Is Jeb Less Willing To Admit Iraq War a Mistake Than His Brother?

The unforced error is one of the oddest, but most important, phenomena in politics, and I suppose, in life. But you wouldn’t expect it early in the long-awaited presidential campaign of a certain former governor of Florida so known for his careful pursuit of conventional wisdom that he has become the darling of the Republican Party Establishment.

There it is, though, as explained by conservative journalist Byron York, who seems exasperated by Jeb Bush’s “disastrous” retrospective positioning on the Iraq War:

Is it possible that in 2016, more than a decade after the invasion of Iraq, the Republican party’s presidential nominee could become bogged down in debating whether the war was the right thing to do? The answer, a depressing one for many in the GOP, is yes — if the nominee is Jeb Bush.

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked Bush a straightforward, concise question: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” Bush’s answer was an unhesitating yes.

“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Bush said, “and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

“You don’t think it was a mistake?” asked Kelly.

“In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty,” Bush answered.

Bush’s view of the war is considerably less clear-eyed than that of his brother, former President George W. Bush, the man who ordered the invasion. In his memoir, Decision Points, W. wrestled with the dilemma of his decision to start a war on the basis of bad intelligence. Only W. did not call the intelligence “faulty,” as Jeb had. W. called the intelligence “false.”

Even though W. still argued that the world is “undoubtedly safer” without Saddam Hussein, he knew the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction that he used to justify the invasion was “a massive blow to our credibility — my credibility — that would shake the confidence of the American people.”

“I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it,” George W. Bush wrote. “I still do.”

His younger brother’s stomach’s just fine, it seems. That puts him in a select group of people like John McCain who favored an invasion of Iraq long before 2002-03, and never accepted “surrender.” either. Perhaps Jebbie’s worried about justifying a future re-invasion of Iraq on his watch, or maybe he doesn’t understand that “knowing what we know now” means knowing what we know about false, or “faulty,” intelligence.

But York is signaling frantically to Bush that he’d better try again and come up with a different answer:

Jeb’s statement is likely to resonate until he either changes his position or loses the race for the Republican nomination. Should he become the nominee, the issue will dog him into the general election campaign.

It sure will, because there’s no doubt if asked the same question Hillary Clinton would say: “Of course not.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.