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Jeb Bush: Sure, I’d Invade Iraq Just Like My Brother Did

3-no-iraq-war

Jeb Bush tells Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly that he would have invaded Iraq just like his brother did had he been President at the time:

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush has repeatedly beaten off attacks that his presidency would be no different from that of his brother or father with a simple assertion: “I’m my own man.”

But on one issue, authorizing a ground invasion of Iraq, Jeb falls in lockstep with George W.

In an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly set to air Monday night, the former Florida governor says he would have authorized the invasion in 2003 — “and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

Bush added that “in retrospect” the intelligence used to justify the invasion “was faulty” and added that “in retrospect” it was a mistake for his brother’s administration to not focus on Iraq’s security after toppling Saddam Hussein.

But he defended his brother’s decision-making, saying: “guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush,” and downplaying any insinuation that his take on American policy in Iraq was any different than the 43rd president’s.

“Just for the news flash to the world: If they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those,” the Florida Republican added.

(…)

A majority of Americans now consider the 2003 invasion of Iraq a mistake, according to recent surveys. A June 2014 NBC/WSJ poll found that 71 percent of Americans now believe the war in Iraq “wasn’t worth it,” with Republicans almost evenly split on the issue.

On some level, of course, this doesn’t really come as very much of a surprise given the fact that Governor Bush has made several efforts in recent months to downplay the idea that there is very much, if any daylight between himself and his older brother when it comes to foreign policy. Just last week, for example, it was reported that Bush had told a group of potential donors in New York that he considered his brother to be his top adviser on Middle East matters, although a campaign spokesperson later said that the Governor was referring to Israel specifically and not necessarily the entire Middle East. Additionally, as I have noted before, while Bush has not put forward a detailed foreign policy agenda yet, his statements on those issues over recent years made it clear that there would be very little difference between the foreign policy of a President Jeb Bush and the policies of his brother. Given all of that, it’s not entirely surprising that Bush would defend even the most controversial foreign policy decision of his brother’s time in office. However, the fact that he does so seemingly reflexively and with little apparent recognition of the mistakes that led us down the path to that war raises real questions about his judgment.

First of all, as Judd Legum notes, the conventional conservative wisdom that the intelligence at the time all pointed toward the idea that Saddam had an active WMD program simply isn’t true:

The Iraq War, however, was not dictated by intelligence. Rather the administration cherry-picked, manipulated and ignored intelligence to support their predetermined outcome.

This is the view of the CIA official who oversaw Middle East intelligence during that time, Paul Pillar. In 2006, Pillar published an article in Foreign Affairs, writing:

In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made… and that the intelligence community’s own work was politicized. As the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005, I witnessed all of these disturbing developments.

Pillar concluded that “Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war.”

A bipartisan, if contentious, report of the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that the George W. Bush administration “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.” The report documented numerous statements made by the Bush administration to justify the war that were not supported by intelligence.

In other words, the intelligence at the time was not nearly as conclusive as the revisionist historians would like to believe, and it should have been quite apparent even at the time that the case for war was not nearly as conclusive as the Administration made it out to be. Jon Stewart did a very good job of hitting on some of those doubts that existed at the time, and on the ay in which the Administration used selective leaks to justify its case for war in his interview last month with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Miller, like other reporters, took what the Administration was saying as face value and reported it as such, while only a small handful of people bothered to do the hard work of trying to look behind what the White House was saying to determine just how flimsy the house of cards actually was. The same was true of members of Congress, most of whom simply took the Administration at its word and handed President Bush a blank check for war in a resolution that was arguably as fatally flawed as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that marked the formal start of the Vietnam War. That should have been obvious at the time, and it is certainly quite obvious now. The fact that Governor Bush either can’t admit that fact or chooses to ignore it should concern anyone considering giving him the ability to make the same foreign policy decisions his brother did.

Daniel Larison points what a statement like this tells us about Bush’s overall judgment:

Bush’s answer is useful in confirming that he doesn’t have the first clue that the Iraq war was a colossal blunder and a horrifying, destructive waste. He clings to the notion that the invasion was justified by pre-war intelligence. That tells us that he thinks the WMD-based case for war was actually compelling instead of being the nonsense that opponents of the war knew it to be at the time. More important, Bush predictably misses the point that the Iraq war was illegal and unnecessary. Even if administration claims had been right, there was no threat to the U.S. or anyone other country that warranted an invasion. The main problem with the war was not that the U.S. and its allies failed to prepare for the aftermath of regime change (though they did), but that they launched a “preventive” war on shoddy evidence for the explicit purpose of toppling another government by force.

