Jeb Bush’s Four Different Answers to the Same Iraq Question

The likely presidential candidate now has a clear answer on whether, knowing what he knows now, he would have gone into Iraq in 2003. But it’s been a long four days.

Jeb Bush participates in a discussion with the National Review editor Rich Lowry, during the National Review Institute 2015 Ideas Summit April 30, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
May 14, 2015, 11:17 a.m.

It took a little while, but Jeb Bush now has a clear answer to this question: Knowing what we know now, would he have invaded Iraq in 2003?

“Knowing what we now know, I would not have engaged,” the former Florida governor said in Arizona Thursday. “I would not have gone into Iraq.”

Bush had been exceedingly hesitant to answer the question just a few days ago, when it first cropped up in a Fox News interview on Monday night. And it doesn’t seem as if he’s enjoyed repeatedly getting asked about his brother’s decision-making while traveling around the country this week.

Here’s how Bush inched toward a final answer.

Monday

In an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, Bush was asked:

“On the subject of Iraq—obviously very controversial—knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”

He responded:

“I would’ve, and so would’ve Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

Tuesday

It took no time for attacks to come after Monday’s comment, from all sides. “You can’t still think going into Iraq now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to do,” conservative radio host Laura Ingraham said Tuesday. “That’s like you have no ability to learn from past mistakes at all.”

In a radio interview later that day with Sean Hannity, Bush got another shot and tried to clarify.

First, Hannity:

“You gave an interview yesterday where the question of Iraq came up, and knowing what you know now, would you go in…. You said ‘yes, and so would Hillary,’ and I took that to mean, based on, you know, if it was the same moment with the same intelligence, would you do it based on that moment. The media seems to be taking it another way, and I want to see if I could clarify that today.”

Bush’s response:

“I interpreted the question wrong, I guess. I was talking about, given what people knew then, would you have done it, rather than knowing what we know now. And knowing what we know now, you know, clearly there were mistakes as it related to faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the war and the lack of focus on security. My brother has admitted this, and we have to learn from that.”

Hannity tried asking Bush again what his decision would’ve been with “20/20 hindsight.” Bush’s response:

“I don’t know what that decision would’ve been. That’s a hypothetical. But the simple fact is, mistakes were made, as they always are in life.”

Wednesday

By this point, Bush began to nail down a response strategy: Blame the question itself.

At a town hall event in Nevada, Bush said, “If we’re going to get into hypotheticals, I think it does a disservice for a lot of people that sacrificed a lot.” He continued, saying, “Going back in time and talking about hypotheticals—what would have happened, what could have happened—I think, does a disservice for them. What we ought to be focusing on is what are the lessons learned.”

Three people at the town hall asked Bush some form of the Iraq question.

Thursday

The definitive answer, given at a Tempe, Arizona, town hall:

“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,” Bush said. “I would not have gone into Iraq.”

That answer should bring this round of Iraq questions to an end. But with an official presidential announcement expected soon, more are coming—and they’ll likely get a little more complicated than this hypothetical.

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