WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary William Cohen says he favors former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.
Bush “would be a great candidate to appeal to the broad spectrum of the American people,” said Cohen, who served three terms each in the House of Representatives and the Senate from Maine.
“He may have some difficulty getting through a primary if he decides to run,” he said, “but I think if the Republican Party looks at winning as opposed to appealing to the narrower base of the Republican right, Jeb Bush would be the kind of candidate I think would really gather broad-based support.”
Bush, a former two-term governor, son of former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush, has said he will decide by the end of this year if he will seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
On international issues, Cohen said he believed Iran may be less likely to halt its nuclear weapons program after the U.S. and Europe failed to stop Russia from annexing part of Ukraine, which 20 years ago gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees.
In the case of Ukraine “having given up its nuclear weapons in a deal that was supposed to guarantee their independence, we now see their independence being rolled back by Russia,” Cohen said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “I think that sends a signal to the Iranians, certainly to the North Koreans and others, that maybe we’ve got to hold on to what we have or try to get what we don’t have.”
Cohen, 73, a Republican who served as Defense secretary under Democratic President Bill Clinton, expressed concern about “a sense” among world leaders that “the United States is pulling back from a global affairs.” He also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin sees America as “weakened.”
“Whether the perception is correct or not, is not really the issue; if the perception is there, it can create a very dangerous dynamic” and gives the U.S. “diminished leverage” in responding to matters like the Ukrainian crisis, Cohen said.
“The Europeans and the Gulf states think that we’re leaving,” Cohen said of views of the U.S., and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations “think that we’re not coming. And the Chinese think that we’re trying to contain them.”
“It seems to me to be the worst of all possible worlds in terms of our foreign policy,” he said. “And I think Putin looks at that.”
Cohen said that from Putin’s perspective, his actions in Ukraine have been “quite rational.”
In 1994, Ukraine, then one of the world’s largest nuclear powers, gave up thousands of nuclear warheads inherited from the Soviet Union in return for a promise from the U.S. and Russia not to use force or threaten military action against the newly independent nation, a pledge Putin repudiated when his troops took control of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula last month.
The U.S., Russia and European nations struck an initial accord in November with Iran breaking a decade-long diplomatic stalemate, setting limits on the country’s nuclear program in exchange for about $7 billion in relief from sanctions over six months. Iran has denied allegations that it’s harboring nuclear-weapons ambitions. Talks for a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program are set to resume next month.
The U.S. also has repeatedly raised alarms about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, urging China to help address the threat.