As I’ve noted before, of course, Bush is hardly the only Republican who feels this way. If the other declared and prospective candidates for President were asked the same question, I suspect that all of them would give pretty much the same answer that he did, with the exception of Rand Paul. Beyond the candidates, the utter necessity of the Iraq War still remains very much an article of faith among the activist base of the party, again with the exception of those people tending support Senator Paul. To a large degree, the rise of ISIS has led most of them to double down on their support for the war, and for the assertion that Obama was at fault for not leaving a residual force behind after American forces withdrew in 2011. The fact that ISIS’s roots in Iraq can be directly tied to the war, and that there’s little support for the argument that the White House was at fault for the breakdown in negotiations over a residual force does not really seem to impact their worldview at all.

One could argue that asking Bush or any other candidate whether they would act the same way President Bush did in 2002 and 2003 may seem as though it’s a pointless, hypothetical, question, but as I’ve argued before, it’s one that tells us a lot about a candidate’s worldview and their judgment. Based on this response, Governor Bush isn’t coming across as very impressive.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Pete S says:

    The interviewer seemed to be setting this up on a tee for him. It would have been easy to say something to the effect that “Knowing what we know now, I would not invade Iraq. Of course the president in 2003 didn’t have the advantage of hindsight that I have now”. Simple. He doesn’t have to throw his brother under the bus but still gets to acknowledge that the Iraq war was a disaster and distance himself from it.

    Are we SURE he’s the smart one?

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    @Pete S:

    Are we SURE he’s the smart one?

    People keep saying he is, but no one presents evidence.

    After six years and with the benefit of professional advice you would think he could have come up with a better answer. But don’t forget, he’s campaigning to the GOP base, not the general electorate.

    He could have just pretended the Iraq War and his brother don’t exist. That seemed to work for Romney on Romneycare.

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  3. Mu says:

    He has to toe the line. His one source of donations are those that supported his brother and got rich under him. And the only way to overcome the grassroots appeal of the loonies is to massively outspend them. So breaking with the military/oil industrial complex that profited under Bush jr isn’t in his plans.

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  4. C. Clavin says:

    Completely disqualifies him for President.

    Yeah, sure, I’d repeat the biggest Foreign Policy blunder in our history”.

    Can we all just stop pretending that Congress was seeing the same intelligence that Cheney was seeing? The White House cherry picked and manipulated the intelligence. Period. The intelligence was loaded with caveats. Those caveats were removed. Bush knew he was telling lies…and still told them. Why are Republicans still in denial 12 years later?

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  5. stonetools says:

    This is why I describe the next election as a choice between the party of sane policy and the party of insane policy. In the Democratic Party ( and in the rest of this space-time continuum) it’s settled that the Iraq War was a blunder, the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time. In Republican-world, not only was the Iraq War justified, they’d do it again -and in the case of Iran, they do want to do it again, only bigger and better.I think it’s not only Bush’s view-its the view of Cruz, Carson, Graham and everyone else in the Klown Kar, with the possible exception of Rand Paul.
    If there is a reason to vote Democratic in 2016and early and often, this is it.

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  6. James Pearce says:

    Speaking of deja vu, George Zimmerman was involved in another shooting today, apparently some kind of road rage incident. It was probably a liberal or a black person, because if there’s one thing we know for sure it’s that George Zimmerman is definitely NOT an asshole.

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  7. Tillman says:

    God, Politico is a horrible outlet.

    Politico’s (and Fox‘s) framing of the exchange:

    In an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly set to air Monday night, the former Florida governor says he would have authorized the invasion in 2003 — “and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

    Bush added that “in retrospect” the intelligence used to justify the invasion “was faulty” and added that “in retrospect” it was a mistake for his brother’s administration to not focus on Iraq’s security after toppling Saddam Hussein.

    But he defended his brother’s decision-making, saying: “guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush,” and downplaying any insinuation that his take on American policy in Iraq was any different than the 43rd president’s.

