Holy Shnikies, Bush Man!

As John Ellis Bush (aka Jeb!) attempts to assert himself as ``my own man,’’ the American audience invariably asks this about the unprecedented prospect of a third president from the same family: Would a Bush 45 behave more like Bush 41 or Bush 43? The answer, judging from Jeb Bush’s address on foreign policy today, is probably: A little bit of both, and then some.

As Jeb Bush acknowledged in his live-streaming appearance at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, his vision of America’s place in the world is deeply rooted in the 1980s and his philosophy about America’s next moves is greatly influenced by the shocking events of the 2010s. Lace that world vision with a little rhetorical flourish evocative of the 1950s, with a dash of 1990s comedian Chris Farley thrown in, and there you have him:

“The more I get into this stuff, there’s some things you just go, you know, ‘holy shnikies.’ This is, like, serious stuff,” Bush said today as he fielded a question about nuclear weaponry in the hands of rogue nations. The Urban Dictionary offers this snynonym for the expression popularized by Farley’s 1995 film ``Tommy Boy’’ — ``Gee wilikers.’’

The humor of the moment masks the seriousness of a discussion that the son of one former president and brother of another clearly takes seriously. There are three simpler words at the heart of the policies that Bush enunciated in Chicago today: Strength, Seriousness and Growth.

It is the commitment to ``peace through strength’’ embodied in the 1980s administration of Ronald Reagan (with Bush’s father as vice president) which appears to have left a lasting impression on the politician amassing what promises to be a record campaign fortune before formally announcing his clear intentions of seeking the presidency — he’s been traveling so much raising money, Bush said today, that he feels like a ``gladiator.’’

``We know that peace is the condition under which mankind was meant to flourish,’’ Reagan said during his 1980 campaign. ``Yet peace does not exist of its own will. It depends on us, on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations.’’ The official motto of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is ``Peace Through Strength.’’

Yet Bush was invoking someone else today when he spoke of ``liberty diplomacy,’’ the ability of America to not only set an example for democracy, but also enforce its existence. This is evocative of an optimism his brother voiced, fueled by a rainbow of revolutions — including the Rose, the Orange and the Purple — that eventually didn’t turn out so well.

``The trend is clear,’’ former President George W. Bush said in one weekly radio address in March 2005. ``In the Middle East and throughout the world, freedom is on the march.’’

In his speech, the former president’s younger brother made only a passing reference to ``the liberation of Iraq,’’ aligning himself with the former leader’s contention that, despite what the U.S. misread before its invasion of the country, ``the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.’’

There was also a hint of the older brother’s early words about Osama bin Laden — ``remembering when I was a kid, they used to put out there in the old West a wanted poster, it said, `Wanted dead or alive,’’’ the president once told reporters — in Jeb Bush’s remarks about dealing with the insurgents who call themselves Islamic State. ``Tighten the noose and then take them out,’’ Bush said today of his approach toward ISIS. There is no place for diplomacy in this case, he said, but rather ``a global strategy that takes them out.’’

There is unlikely to be a hint of daylight between the positions of Bush or any other serious candidates for president in both parties — or President Barack Obama, for that matter—on the response to militants who burn a prisoner alive and behead the rest. But Bush has drawn a clear line within his own party on the question of American commitment to world leadership:

``America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world,’’ he said today. This places some of his potential rivals, such as Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, on notice that isolationism won’t play in the party’s primaries, and also stakes a claim to a muscular stance on foreign policy that another Floridian, Senator Marco Rubio, has taken early on. Bush also firmly endorsed the NSA’s surveillance of metadata in the war on terror.

``Everywhere you look, you see the world slipping out of control,’’ Bush said today, with sharp criticism for Obama’s handling of some of the worst crises and his diplomatic initiatives. Bush maintains that Obama, and by extension his former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic frontrunner for president, Hillary Clinton, have engaged in ``hashtag diplomacy.’’ Obama drew ``a red line’’ in Syria on the use of chemical weapons, Bush said, and then erased it. He accused the president of shifting the focus on Iran’s nuclear enrichment from containment of nuclear weaponry to ``regulation.’’ The Obama administration, Bush said, has been ``inconsistent and indecisive’’ on the world stage. ``We reset with Russia and then it subverts and invades its neighbors.’’ In the easing of relations with Cuba, he said, ``I wouldn’t call what we did a reset. I’d call it bad negotiations.’’ The president, Bush said, is more focused on winning ``the political news cycle.’’

Underlying the strength and seriousness of purpose which Bush speaks of projecting in American foreign policy is that final word: Growth. It’s not only a question of building a formidable military — the U.S., he said, requires a reassessment of the military needed for the challenges of the 21st Century.

It’s also a matter of building a strong economy. The ``pessimism’’ voiced across Europe, Bush says, stems from the lackluster growth of its economy. The goal for the United States, he suggests — drawing on a benchmark that the George W. Bush Institute has dubbed the ``Four Percent Growth Project’’ — should be 4 percent annual growth in Gross Domestic Product.

This is an economic extension of the concept of ``peace through strength.’’ The development of oil and natural gas in the United States, Bush suggests, is a crucial part of not only economic health, but also global independence from powers that play politics with petroleum: ``Don’t stifle the energy revolution in our country,’’ the son of a successful oilman said today.

As he publicly proclaimed his love for his father and brother today — while asserting that ``I am my own man’’ — Bush has called on some of their own past advisers for the shaping of his stated world view. Notably missing: Dick Cheney, John Bolton. Notably present: Paul Wolfowitz, Meghan O’Sullivan.

As Bush ally Ana Navarro asked on Twitter about the tweeted commentary on this kitchen cabinet today: ``Which one of them has he hired?’’

It’s still early for that sort of hiring.

Yet it’s hardly too early to see that, while 41 plus 43 may not equal 45, there’s still a lot of old Bush in the new Bush.