This whole Jeb Bush/Iraq thing is remarkable. First, you’ve got the fact that this debacle has come from interviews with ostensibly friendly interlocutors — Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity. That’s an interesting aspect, to be sure. But what is even more remarkable to me, at least, is that you now have mainstream Republican candidates like Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Ted Cruz (who worked for Dubya) — not to mention Sen. Rand Paul and Dr. Ben Carson — publicly criticizing the invasion.
A few years ago, this would have branded them apostates. Now, it appears to be the consensus opinion (or, at least, not a minority one).
This reversal seems to have happened at roughly the same speed attitudes about gay marriage have shifted. Maybe Ron Paul really did win the r3volution?
Some of this could simply be that elections are about contrast, and if you’re a conservative looking to carve out a niche, disagreeing with Jeb is a pretty good idea. In this regard, Jeb’s inability to effectively answer this question might have actually impacted the stated policy positions of the GOP field — or, at least, sped up the process whereby Republicans were “coming out” as opposing the Iraq war (or, at least, with the caveat of knowing what we know now).
In any event, there appears to have been a permission structure that was granted, whereby it’s now safer to be against the war than for it. And this seems like an important thing that has been mostly lost in the mix.
Of course, this doesn’t mean Republicans are all doves. Far from it. It just means they are increasingly willing to retroactively abandon something that is a drag. (And hopefully, they will learn the lessons, going forward.)
Among the remarkable aspects of this story, the most obvious is the amazing fact that Jeb was unable to handle a predictable question (it was predictable to begin with, but it was especially predictable when you go on Sean Hannity’s radio show to clean up your answer to a question on Megyn Kelly’s TV show.)
If you’re Jeb Bush, there are multiple acceptable ways to answer the question, Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion of Iraq? You could argue that “Yes, I would have still ousted Saddam.” (You might not agree with this, but it’s possible to put together a coherent argument for this position.) … Or you could go the other direction, and argue that, in hindsight, it was a mistake. There’s even a way to do that without throwing brother George under the bus. Consider how Chris Christie answered the question:
“I think President (George W.) Bush made the best decision he could at the time, given that his intelligence community was telling him that there was (weapons of mass destruction) and that there were other threats right there in Iraq,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.”
“But I don’t think you can honestly say that if we knew then that there was no (weapons of mass destruction), that the country should have gone to war,” he said.
Where you come down on this question is actually less important than demonstrating that you have a). grappled with the question, b). learned the lessons of Iraq to avoid future mistakes, and c). developed a coherent foreign policy worldview. It is reasonable for us to expect the next president to have gone through this intellectual exercise.
It’s probably even possible to find a way to parry the hypothetical question, so long as you do so in a way that illustrates you have grappled with the three things above. What you cannot do, however — what is utterly unacceptable — is not to have an answer.
This post has been updated.
Note: The author’s wife formerly advised Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign, and currently consults for RickPAC.