    “Just for the news flash to the world: If they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those,” the Florida Republican added.

    TPM‘s framing: [emphasis added]

    Likely presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said in an interview set to air Monday that he would have invaded Iraq in 2003, like his brother did, if he were President back then.

    Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” Fox News host Megyn Kelly asked Bush in a sit-down interview.

    “I would have,” Bush said.

    “And so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” he added. “And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

    Bush said that the administration of his brother, President George W. Bush, failed to establish security in Iraq after toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein. That caused Iraqis to turn against the American invasion, Jeb Bush said.

    “By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush,” he said.

    “So just for the news flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those,” he added.

    Sure, TPM’s liberal media, but they also provide the video clip of the exchange (as does Fox, naturally). The question wasn’t positing a hypothetical about the contingencies of intelligence operations or interpretation of flawed intelligence to justify a rationale for war. It was, literally, if you had the benefit of hindsight in that moment, would you still invade?

    That he says yes boggles the mind. He seemed to construe it as a question on that particular hypothetical and not what the question actually was, and both Politico and Fox are presenting it that way.

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  8. Franklin says:

    You’ve got to question the guy’s loyalty at this point. Apparently his brother’s feelings are more important than, you know, our country.

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  9. Franklin says:

    And also, Larison sums it up better than almost anyone: Who even cares if the intelligence was right? There was still no case that it presented an imminent threat to us (which would have been required for any invasion to be justified).

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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    t was reported that Bush had told a group of potential donors in New York that he considered his brother to be his top adviser on Middle East matters, although a campaign spokesperson later said that the Governor was referring to Israel specifically and not necessarily the entire Middle East.

    I have to point out that Jeb has never said his brother was his top adviser on Israel but rather he has repeatedly said that Bibi Netanyahu is his top adviser on Israel (“There will be no light between Israel and the US during a Bush administration” or something to that effect). I have to wonder was this spokesperson even in JEB’s campaign?

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    No one’s mentioned the pre-invasion Downing Street Memo in which the Brits said straight out that the intelligence was being “fixed around the policy”.

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  12. grumpy realist says:

    At least SOMEONE on the right realizes how stupid this makes ol’ Jebbie look…

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  13. al-Ameda says:

    Jeb Bush tells Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly that he would have invaded Iraq just like his brother did had he been President at the time:

    And this wasn’t even a softball Katie Couric “ambush interview.”
    Megyn set it up on a tee for him and Jeb swung hard, topped it, and fell face down on the tee. Unbelievable.

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  14. michael reynolds says:

    Wow. Jeb is not ready for prime time. I’m actually surprised.

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  15. stonetools says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Maybe we should applaud him for his candor.At least those who vote for him know exactly what they are getting now. GWB was talking about a “kindlier, gentler foreign policy” before he won the nomination. Boy, were we suprised.
    When an independent talks about Jeb as a “moderate” next year,and suggests “both the Democrats and the Republicans are the same”, dust off this quote.

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  16. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Yea, when I said a few days ago that I used to think he was a smart man who was getting political advice from fools, but now I wasn’t so sure?

    I’m sure now. He’s a fool being advised by fools.

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  17. michael reynolds says:

    Now the question is whether the other GOP candidates will attack Jeb or endorse his opinion.

    Wow, this thing is going south much faster than I thought it would. I didn’t think we’d be seeing candidates shoot themselves in the foot until the debates. Jeb is really a moron. This changes everything. He just buried himself for the foreign policy debate with Hillary. If he doubles down on this in the general election Hillary will be pushing 60%.

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  18. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    All I can figure is that we were fooled by the fact that he wears glasses and doesn’t have a goober accent.

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  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    LOL, could be. He certainly fooled me for a while. Chalk up another warm body drooler in the clown car bus train.

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  20. MikeSJ says:

    I wonder if he’s been in the cocoon for so long the fresh air and sunlight of the real world are too much for him to handle?

    I still think he’s not an imbecile like his brother* but this shows an appalling lack of preparation for questions that his team knew with 100% certainty would be coming. Again, maybe he’s just so used to Hannity style tongue bath interviews he can’t handle the transition to real questions..

    I just hope the Hillary’s people can prep her enough for her to not blow this opportunity.

    Can she send Bill out as her spokesman? You know he’d knock it out of the park.

