect their client. It is not to destroy ISIS. Had they had that as their objective, you would see their sorties going after ISIS. Instead, they’re going after, in their great preponderance, the forces, the remnants of the Syrian Free Army. The reason why they had the challenge and the conflict along the Turkish border in Turkish airspace wasn’t because they were going after ISIS. Those strikes were against other forces that aren’t ISIS.
HH: So what do you think Putin’s theory of the case is in Syria? Destroy everyone except Assad?
JB: I think it’s to prop up the Assad regime and to use this as a base from which to extend their influence beyond Syria. And I think ultimately, the end game for the short run us to do whatever they can to get the sanctions lifted from the EU by the end of the year. And so anything he can do to try to create a divide, a gap between the United States and our allies, he will do. And he’s been quite successful at it. You can see other European countries now applauding Russia, hoping that they’ll join an effort to take out ISIS. And I think the ultimate trade would be for him to lift these sanctions that could have potential crippling impact on his economy at a time when he needs hard currency. So my personal belief is that he has a clear strategy. We don’t, and he’s taking advantage of our weakness.
HH: Now in the President’s statement this morning, he said look, we’ve run 8,000 strikes on ISIS. There’s no credible threat against the United States. He’s obviously trying to rebuild some credibility that’s shattered here. What can he do? I mean, 14 months is a long time, Jeb Bush. What can he do in 14 months that would restore some sense of security to the world?
JB: He could directly arm the Kurds in Iraq. He could reengage diplomatically and politically and militarily in Iraq. He could restrict or stop the restriction of our soldiers that are in Iraq from being embedded with the Iraqi military. He could reestablish the successful elements of the surge that occurred when we created an alliance with the Sunni tribal forces that right now do not believe that the Iraqi government nor the United States is serious in protecting them and partnering with them to take out ISIS. He could do a lot of things. But what he’s doing instead is creating conditions on top of the military that makes it hard for them to carry out their mission.
HH: One of the things he’s done in terms of conventional weaponry, he’s gone after his Department of Defense. He’s gone after the A-10, the Ticonderoga Class cruiser, and the Apache helicopter. Now that’s in the weeks stuff, Governor Bush. I don’t know if you’re down there with Brennan, yet, into the weeds stuff. That’s one of your national security guys. But what will you do as commander-in-chief vis-à-vis not only these platforms, but all of the platforms that the military wants but have been successfully denied them by this administration?
JB: I think we need to make a major commitment to rebuild the military, including procuring modern 21st Century weapons as it relates to particularly the Air Force and the Navy. The Air Force is operating with equipment that is older than the pilots. And we are seeing, apparently, the very sophisticated air defense capabilities being built by Russia and China, and being sold to areas like Iran, where we don’t have, we have the potential of losing our superiority. And so I think we need to make a major upgrade across the spectrum of procurement, because you’re absolutely correct. In the last six or seven years, there’s been a major drawdown of troop levels and a drawdown, a cancellation of any of the modernization that was being planned.
HH: So Governor Bush, let’s turn over to the strategic deterrent. I’ve talked to you before about the Ohio Class replacement. You just mentioned in the last answer about the long range strike bomber when you were talking about the B-52s being older than the pilots.
HH: And we don’t have any new missiles. This is a very expensive proposition. Where’s the money going to come from?
JB: You know, I’ve done the, I laid out in a speech to the Citadel a modernization of our military, a focus on cybersecurity, a rebuilding of our traditional military forces to deal with these threats. And when you price it out, it’s over a ten year period, it’s an increase of about $25 billion dollars, and that’s the estimate. You don’t ever know until you get into the procurement process, but $25 billion dollars, you could reform Medicaid and achieve that kind of annual savings in short order. And I intend to do that.
HH: So it’s $25 billion a year? $25 billion a year is what you’re talking about.
JB: I mean, the increase over a ten year period would be $250 billion, but $25 billion a year on a budget that is $600 billion, right? And close to that over ten years, is $6 trillion. So we’re talking about a modest increase, but focused on strengthening our military posture and increasing the force level so that we could actually not just talk, but we can act.
HH: Now I read the Citadel speech, because Tim Miller sent it around to me, and it got specific at some points. At other points, it sort of backed off specificity. At what level of detail does someone have to run for the presidency, especially in this primary with so many large and colorful personalities?
