Rand Paul may be “closest to Obama in his view on foreign policy,” as Dr. Charles Krauthammer put it on Tuesday, but he is facing stiff competition from Jeb Bush in that category. The former Florida governor praised Obama’s initial negotiating efforts with Iran on Tuesday, telling an audience in Denver that “we need to give him credit” for “bringing other people along and making it tougher.” The puzzling statement suggests the influence of James A. Baker III on the Bush campaign.
Baker, a former Secretary of State, was the co-chair of the Iraq Study Group in 2006, a policy panel that recommended the U.S. reach out to Iran and Syria and “try to engage them constructively.” Many of the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East were informed by the Iraq Study Group’s conclusions–which were rejected at the time by President George W. Bush, who proceeded with the “surge” in Iraq that eventually secured the country before Obama’s precipitous pullout.
Bush recently invited Baker to serve as one of his campaign’s senior foreign policy advisers. He did so days before Baker addressed the gala dinner of J Street, a far-left organization that opposes the Israeli government and supports the emerging Iran deal. In his remarks to J Street, Baker blamed Israel for the impasse in peace talks with Palestinians, said that Israel had been too skeptical of talks with Iran, and suggested no future U.S. president would support an Israeli attack on Iran.
Baker reiterated his views on Sunday in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zarakiah. Jeb Bush has attempted to distinguish his own views on Israel from Baker’s, but his remarks on Iran suggest he may share some of Baker’s ideas.
Bush told the crowd in Denver: “The president was right in the beginning he was going to negotiate with the Iranian regime to establish the goal,” Bush said, “and it should have been a nonnegotiable goal, of never allowing Iran to have a nuclear bomb.”
That is a sharp reversal from what Republicans have previously said about the goal of U.S. negotiations with Iran.
In the Vice Presidential debate of 2012, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made it clear that while the Obama administration’s goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Republicans wanted to stop Iranian nuclear enrichment completely–a goal shared at the time by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who passed many resolutions to that effect.
Moreover, the circumstances in which Obama began his negotiations with the regime were highly problematic. He reached out to the regime in 2009, at a time when it was facing strong domestic opposition and protest. Rather than supporting the pro-democracy movement, Obama offered the regime a chance to consolidate. Obama has also refused to bring up other issues, such as Iran’s support for terror, its imprisonment of several Americans, or its proxy wars in Yemen and elsewhere.
In addition, the terms of the interim deal that formally started the negotiations were overly generous to Iran, allowing it some relief from sanctions and time to continue developing its nuclear technology. When the interim deal was announced in November 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it an “historic mistake.” And as the details emerged, such as the fact that talks would not cover Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, that assessment was vindicated.
It is also unclear why Obama should deserve “credit” for negotiations when he had long opposed the sanctions on Iran that had forced the regime to the negotiating table. And diplomatic efforts had already been tried under George W. Bush before Obama came to office and irritated America’s negotiating partners, especially France, by re-setting talks on terms more favorable to Iran.
These facts make Jeb Bush’s praise for Obama puzzling–and almost certainly reflect Baker’s influence.