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6 cringeworthy moments in Jeb Bush’s foreign policy speech

Jeb Bush at the foreign policy speech.
Jeb Bush at the foreign policy speech.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Wednesday afternoon, Jeb Bush gave his first major address on foreign policy to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The immediate reaction from the media and from foreign policy observers was pretty negative. "Likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush delivered a nervous, uncertain speech on national security Thursday, full of errors and confusion," Tim Mak and Jackie Kucinich wrote in the Daily Beast.

"He's speaking like he can't wait for this to be over," Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray tweeted.

"Would have been smarter for Jeb Bush to wait to give this speech until he had actually developed some distinct ideas," said the Atlantic's Peter Beinart.

The reaction isn't baseless. Bush's speech contained a few embarrassing misstatements and malapropisms. This list of six mess-ups from the speech shows why people have been cringing:

  1. He mixed up Iran and Iraq, blasting the Obama administration's "approach to Iraq...excuse me, Iran."
  2. He accidentally multiplied ISIS's military strength by 10 times, saying that the group had 200,000 fighters when CIA estimates say they've got between 20,000 and 31,500. (A spokesperson later emailed reporters to say he misspoke.)
  3. He called Ukraine "the Ukraine," which Ukrainians object to because it implies that they're a territory and not a rightfully independent country.
  4. He called ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi "the guy that's the supreme leader or whatever his new title is — head of the caliphate."
  5. He mispronounced Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, sounding more like "bow-coo haram."
  6. He weirdly talked about how he "forced myself to go visit Asia four times a year" as if it were a hardship.

The speech wasn't so bad it disqualifies him from running, but the negative press is still a problem for him. One of the goals of the address was for Bush to begin distancing himself from his brother without totally repudiating his legacy, saying things like "I am my own man." It's important for Jeb's candidacy that he still be seen as far more competent than George W. Bush.

Malapropisms that recall his brother's famous tendency to put his foot-in-mouth damage that perception and create an incentive for reporters covering Jeb to amplify his misstatements. That's especially true on foreign policy, where Jeb is relatively inexperienced and George W. made his most famous mistakes.

That said, not everyone hated Bush's address, especially after the follow-up Q&A. "This Q&A is pretty dazzling," Commentary editor John Podhoretz tweeted. "Watching Bush, [it's] obvious that other candidates are going to have to know their stuff during the debates."

Maybe. But first, it would help if he got a better handle on his own material.

Correction: An earlier version of this post called the venue for Bush's address the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs rather than the correct Chicago Council on Global Affairs.