The lead sentence in Politico’s report on Jeb Bush last night read, ” Does Jeb Bush really want to refight the Iraq War?” It’s best not to rush past the question too quickly.
The Republican presidential hopeful’s brother launched one of the most disastrous wars in American history. The 2016 candidate hopeful then surrounded himself with his brother’s team of failed foreign-policy advisers – and described his brother as his adviser on U.S. policy in the Middle East.
One of Jeb Bush’s most cringe-worthy failures as a candidate was trying to answer a simple question about Iraq – he gave four competing answers over the course of four days – and at last week’s debate, the former governor still seemed wholly unprepared to discuss the issue.
It’s against this backdrop that Jeb Bush decided to pick a fight – over developments in a country his brother invaded under false pretenses and then failed in every possible way to manage responsibly. The New York Times reported:
The war in Iraq, which dominated American presidential politics in 2004 and 2008, has returned as an issue in 2016. This time, the argument is not over whether the United States should have gone to war, but rather how the Obama administration sought to end it.Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor seeking the Republican presidential nomination, issued a blistering attack on Tuesday on the Obama administration’s handling of Iraq and terrorism issues, asserting that Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, had “stood by” as secretary of state as the situation in Iraq deteriorated.
Obama and Clinton, Bush insisted last night, “stood by as that hard-won victory by American and allied forces [in Iraq] was thrown away.”
His brother caused an international catastrophe, and the former governor is outraged by the way in which the Obama administration cleaned up his brother’s mess. That’s the Jeb Bush message in 2016 in a nutshell.
According to the GOP candidate – or at least the Bush/Cheney advisers who wrote the speech for Jeb’s teleprompter – the war in Iraq just wasn’t long enough. U.S. forces withdrew; ISIS forces gained strength; and that rascally President Obama and his team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
If last night’s remarks were any indication, reality won’t play much of a role in this debate, but it’s nevertheless worth reemphasizing that ISIS, roughly speaking, is an outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which came into existence after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ensuing chaos, which the Bush/Cheney administration failed spectacularly to prepare for or deal with.
As for the timeline of the American withdrawal, U.S. forces left Iraq as part of a Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by … George W. Bush.
But even putting the relevant details aside, Jeb’s remarks in California yesterday represent a turning point of sorts. Gone are the days in which the Florida Republican declares himself his “own man,” driven by his “own ideas.” Earlier this year, the former governor didn’t even want to talk about his family legacy and the degree to which Americans are still dealing with the consequences of his brother’s failures.
Now, however, the electorate instead sees a 2016 candidate with a different message – Jeb Bush has, for reasons that deny reason, embraced his brother’s foreign policy as his own. Paul Waldman summarized the new Jeb Bush line this way: “Everything was going great in Iraq and victory had been achieved, until Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton threw it all away. Nothing is the fault of Republicans, or of the people who supported and launched the Iraq war, the single worst foreign policy decision in American history. George W. Bush made no mistakes that might have any lessons for us, and the answer to every foreign policy challenge is to be more bellicose and more eager to use military force.”
Team Jeb appears convinced that what Americans really want to see in the future is more of his brother’s foreign policy from the past, and a spirited effort to blame Democrats for Republican failures. It’s a risky proposition.