Jeb Insists “Mission Accomplished!” in Iraq

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

In case you missed it late yesterday, Jeb Bush has done it again, serving up another lethal gaffe-a-rific sound bite on his brother’s pet project in Iraq: “Taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal.” But as Byron York–hardly any sort of liberal Arab-loving surrender-monkey–pointed out today, the gaffe was just the cherry on top of the sundae ater a major foreign policy speech by Bush that also focused back on Iraq.

Jeb Bush based his first major foreign policy address, delivered this week at the Reagan Library, on the classic Republican interpretation of the war in Iraq.

Yes, mistakes were made at the beginning, Bush conceded, but what really matters is that the surge succeeded in 2007-2008 and that President George W. Bush handed over a peaceful Iraq to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton the next year. Then Obama and Clinton screwed it all up….

Now it’s true that this construction of events is theoretically helpful if you are making the case for another war in Iraq–you know, imperialism done right this time, with the slight complication that we may also go to war with Iran. But as York understands, this is just a losing battle for Republicans:

Yes, the surge was a great success. But no matter how much they want to celebrate it, Republicans have learned: You don’t score a lot of points for fixing something you messed up in the first place.

The doctor who saves a patient through heroic means after nearly causing his death through a horrific mistake is unlikely to receive praise and acclaim for saving the patient’s life. That’s especially true if the patient will require years of care to recover from the incident.

To press the analogy a bit, say another doctor comes in and decides that long-term care is no longer necessary. He stops it, and the patient again sinks into crisis. Who is to blame then? Most people would probably say both, but the second doctor’s error is in failing to deal with the damage done by the first doctor. The bottom line is that “IRAQ? BLAME THE DEMOCRATS” won’t work.

And it sure won’t work for a candidate named “Bush.” Yet he keeps bringing it up over and over again:

That Bush even chose to focus a much-ballyhooed foreign policy address on Iraq is notable. In fact, the two most memorable foreign policy moments of the Bush campaign were both about his brother’s war — the Reagan Library speech and his painful inability to say whether he would have invaded Iraq, knowing what he knows now.

“I think Iraq is a much bigger problem for Bush than for other candidates, and Bush’s team seems to recognize that,” says a strategist for a rival Republican campaign. “He could have given a speech about China or Russia or some other hot spot — but the first speech was revisiting the decisions made by his brother in Iraq.”

It amazes me that anyone thinks this is the way for Jeb to deal with his “Iraq problem.” He might as well have delivered the speech from an aircraft carrier beneath a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

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.