Former Florida governor Jeb Bush called US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy “catastrophic” on Friday and said Washington was wrong to clash with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his planned speech to Congress next week, in an interview with daily newspaper Israel Hayom.
In the interview, published only in Hebrew, the Republican politician — considering a run for the presidency in 2016 — placed the blame for the sorry state of relations between Washington and Jerusalem squarely on the Obama administration.
“President Obama’s foreign policy is a catastrophe,” he said. “There aren’t many places in the world you can point to and say — things have gotten better since Obama’s been in power.
“He believes removal of American influence from the rest of the world will make the world a better place and encourage peace. But history has shown that lack of American involvement creates instability and serious problems.”
Bush, one of the most prominent Republicans contemplating a run for the White House, lamented that America’s enemies no longer feared it, while its allies could no longer rely on it. He pointed to the nuclear negotiations with Iran as well as the burgeoning conflict with Israel over those talks as an example of this.
“At the beginning of the negotiations the administration had a clear goal: to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, [but] now it has lowered the bar and is willing to regulate its nuclearization… this is dangerous and creates instability in the region,” Bush asserted, calling the strategy “senseless.”
Netanyahu, Bush said, had every right to come to Congress on March 3 to speak his mind against such a deal.
“There are many who want to hear him, because he is a strong and supportive ally, and he should be treated with respect,” he said. “I am disappointed that the administration is going out of its way to undermine the visit.”
Netanyahu’s March 3 speech is controversial due to the fact that it was not coordinated with the White House and the expectation that Netanyahu will publicly skewer the deal that is taking shape between Washington and Tehran. The speech is also set just two weeks before Netanyahu faces voters at home for reelection.
Bush stated that, as strong allies, the US and Israel should be completely coordinated in their policies.
“Obama is simply mistaken in creating differences and attacking the Israeli leaders. This is inappropriate behavior,” he claimed.
Netanyahu, he added, “will help Americans hear the voice of [their] most powerful ally in the region regarding a deal and will make clear the existential threat [Israel] faces, and what that means for the threat facing the world.”
Bush said it had been a mistake to partially remove the sanctions placed on Tehran at the start of negotiations last year. The multiple rounds of international sanctions had been working, he claimed, but their alleviation eased the pressure on the Islamic Republic and hurt American leverage in the talks.
The correct strategy, he continued, would have been to deny Iran any mitigation of sanctions before it had agreed to a full deal denying it of its nuclear ambitions.
The Senate, said Bush, must insist on authorizing any such deal before it is implemented in order to ensure that it is truly a beneficial one.
Meanwhile, Bush admitted that US-Israel relations had been dealt a blow in recent years, “not just on Iran.” But hinting at the 2016 presidential elections and his possible run for office, Bush promised to “repair them in two years’ time.”
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) February 19, 2015
Last week Bush and Netanyahu shared messages of support on Twitter, after the former governor said during a speech that he thought it was important for the prime minister to address Congress on the possible nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu thanked Bush for his comments and indicated he was moving ahead with the controversial talk. Bush, whose older brother and father both occupied the Oval Office, responded that he was “anxious to hear” Netanyahu’s views.
.@netanyahu You’re welcome Mr. Prime Minister, I’m anxious to hear what you have to say!
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) February 19, 2015
The upcoming speech, which is openly opposed by the White House, some Democratic legislators and many within the US Jewish community, angered the Obama administration and US lawmakers, who charged that the invitation to address Congress disregarded diplomatic protocol and was an attempt by Netanyahu to derail the US-brokered nuclear negotiations with Iran, Obama’s signature foreign policy objective.
On Friday, an Al-Monitor report claimed that AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — was also opposed to the speech and had urged the Israeli leader to reconsider in anticipation of the increased strain it would place on US-Israel ties.
According to a report by columnist Ben Caspit, one of the heads of the pro-Israel lobby said the group was “in shock” after Netanyahu announced he would address Congress, calling it “AIPAC’s Day of Atonement,” and “the lowest point we have ever reached.
“AIPAC prepared a detailed presentation that was given to Netanyahu with all the negative repercussions they believe would result from the controversial invitation to Congress and the cumulative damage,” Caspit wrote.
The address was also criticized this week by US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who said in an interview that the manner in which Netanyahu’s speech was arranged — and his insistence on going ahead with it — had become a partisan issue that was “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between Israel and the US.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday called Netanyahu’s judgment into question, pointing to the Israeli premier’s support for the US Iraq war (Netanyahu was a private citizen at the time, and Kerry had in the past backed the war).
The planned speech has caused an uproar in Israel as well, coming just two weeks before national elections. Netanyahu has rejected the criticism, saying it is his duty to lobby against the nuclear deal.
Lazar Berman and AP contributed to this report.