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'We don't have to be the world's policeman'

Exclusive! The JEB BUSH interview
'We don't have to be the world's policeman'

Last updated on: October 28, 2015 09:03 IST

George H W Bush spoke to him. Both George W Bush and John F Kerry spoke to him before the 2004 US presidential election. Barack Obama spoke to him, the first time the then US senator, spoke to any Indian publication.

Now Aziz Haniffa, Rediff.com's Editor in Washington, DC, has scored another scoop: An exclusive interview with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, one of the Republican party candidates for the 2016 US presidential election.

Jeb Bush tells Rediff.com why the Indian-American community must vote for him, what he would do for the India-US relationship if he is elected President, and about his trip to India some years ago.

Jeb Bush speaks at a rally in Las Vegas, September 17. Photograph: David Becker/Reuters

IMAGE: Jeb Bush speaks at a rally in Las Vegas, September 17. Photograph: David Becker/Reuters

 

Why should the highly discerning, educated and affluent Indian-American community vote for you and how do you intend to bring the Reagan Democrats among them into the fold?

First of all, I have a hopeful, optimistic message. I am not running to appeal to people's fears. I want to fix a few big, complex, things that we've allowed to languish -- the tax code, the regulatory system, the immigration system that would be a big catalyst for growth, the energy revolution.

All these things have been broken in Washington. Washington has gotten too big, it is inept and I have a proven record to fix big, complex, things and that's why I am running and I believe I can do it.

So, my message to the community is that I will bring high sustainable economic growth, the restoring of partnerships with the American leadership in the world to create more security for the world.

'We don't have to be the world's policeman. We don't have to impose our values. But we need to lead and when we pull back as we've done, you begin to see exactly what happens -- the voids are filled by threats of terror that countries have to suffer with, including India.'
 
 

Considering your low poll numbers in the single digits and, of course, reports of your campaign staff cut-backs and campaign cost cutting, are you still confident you can prevail in the primaries and take on Hillary (Clinton, the presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee) and beat her in the general election?

Absolutely. This time four years ago, (Republican presidential candidate and Tea Party activist) Herman Cain was winning and Hillary Clinton was winning by 26, 27 points against Barack Obama eight years ago and (Republican presidential candidate) Rudy Giuliani was up by double digits this time eight years ago.

October is not the time to measure polls, particularly national polls -- what's going on, on the ground in the four early states.

We are making steady progress and the adjustments I am making is to put more resources in the early states. We continue to raise more money than anybody else and we have the resources to do this. I am confident I can win. You can put money on it man, if you want to -- you can put money on it.

Three-year-old Claire Eorridt holds a sign supporting Jeb Bush outside a campaign kickoff rally where Bush formally announced his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in Miami, Florida, June 15. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

IMAGE: Three-year-old Claire Eorridt holds a sign supporting Jeb Bush outside a campaign kickoff rally where Bush formally announced his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in Miami, Florida, June 15. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

 

The Indian-American community, along with South Asian Americans and Asian Americans in general, including Republicans among them, are incensed over the anti-immigrant rhetoric and xenophobia of the likes of Donald Trump, Dr Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz, etc.

And, even if you get the nomination, how do you assuage their hurt feelings and concerns when invariably all the GOP candidates have now been lumped into this kind of a coterie?

Nobody can lump me into that. I have a proven record and a proven set of beliefs and I am not going to be veering from my beliefs. I am going to stay true to whom I am. Everybody knows what my views on immigration are -- I wrote a book about it.

So, the harshness of rhetoric in politics needs to subside and frankly, it's just as bad on the left as it's on the right. I am not running to make things worse and to divide the country anymore.

I am running to unite the country and to fix the problems that make it harder for people to rise up.

Jeb Bush listens to a question from the audience during a town hall meeting campaign stop in Gorham, New Hampshire, July 23. Photograph: Brian Snyder

IMAGE: Jeb Bush listens to a question from the audience during a town hall meeting campaign stop in Gorham, New Hampshire, July 23. Photograph: Brian Snyder

 

You are generally perceived by these communities -- the Indian Americans, the Asian Americans and also the Muslim-American community -- as a pretty decent, moderate and generally progressive person.

The majority of these communities generally subscribe to fiscal conservatism and social conservatism etc. But they seem to believe that you are also now pandering to the extreme conservative base.

How do you overcome these kinds of perceptions and reservations?

I don't pander. The answer is, I don't pander. Whoever perceives that is incorrect. I am true to whom I am. I am genuine in what I believe and my message is a positive, optimistic one, and my life has been one that is similar.

So, let alone what the perception is, the reality is I am whom I am -- let's be clear about it.

But many in these communities are still angry and continue to be incensed over your own 'anchor babies' remarks, saying it were Asian Americans who are engaged in this phenomenon. Are you willing to walk that back?

There is fraud in our immigration system. There are organised efforts and the laws need to be enforced. There are people literally bringing people to this country so that they can have children. That's not appropriate. We want to create an open immigration system where the laws need to be enforced.

And while I recognise that many, many, many people would love to come to the United States, we need to protect legal immigration as the means that they do it. The terminology that has been used for generations has not been meant to be pejorative and I don't think we have to be politically correct in 2016.

