Former Florida governor and undeclared Republican presidential Jeb Bush is in Berlin today, the first stop on a multi-nation European tour during which he is expected to hone his foreign policy credentials, with a particular emphasis on dealing with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Bush will face a wary Western European audience that, in large part, still remembers his brother’s presidency – and the two wars that began on his watch – with significant anger. As he moves east, though, into countries like Estonia, which are more directly threatened by Russian adventurism, he is likely to receive a warmer welcome.
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Perhaps with the expectation that the German audience at his first stop may not be the most receptive to bellicosity, the prepared remarks – at least the snippets released by his campaign staff Tuesday morning – were fairly anodyne.
“Seventy years after America and Western Europe began to build the post-war architecture of security, that alliance is as relevant as the day it was founded. Who will say otherwise, as we watch the fate of Ukraine, slowly unfold in tragedy? Ukraine, a sovereign European nation, must be permitted to choose its own path.
“Russia must respect the sovereignty of all of its neighbors. And who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered? Our alliance, our solidarity and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order… an order that free nations have sacrificed so much to build?”
However, some observers think it will be trickier for Bush to win over a European audience than he perhaps realizes.
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Writing in Vox from Berlin, Max Fisher warns, “Skepticism of the US is already high here…the German public's support of tough policies toward Russia is tenuous, and…the mere sight of a Bush makes Germans want to run in the opposite direction of US foreign policy.”
He adds, “What Bush may not realize is that German support for US policies toward Russia is precarious and polarized, and his voice is likely to deepen German polarization against the US and against hardline Russia policies.”
That said, Bush arrives in Germany less than a day after President Obama departed the G7 summit, and the leaders of the world’s largest economies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were adamant about maintaining the current sanctions regime.
While the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting contained language indicating that the current sanctions regime could be loosened if Russia fully complies with a ceasefire agreement negotiated in Minsk earlier this year, the leaders seemed unified in the belief that now is not the time to discuss sanctions relief.
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Quite the opposite, said European Council President Donald Tusk: "If anyone wants to start a discussion about changing the sanctions regime, it could only be about strengthening it,” he said prior to the meeting.
At the meeting’s close, President Obama said that resolution of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine requires Putin to make a decision. “Does he continue to wreck his country's economy and continue Russia's isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire, or does he recognize that Russia's greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?”
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