Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said that his brother's successful overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein "turned out to be a pretty good deal" on Thursday while speaking at the APPS National Security Forum in Davenport, Iowa.
The line came in response to a question over whether President George W. Bush bore blame for the rise of the Islamic State given that the organization and its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, grew in the vacuum left by Hussein's removal.
"I mean that's just such a complicated hypothetical, who knows," Bush said. "I'll tell you, though, that taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal."
Bush has been trying to regain the upper hand in the Iraq debate after stumbling over questions over whether the war was worth it earlier this year. In May, Bush said he would have ordered the invasion even in hindsight, then said he misheard the question but declined to answer it, then finally said he would not have gone to war in Iraq knowing the consequences. He called the war a “mistake” in last week’s debate.
Bush shook off questions about the 2003 war's impact on Thursday, telling the audience that by raising scenarios in which the invasion never occurred, “you’re in 'Back To The Future' and you might as well make a movie out of it.”
While Bush may not be a fan of speculative fiction when it comes to his brother’s decision to wage war in Iraq, his tastes change when it comes to more recent history. On Tuesday, he delivered a speech arguing that President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deserve blame for the rise of ISIS because they didn’t leave a contingent of troops in Iraq to maintain stability and discourage sectarianism within the government. Rather, the administration “stood by as that hard-won victory by American and allied forces was thrown away,” Bush claimed.
This telling creates its own complication for Bush. America left Iraq without leaving behind troops thanks to an agreement negotiated by President Bush in 2008 after running into strong resistance from Iraqi leaders to any continued American military presence. Bush argued to msnbc earlier this year that Obama could have renegotiated better terms than his brother had before the final withdrawal in 2011.
“It was a heroic effort and people lost their lives doing this and then to just say to fulfill a campaign promise to get out or Iraq in a precipitous way that we’re out of here and then to create the chaos that came afterward I think is just shameful to be honest with you,” Bush said on Thursday.
Democrats criticized Bush for his assessment that removing Hussein proved "a pretty good deal."
“Today Jeb Bush laid out that when it comes to learning from his brother’s reckless foreign policy mistakes -- carelessly sending troops into war, relying on faulty intelligence, and dismantling our relationships around the world – he hasn’t learned a thing," Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Holly Shulman said in a statement. "What was made clear today is that under Jeb, we should expect another four years of the Bush Doctrine.”