Jeb Bush’s foundering response to the question of whether he would have invaded Iraq sparked a wave of responses from the rest of the 2016 GOP field that amounted to a broad retrenchment on the issue.
But the politics were unmistakeable. The well-funded Bush was bleeding in the water, and his rivals were happy to be the hungry sharks. Bush has now conceded it was a “bumpy” few days. But he wasn’t alone in struggling with the question.
“I would have,” Bush said in response to Megyn Kelly asking knowing what we know now, would he have invaded Iraq again. “And so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
Not quite … errr … not at all. And a few days later, Bush would do a complete 180 and say he would not have invaded Iraq after explaining that he misheard the question and then saying he wasn’t sure what he would do.
It was all a simple misunderstanding: Bush didn’t hear the question but actually doesn’t know what he would have done but actually would not have invaded Iraq. Case closed!
“Not only would I have not been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it,” Rubio said during a sit-down at the Council on Foreign Relations. “President Bush has said he regrets that the intelligence was faulty. I don’t think Congress would’ve voted in favor of authorization if they knew that.”
That turns out to not quite be right either. Bush has indicated he would have gone in again. It got even worse when Rubio sat down with Fox News’ Chris Wallace:
RUBIO: Well, the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein is not there.
WALLACE: So, was it a mistake or not?
RUBIO: But I wouldn’t characterize it — but I don’t understand the question you’re asking, because the president —
“If I knew then what I know now, a land invasion may not have been the right answer,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said.
Graham was that rare candidate in the field who didn’t try to tiptoe around information available at the time versus information available years later. But he didn’t offer an alternative to invading Iraq without a, well, land invasion.
“If we knew then what we know now and I was the President of the United States, I wouldn’t go to war,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “But we don’t get to replay history.”
Christie was perhaps the most eager to turn the knife on Bush. He wasted no time shaking his head after Bush’s comments and then directly giving the former Florida governor a verbal sucker punch for not answering the question “simply and directly.”
“I don’t know how that was a hard question,” former Sen. Rick Santorum said in an interview with The New York Times. He went on to say he’s been asked the question “a hundred times” and that “the answer is pretty clear. The information was not correct and, while there was some things that were true, I don’t think nearly the weight to require us to go to war. Everybody accepts that now.”
Well, not everybody.
“Of course not,” Sen. Ted Cruz said in response to Megyn Kelly asking if he would have authorized an invasion. “I mean, the entire predicate of the war against Iraq was the intelligence that showed they had weapons of mass destruction and they might use them. Now I would note that there was a bipartisan consensus, both Republicans and Democrats looking at that intelligence concluded it was a real threat. We now know that intelligence was false.”
When tea party dreamboat Cruz, a former Bush administration domestic policy advisor, concedes invading Iraq was a bad idea, you know it’s bad for Bush.
“I think, even at the time invading Iraq was a mistake and I thought the war, even at the time, was a mistake given the intelligence,” Sen. Rand Paul told CNN. “Everybody needs to be asked — all the Republicans should be asked, did you and do you support Hillary’s war in Libya.”
You gotta give it to Paul: he’s on his 2016 message: blame Hillary, blame Hillary, blame Hillary. Paul was clearly hopeful the Iraq question would cover the 2016 race for no shorter time than two minutes after eternity.
“You know, this whole issue of—this question that gets asked, ‘If you—with what you know today, would you have ordered the invasion of Iraq?'” Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in Iowa, according to the Texas Tribune. “I think if you look at what’s happened today, and the answer is no. I mean, with that hindsight, no, I would not have done that.”
Slightly halting maybe, but a certain Texas directness.
“Any president would have likely taken the same action Bush did with the information he had, even Hillary Clinton voted for it, but knowing what we know now, we should not have gone into Iraq,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement passed along to TPM.
Walker started out his response making it sound like he was almost going to give his likely rival a helping hand. But then he yanks the football back with the “knowing what we know now” and allows Bush to faceplant all by himself.
“Leadership is about making decisions with the information you have, not the information people will have 12 years later,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said to reporters Friday just before giving a speech at a Republican National Committee event. “I kind of feel sorry for my friend Jeb Bush. I feel like he’s been caught in the crosshairs of an unfortunate game of semantics and I’m going to cut him some slack on this one.”
Huckabee also called the Iraq question a “ridiculous framing” but he wouldn’t give a straight answer on the subject.
“At the time, I think President Bush absolutely made the right decision,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said told Iowa Public Television.
Jindal went on to blame Obama for the whole mess.
“The problems we face in Iraq today I don’t think were because of President Bush’s strength, but rather have come about because of President Obama’s weakness,” Jindal said.