When it comes to the war in Iraq, Jeb Bush fielded a question this week he must have known was coming, and which he’s had literally years to prepare for: if you knew in 2003 what we know now, would you have launched the war in Iraq? Responding to the question, the former Florida governor has come up with three bad answers over the course of three days.
Just as striking is the degree to which Bush finds himself isolated, without anyone rallying to his defense. Indeed, many leading GOP candidates have been eager in recent days to make clear that they wouldn’t have launched the disastrous war, given what they now know. Even Marco Rubio has no use for Bush’s line, as evidenced by this exchange yesterday with Charlie Rose:
ROSE: Let me talk about Iraq and an issue that came up yesterday with Jeb Bush talking about the invasion, looking back. He was asked the question by Megyn Kelly and he said he misunderstood the question. So I`ll ask you the question that I think she intended to ask which was if you look at the Iraq war, after finding out there were no weapons of mass destruction, would you, if you knew that, have been in favor of the Iraqi invasion?RUBIO: Well, not only would I not have been in favor of it. President Bush would not have been in favor of it.
What’s wrong with this position? Actually, nothing. It’s a perfectly sensible answer that puts the Florida senator in line with the American mainstream.
The trouble is, Rubio said pretty much the opposite just six weeks ago.
We talked yesterday about the Republican lawmaker making an important transition from foreign-policy moderate to Cheney-esque hawk over the course of the last two years. One can only speculate about what prompted the shift, but Rubio was clearly looking for a way to connect with conservatives in advance of his presidential campaign, which was a challenge after the right rejected his bipartisan work on immigration reform.
But gradually adopting a new approach to foreign policy over the course of two years isn’t quite the same thing as flip-flopping on Iraq over the course of two months. Over at BuzzFeed, Andrew Kaczynski noted that in March 2015, Rubio told Fox News, “The world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn’t run Iraq.” He added, “I think hindsight is always 20/20, but we don’t know what the world would look like if Saddam Hussein were still there. But I doubt it would look better.”
In other words, Rubio, as of six weeks ago, knew that Iraq didn’t have WMD, and he knew that the war was a deadly, costly mess that destabilized the region, but the Florida Republican nevertheless concluded that the catastrophic conflict was worthwhile. What’s more, as a Senate candidate in 2010, Rubio agreed America is “safer and better off” as a result of the war in Iraq.
And yet, there he was yesterday, saying he wouldn’t have been in favor of the invasion if he knew than what he knows now. The senator seems to have concluded the war was worth fighting and it shouldn’t have been fought. That’s a creative posture, I suppose, but it’s not especially coherent.
The entire debate has become a political quicksand for Jeb Bush. His fellow Floridian appears to be stepping in it, too.