THE QUESTION we are facing now is as obvious as a mission-accomplished sign: If Jeb Bush knew now what question he was going to be asked four days ago, would he be able to come up with a decent response?
The answer, finally, is yes.
But it was a near thing. It took him all four days, which is a little slower than you’d hope for from someone who would be leader of the free world. Let’s call it leading from four days behind.
The question, of course, was about Iraq, his brother George’s foreign policy disaster. And it’s a question everyone knew was coming four days ago, four weeks ago, four months ago, four years ago.[pullquote]The question was about Iraq, his brother George’s foreign policy disaster. It’s a question everyone knew was coming four days ago, four weeks ago, four months ago, four years ago.[/pullquote]
And since it was so obvious, you’d figure that the guy with all the money and all the connections and all the advisers would have had a ready response.
Instead he flubbed the if-he-knew-then-what-we-now-know Iraq question, which couldn’t have been easier. He said he’d still have invaded Iraq, which is the wrong answer, as you’d think every Republican not named Dick Cheney would know. (Actually, at least half of Jeb’s foreign policy team remains strongly pro-invasion, and big brother George might, too, depending on which W. quote you want to cherry pick.) That was Day 1.
And so, on Day 2, Jeb tried to walk back his answer, saying he misunderstood the question, but then when he was asked it again, he – yes – flubbed it again. This was when he introduced the “hypothetical” issue and said, knowing now what he didn’t know then, he wasn’t sure what he’d do, which was a worse answer yet. And people were starting to wonder whether Jeb really was the smart brother.
Day 3: This was serious panic day for Team Bush. Other Republicans smelled blood in the water, and you know what water does to, say, Chris Christie. You started hearing right answers all over the place. No, from Christie. No, from Cruz. No, from Paul. No, from Rubio, who, just to set the record straight, had been saying for years that the world was better off for America having invaded Iraq. And so Bush came up with this — that asking “hypothetical” questions was a “disservice” to those who fought and died in Iraq. Of course, the question is hypothetical if we mean that Jeb Bush would have been president. But that’s where the hypothetical part ends and the great tragedy began.
Day 4: Finally. Here’s the quote from Bush, to a crowd in Tempe, Arizona: “Here’s the deal. If we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions — knowing what we know now, what would you have done — I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”
Now, was that so hard? The problem for Bush isn’t just that he flubbed the Iraq question three days running before finally getting it right: Of course, if he had known there were no weapons of mass destruction, he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. As Laura Ingraham put it, any sane person would know that.
But here’s the real deal. He is George W.’s brother, and it was George W. who made one of the great mistakes in modern American history, and it’s Jeb, while saying that George was one of his key advisors on the Middle East, who finds himself stuck with him.
Loyalty is one thing. But the problem for Jeb is that he flubbed the easiest possible question on Iraq. A more difficult question — one proposed by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent and others — is this: Should we have invaded Iraq even if the intelligence had been right?
Post-invasion Iraq turned quickly into a catastrophe, and would have with or without WMDs. Many predicted the ensuing chaos at the time, although hardly anyone thought it would turn out that badly. Just as one example of getting it all wrong, Dick Cheney actually did say American troops would be greeted as “liberators” and that Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds would eagerly band together to form a united Iraq. It’s all there. Just do the Google.
Another example of getting it wrong was, of course, Hillary Clinton. Her wrong-way vote as a senator on Iraq probably cost her the presidency back in 2008. She’s changed her mind since then, but she is un-hypothetically no more eager to talk about Iraq than Bush is.
It wasn’t just that mistakes were made. Republicans like to put the disaster that is Iraq today on Barack Obama, but it’s a hard sell. I’m not exactly a fan of Obama’s drone-heavy Middle East policy, but there was no easy way out of Iraq, which is why we’re still there even after we’ve officially left. Which is why nearly 5,000 American troops are dead and many tens of thousands wounded and $1.7 trillion lost.
So what are the lessons we take from this?
If you listen to the loud objections to Obama’s negotiations with Iran, you’d think we hadn’t learned anything. But it turns out there is a lesson: So long as Jeb Bush is a front-runner in the Republican presidential sweepstakes, George W. Bush’s war isn’t going away. And for one Bush brother, the questions are only going to get harder.
Photo: Jeb Bush in DesMoines, March 2015, via iprimages.