When proponents of the war in Iraq point to the decision-making process in 2002 and 2003, they tend to defend George W. Bush by blaming the intelligence agencies: the information was wrong, they say, and it’s not fair to blame the Republican White House.
It’s a poor argument, belied by the manipulation of the intelligence for political ends, but it’s at least the basis for a real debate. But when Jeb Bush sat down with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, in an interview that aired last night, the conservative host asked a different kind of question.
“On the subject of Iraq, very controversial, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” Kelly asked. The Republican presidential hopeful replied, “I would have.”
Not to put too fine a point on this, but Bush’s answer is impossible to take seriously. Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, hardly a liberal critic, told her audience, “You can’t still think that going into Iraq, now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to do. If you do, there has to be something wrong with you.”
The Washington Examiner’s Byron York, another prominent voice in conservative media, described Jeb Bush’s answer as “disastrous.”
If Jeb Bush sticks to his position – that he would still authorize war knowing what we know today – it will represent a step backward for the Republican Party. Other candidates before Jeb have grappled with the issue and changed their position. Look at the evolution of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.In January 2008, Romney said, “It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time; I support it now.” In 2011, Romney said: “Well, if we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction – if somehow we had been given that information, why, obviously we would not have gone in.”
Except, to Jeb Bush, it’s not obvious at all.
The key here is the specific question Megyn Kelly asked: would you invade Iraq “knowing what we know now.” According to the Florida Republican, even if he knew Iraq had no WMD, even if he knew about the thousands of American casualties, even if he knew about the length and cost of the war, even if he knew the destabilizing effect the conflict would have on the Middle East, even if he knew the degree to which the war would undermine American stature and credibility on the global stage, he’d still launch the disastrous invasion.
From time to time last year, a variety of pundits would ask whether candidates had made a “disqualifying” misstep. Perhaps now is a good time to take a fresh look at the same question, this time applying it to presidential hopefuls.
If Jeb Bush’s current posture on Iraq doesn’t count as disqualifying, what does? When Laura Ingraham is compelled to ask whether a leading GOP presidential candidate is “a sane human being,” is it unreasonable to wonder whether the former governor has crossed an important line?