JB: Yeah, (laughing) well, specificity, if that’s the benchmark, is the large personality, I am far and away the most specific candidate running. But if you look at our position paper that backed up the speech, you’ll see a lot of specifics, and I think it’s important for candidates running for the highest office in the land, particularly on these commander-in-chief issues, to be really serious and to be really specific about what your objectives are and how you go about it. You can’t just bluster your way towards security for our country. You can’t talk your way through it. You can’t just change the volume of your voice and make it louder and call that strength. You have to show the fortitude necessary and the priorities necessary to keep us safe, and there’s a lot of challenges that we face. You mentioned the nuclear challenge that is certainly real as Russia rebuilds its capabilities. But we have cybersecurity issues. We have challenges to our grid. We have espionage taking place at higher levels. Our counterintelligence and intelligence capabilities need to be upgraded. This is the first priority of government, and so I think specificity is important.
HH: Now when you mentioned upping your voice, you’re talking about Donald Trump, obviously, and I’ll come…
JB: Well, I thought you were, so I was just validating it.
HH: I just wanted to ask you, is the campaign henceforth all about Donald Trump? Or how does it evolve in the next ten weeks before Iowa and then New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada?
JB: In my case, it’s about who has the leadership skills, the proven leadership skills to reverse course and to create high-sustained economic growth for this country again where people’s hopes are lifted up, and how do we create a secure America and a secure world by American leadership, and I want to tell that story. The Trump story, I can’t control, obviously, and I think over time, people are going to see that he’s not a serious man. He’s entertaining, he loves to divide the country up. He exaggerates or doesn’t tell the truth as it relates to thousands and thousands of Muslims that were cheering in Jersey City. Those kinds of things are just not factual and not accurate, and they’re all done to provoke anger and angst and frustration that already exist. And I just think he need to get beyond that. We need to start fixing these problems, and so my story is one, a proven leader that has the capability of making tough decisions and fixing these enormous problems our country faces.
HH: When you see the surge that Ted Cruz has had in Iowa, Governor, what’s that tell you about the volatility of the race? And what about, you’ve got Senator Cruz and Senator Rubio who many people think are in second and third position, or third and fourth position right now in the early states about the need, how are you going to define yourself vis-à-vis those two gentlemen who have both got momentum?
JB: I’m going to define myself as a proven leader who served as governor and had to make tough decisions. And people will be able to compare that record of accomplishment with the records of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and all the other candidates, and I think I’ll come out ahead.
HH: Now let me turn back to foreign affairs, because yesterday, Mike Pompeo, Congressman, frequent guest, may even be on today, got a letter from the Department of State that confirmed that President Obama did not require Iranian leaders to sign the nuclear deal that his team negotiated. “The joint comprehensive plan of action is not treaty or an executive agreement. It is not a signed document,” wrote Julia Frifield, the State Department assistant secretary for legislative affairs. It goes on to talk about the success of the agreement will depend not on whether it is legally binding or signed, but rather on the extensive verification measures we have put in place. What’s your reaction to it? It’s almost laughable.
JB: I don’t, what does that mean? I mean, how can you not have, how do you have an agreement that’s not signed by the executive of both countries, or at least their delegated authority? That makes no sense at all. Of course, this agreement itself doesn’t make any sense, so I guess I’m not surprised. But the lack of transparency, the inability of the Senate to actually have a thoughtful debate on the subject so that these concerns could have been aired out, all of this is this unique effort of this president to go way beyond what his Constitutional authority is, and to ignore the Constitution in many cases, and the next president is going to have to be a lot more respectful of the extraordinary document that keeps us safe from our government, and keeps our freedoms intact, because this guy has been trampling over the Constitution each and every day.
HH: Last question, Governor Bush, at the first debate, and I’ll see you in Las Vegas for the second, and then in Florida for the February debate, I asked about your foreign policy team. It’s long and it’s extensive, but who’s the core? Who’s going to help Jeb Bush govern if you’re the president of the United States? I’m not asking for your vice presidential nomination or your secretary of State nomination, but who’s the A team for you?
JB: Listen, I spend a lot of time on these subjects, because I do think it’s a serious endeavor, the most important part of the job of being president. And so as a candidate, I want to be surrounded by people that I greatly respect. And so I’ve had a broad team of people that have served in the military and served in foreign policy posts and national security posts. And I don’t have a set team. Robert Karem, young man, is a policy, director of foreign policy efforts. He’s an extraordinarily solid guy. And through him, and through my own contacts, I access a lot of people. I spend a lot of time on the phone and in meetings learning. I have the humility to understand that this is a complicated world, and that the important thing is to have really talented people around you to help you craft your policies and be consistent with it so that the world knows that when you act, you’re going to, when you say something, you’re going to back it up.
HH: Governor Jeb Bush, thanks for joining me on this Thanksgiving eve. A great Thanksgiving to all the Bushes, especially your mom and dad.
JB: God bless you. You, too. Take care.
End of interview.