Jeb Bush gave his brother, former president George W. Bush, a big bear hug today — foreign policy wise, at least. In a speech before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Jeb laid out a hawkish vision of America’s role on the world stage, in contrast to the “inconsistent and indecisive” approach of President Obama. At the same time, Jeb’s foreign policy advisers look a lot like his brother’s. That got me thinking: With Jeb trying to win the GOP presidential nomination, how do Republicans — coming on seven years after the end of W’s term — feel about George’s foreign policy legacy?
Even when George’s overall job approval rating dropped below 30 percent toward the end of his presidency, 61 percent of Republicans still approved of his performance on foreign policy, according to a September 2008 CBS News/New York Times survey. And because his overall standing has improved in the years since he left office, his numbers on specific controversial foreign policy issues have grown quite popular among Republicans.
The war in Afghanistan started in 2001 and didn’t officially end until this past December (and “end,” in this case, is a relative term). Even with Obama at America’s helm for six years, 56 percent of Republicans think the war was worth fighting compared to just 38 percent who don’t, according to a December ABC News/Washington Post poll. Republicans often turn against anything with Obama’s name attached to it, but a majority still support the war.
Obama came into office wanting to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. That hasn’t happened. Critics charge that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been denied habeas corpus, and that some have been abused and tortured. Supporters of the prison have said the site is necessary for the interrogation of dangerous suspects. Republicans are clearly in the latter camp. In a Gallup poll last June, just 13 percent of Republicans said they wanted Guantanamo Bay shut down.
George never invaded Iran but did list the country as part of the “axis of evil.” Obama has tried to negotiate with Iran on nuclear proliferation, although most Republicans don’t think it will work. According to a Fox News poll in January, 76 percent of Republicans think that military force, not just diplomacy and sanctions, will be necessary to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
The Iraq War was by far the most controversial of George’s foreign policy decisions. Thousands of Americans died, and most Americans believe the war was a mistake. An April 2013 ABC/Washington Post poll found that a large majority (70 percent) of Republicans still approve of his choice to invade Iraq. But other polls that don’t include his name show Republicans as far less positive on Iraq (which speaks to the strength of the Bush name with Republicans).
The hawkishness of Republican voters isn’t just backward looking either. It extends to newer conflicts. According to a February Marist College/NBC News survey, 74 percent of Republicans want to use ground troops to stop Islamic State. A plurality, 38 percent, support sending a large number of troops overseas (compared with a small number or none at all) in an effort to stop the group.