Should the U.S. have invaded Iraq in 2003? It's a natural question for Jeb Bush, whose brother launched the unpopular war and who is now considering running for president while consulting with many of the same advisers. But after 24 hours, two interviews, and one misheard question, Bush's answer is still unclear.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was asked yesterday about how he would have approached the invasion of Iraq, given the benefit of hindsight. "Knowing what we know now, of course we wouldn't go into Iraq," the Republican senator said. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) offered a similar assessment, telling CNN, "If we knew then what we know now and I was the President of the United States, I wouldn't go to war."
And yet, somehow, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is managing to screw this up so badly, it's shaking confidence in his candidacy. Benjy Sarlin reported for msnbc:
Before we get into the particulars, let's pause to appreciate the broader context. Jeb Bush has had literally years to come up with a coherent position on this issue. His brother launched one of the most disastrous wars in American history; we're still struggling with the consequences; and Republicans are eager to turn the 2016 race into a debate on foreign policy.
The former governor and his massive campaign operation, filled with experienced professionals, must have known some pretty straightforward questions about Iraq were on the way. They've had all kinds of time to craft some talking points and even subject the answers to focus groups to see how Americans might respond.
But despite all of this, Jeb Bush, who hasn't been a candidate for any public office since 2002, still seems woefully unprepared for obvious questions about the biggest foreign policy crisis in a generation. It's as if he saw a sign that said, "Quicksand Ahead," ignored it, and is surprised to find himself sinking.
At the heart of the issue was a simple question from Fox News' Megyn Kelly: "On the subject of Iraq, very controversial, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?" Jeb Bush replied, "I would have."
That, of course, is bonkers. Recognizing that this posture is unsustainable, the Florida Republican turned to another Fox News host, Sean Hannity, yesterday. Bush said, in reference to his other Fox interview, "I was, I interpreted the question wrong, I guess."
You guess? It wasn't a complicated question. "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?" How many interpretations could there be?
Hannity eventually asked, "So, in other words, in 20/20 hindsight, you would make a different decision?"
Bush's answer, in these exact words, was amazing. "Yeah, I don't know what that decision would have been, that's a hypothetical." He said. "But the simple fact is that mistakes were made as they always are in life, this is not a, in foreign policy."
First, if any person on the planet should avoid "mistakes were made," it's Jeb Bush. Second, and more important, is the fact that the unannounced candidate now isn't sure what he would have done.
Following up on our coverage from yesterday, even if Jeb Bush 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 still doesn't know whether he'd launch a disastrous war. Maybe he would; maybe he wouldn't.
Remember, in Republican circles, Jeb Bush has cultivated a reputation as the thoughtful, cerebral candidate in the 2016. The former governor is supposed to be the grown-up of the bunch. So much for that idea.
Postscript: Responding to the controversy last night, Republican media personality Erick Erickson commented, "Also, I think the Iraq War question indicates that the Dems know 'war on women' isn't working and they now want to relitigate Iraq."
The "Iraq War question" came from Fox News' Megyn Kelly and Fox News' Sean Hannity. If Erickson thinks they're Democrats, he's terribly confused.