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Jeb Bush heads for Europe before kicking off campaign

Before Jeb Bush makes his presidential candidacy official in less than a week, he's going on a three-country visit to Germany, Poland and Estonia.

The trip has all the trappings of a foreign policy excursion for a presidential candidate: meetings with foreign leaders, the chance to knock the president's foreign policy, while also taking a few swipes at that of another White House aspirant, Hillary Clinton.

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But he'll also be going after one foreign leader in particular: Russian President Vladimir Putin. At a conference in Germany, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also be appearing, Bush will talk about Ukraine, declaring NATO "as relevant as the day it was founded," according to excerpts of Bush's speech that were circulated by his campaign but first reported by Josh Rogin of Bloomberg View. Although it is not clear how specific Bush will be in his comments, his criticism of Putin seems clear.

"Russia must respect the sovereignty of all of its neighbors," Bush is expected to say. "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."

Although he will also delve into economics, meeting with business and governmental leaders in all three countries, in Estonia, he'll focus on NATO again, participating in a discussion on trans-Atlantic security with representatives from other Baltic states and tour NATO's Cyber Defence Center of Excellence. Bush will also meet with Estonians working in the country's burgeoning tech sector.

The choice of this region is telling. Germany and Eastern Europe show Bush is "sending a message about Russia," Danielle Pletka, the Senior Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told CBS News.

"The choice of Estonia - but also the choice of Poland - is one that suggests he's focused on where Russia is causing problems, on new U.S. allies like Poland, and on an important anchor of the European Union like Germany," she said. The focus on Russia will give him an opening to criticize Clinton for her role in the "reset" of relations with Russia, an effort that soured as Russia began encroaching in the eastern part of Ukraine.

"Governor Bush also wants to discuss the importance of rebuilding frayed alliances to ensure we are prepared to meet the shared threats we face - from confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression to combatting asymmetric threats posed by radical Islamist terrorist groups like [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria]," said Bush spokesperson Allie Brandenburger.

Bush took off on his trip the day after President Obama departed Europe, where he said Monday that the U.S. still lacks a "complete strategy" to stem the advance of ISIS militants, a fact that did not escape Bush.

In Germany, Obama admitted again what has been clear for a while, he has no ISIS strategy. A serious effort to defeat them is needed

— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) June 8, 2015

Though the trip would give the former Florida governor the opportunity to lay out his ideas for dealing with ISIS, it's not clear he will offer any more than a critique of Mr. Obama. Bush has so far been vague about what he would do as president. He said in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in February that the U.S. needs to "tighten the noose" and "take them out," and fight the group with other partners in the region.

When a college student said to him, "Your brother created ISIS," Bush offered another analysis.

"We respectfully disagree. We have a disagreement. When we left Iraq, security had been arranged; al Qaeda had been taken out. There was a fragile system that could have been brought up to eliminate the sectarian violence," Bush said. "And we had an agreement that the president could have signed that would have kept 10,000 troops, less than we have in Korea, could have created the stability that would have allowed for Iraq to progress. The result was the opposite occurred. Immediately, that void was filled."

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Many of the foreign policy questions he faces stem from the policies implemented by his brother, former President George W. Bush. In May, he struggled for days to answer a question about whether he would have invaded Iraq. After initially saying he would have, and then claiming to have misheard the question, Bush ultimately said, "Knowing what we now know, I would not have engaged."

Those questions could dog him in Europe, where the war in Iraq and Bush-era policies on torture and surveillance were heavily criticized. Poland was once home to a CIA secret prison known as a black site.

"I think we know who his people are, and that's very much the Republican establishment, a lot of people who served in his brother's administration," Pletka said. "More than that I don't think we have any real sense of who he really is."

"I'm not sure we're going to find out on this trip either," she said.

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But Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who worked on George W. Bush's National Security Council and advised Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential bid, said the otherBush presidency could give Jeb Bush a boost in Europe: that of his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

"His dad is enormously well regarded for having [helped usher in] German unification with real leadership and vision," Schake told CBS News. "His father's vision of a Europe whole and free is something that Europeans are quite hoping for."

Some politicians, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have found that the media scrutiny that travels with a presidential hopeful across the Atlantic can sometimes reveal weak spots.

"Unfortunately there's this sort of heads-I-win, tails-you-lose aspect to this foreign trips," Pletka said. "[Politicians] don't go and then they're accused by internationalists of being provincial, or they do go and then the media scours their trips for signs of ignorance or inexperience. There's no winning this game."

Walker said he was going to "punt" a question on whether he believes in evolution during a Q&A at the Chatham House in London in February, the portion of the trip that drew the most public attention. Christie's three-day trip to London earlier that month went awry after the second day, when he fielded a question about the United States measles outbreak and said that parents should have "some measure of choice" in whether to vaccinate their children. Scores of headlines declaring the trip a "train wreck" and a "disaster." Neither man has yet declared a presidential bid, but both are regulars on the 2016 speaking circuit in Iowa and New Hampshire.

While there are many advantages to running for the presidency as a governor, one of the pitfalls is the lack of experience in foreign affairs, and part of this exercise is, Schake said, to prove "that he can look statesman-like."

"It's especially important for governors to be able to do that and if Bush does that well, he has the potential to be able to differentiate himself from some of the other governors in the race."

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