    *maybe W. isn’t an imbecile but there’s something seriously wrong with him.

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  21. dmichael says:

    The post by Mr. Mataconis fails to frame the interview correctly. Fortunately, some of the comments, especially, Tillman’s, do. The question and answer bear repeating: Megyn Kelly: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the [Iraq] invasion?”

    Jeb Bush: “I would have.”

    Either Jeb failed to understand the question or purposely tried to avoid it. A simple response would have been “Hindsight is always 20-20 and I won’t criticize President Bush for doing what most people, including Hillary Clinton thought was the right decision.” Question answered as well as deflected. Now, Hillary has the opportunity to say: “No, I wouldn’t have because we now know that the administration fixed the intelligence to suit its intention to invade.”

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  22. JohnMcC says:

    To be fair to Mr Bush, he very recently had to throw former Sec’ty of State James Baker under the bus for the faux pas of saying something obviously true about PM Netanyahu. Couldn’t go two for two on family.

    What attracted my notice was his saying that Pres Bush 43 acknowledges that ‘mistakes were made’. I wonder if we’ll ever know what those mistakes were.

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  23. Davebo says:

    I think this comment on Larison’s post says a lot.

    There is a difference between George W. and Jeb on the Iraq War: while W. merely adopted the policy of the Project for the New American Century, Jeb was an actual signatory.

    That however could be an unpopular statement around here.

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  24. Tony W says:

    @dmichael:

    Either Jeb failed to understand the question or purposely tried to avoid it

    Or, he was completely truthful and honest. I am amused how that doesn’t even cross your mind.

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  25. dmichael says:

    @Tony W: You mean that Jeb Bush would have invaded Iraq knowing that there was actually no evidence to support his brother’s justification for that invasion, an invasion that cost us a trillion dollars, at least 4,000 American deaths, and probably 100,000 Iraqi deaths and that resulted in the current destabilized Middle East? No, he really didn’t want to answer that question and a simple, yet somewhat evasive answer would have given him much more wriggle room. Now hopefully, Hillary will pounce. However, I wait for Michael Reynolds’s advice for her on the specific response.

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  26. dmichael says:

    @Tony W: In addition, please consider what a right wing commentator stated:
    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/laura-ingraham-jeb-bush-iraq

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  27. Argon says:

    WTF is it with the *entire* Bush family and Iraq?

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  28. gVOR08 says:

    @Argon: The Bushes are just doing what the Saudis pay them to do. Onward Christian Soldiers.

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  29. Barry says:

    @Franklin: “You’ve got to question the guy’s loyalty at this point. Apparently his brother’s feelings are more important than, you know, our country. ”

    Like brother, like brother. One of the notable things in a f-ed up administration was that it was clear that Bush & Cheney gave zero f*cks about getting even their own sh*t actually done.

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  30. Barry says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “Yea, when I said a few days ago that I used to think he was a smart man who was getting political advice from fools, but now I wasn’t so sure?”

    If he actually was smart, then why would his advisers be idiots?

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  31. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: “Jeb is really a moron. This changes everything. ”

    Well, Dubya was a f*ck-up, as well, and won, during a prosperous time.

    He’ll have a few to several hundred billion $ to cover over things; he’ll start with 45% of the vote, and massive support from the billionaires who actually give orders to the ‘liberal media’.

    The economic elites will be behind him 100%, and they know how profitable a GOP president + GOP Congress + GOP SCOTUS is (i.e., trillion$$). Spending a few billion is a decent investment.

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  32. Mikey says:

    I’m still of the opinion a good bit of this is pandering. If you don’t talk to hardcore Republicans very often, you probably don’t quite get how strong support for the 2003 Iraq invasion has become a litmus test over there. I’ve an acquaintance who simply said “she’s an idiot” when presented with Laura Ingraham’s opinion of Jeb’s statement. I have friends for whom the discovery of degraded-to-the-point-of-uselessness 30-year-old stockpiles of chemical weapons is total vindication of Bush’s decision. It’s become an article of faith over there and no investigations or factual determinations will change any minds.

    Add to that Jeb’s reputation on the far right as a bit of a RINO and you could infer he said this stuff because he believes if he doesn’t he’ll get passed up by the crazies, and unfortunately in today’s GOP the crazies matter.

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