What we need to do is speak from our hearts, be true to what we believe, persuade people about the things... the solutions to the problems we face.

We have a broken immigration system and respecting the rule of law is one step in many to make it work, as it always has been in our country.

So you don't find that term 'anchor babies' pejorative and you don't want to walk that back?

No. And, look, if you know my life, my life record, my life experience, my consistent views, which I am sure you do, and if you don't, I can explain it to you...

No, no, no... I've followed you for years...

My life is my life. It's grounded in the immigrant experience. I am not going to take it back and appease anybody, particularly on the left who try to describe me for something I'm not.

Then President George W Bush hugs his younger brother, then Florida Governor Jeb Bush, at a Republican Party rally in Pensacola, Florida, November 6, 2006. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

IMAGE: Then President George W Bush hugs his younger brother, then Florida Governor Jeb Bush, at a Republican Party rally in Pensacola, Florida, November 6, 2006. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

 

Your brother (President George W Bush) had terrific relations with India and Indian leaders and, of course, the Indian-American community, and is still admired particularly for pushing and seeing through the US-India civilian nuclear deal.

If elected President, will you be as committed to the US-India strategic partnership and make an early visit to India?

Well, it's presumptuous for me to say where I will go as President because I am fighting to win the nomination and before I say where I'll go, I've got to win the general election.

But the India-US strategic relationship is a very important one and for the economic benefits that will go to both countries, and as India emerges as a leader in the world, the United States needs to maintain a deeper understanding of the aspirations of India and further cement the relationship.

I admire my brother's efforts to forge that relationship, that partnership, that ends up being a thing of great value.

And so, we need to maintain it and I think the next President and India's prime minister will forge a good working relationship.

'I don't pander. I am true to whom I am. I am genuine in what I believe and my message is a positive, optimistic one, and my life has been one that is similar.'
 
 

I know that education is a high priority for you. You constituted this high powered education council after your stints as Governor of Florida and had people like Zach (Dr Zach Zachariah of Fort Lauderdale and one of Jeb Bush's strongest Indian-American supporters and a longtime friend of the Bush family) has served on your board, and during your trip to India a few years ago, the thrust of it was mainly to explore education cooperation. I believe that's something that you've always been working toward?

I had a great trip to India with my wife. We went to Delhi -- my wife has been there two or three times. But that was my first trip and I was amazed at the dynamic nature of India. I am always impressed with the Indian nation and the Indian Americans I've met throughout the world, particularly in the United States and their huge contributions to our country for sure -- the highest income of any national or ethnic group in the country, the great success stories across the board...

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, an Indian American, always speaks fondly of you and is ever so appreciative of the support you have given her. She is now a rock star after her decision to bring down the Confederate flag. Will you consider her for your running mate?

(Laughing). I can't commit to whom I will consider. I've got to work very hard to win the nomination. Nikki Haley has been an extraordinary leader of South Carolina under difficult times. She's proven her mettle. She's a great leader, and extraordinary governor, and she's a friend.

And, of course, the other Indian-American governor, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, has been very vociferous in thrashing you constantly. In fact, he launched into his attacks against you even before Donald Trump.

What do you think of him? He is a talented guy. Will you consider him for a senior position in a Jeb Bush administration if you are elected President?

Look, again, I can't make commitments on positions. I am humbly working hard, more than anyone running, to win the nomination. Bobby Jindal is a real talent. The Republican Party has a deep bench of really talented people and I just discount deeply what people say in the heat of battle.

I respect him. I have not been critical of him and I don't intend to be.

Former US President George H W Bush waves to reporters as he leaves the White House, following a meeting with President Barack Obama, with his son Jeb Bush, January 30, 2010. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

IMAGE: Former US President George H W Bush waves to reporters as he leaves the White House, following a meeting with President Barack Obama, with his son Jeb Bush, January 30, 2010. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

 

Coming back to my first question -- why the talented, educated, sophisticated and affluent Indian-American community and South Asian Americans should vote for you, when we find your protege (US Senator) Marco Rubio (representing Florida and also a Republican presidential candidate) exciting, and who has carved out a name for himself as the foreign affairs, foreign policy, expert.

How do you show then that in addition to your track record as governor -- and what you have done in terms of education, immigration, diversity of your appointments and the rest -- that you've got the gravitas in terms of foreign policy too, including India, South Asia, the Middle East?

I am the first person to speak about developing a strategy to fight ISIS, and (Syrian President Bashir al-) Assad. I've lived overseas, I've worked overseas, I've invested overseas, and I've traveled extensively far more than probably any candidate. I've traveled the world, I've met with leaders, I have intellectual curiosity.

I happen to have a brother and a father who were Presidents of the United States. I am pretty grounded in foreign policy issues and frankly, I know what the United States needs to do to lead the world to a more secure and safe place.

But we don't have to be the world's policeman. We don't have to... you know, from a top down basis, impose our values. But we need to lead and when we pull back as we've done, you begin to see exactly what happens -- the voids are filled by threats of terror that countries have to suffer with, including India.

Voids are filled by nation States that are very aggressive. And so the United States needs to be part of the countries that want more peace and security.

I know how to do this, and I am confident I can do it and I am going to do it.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC