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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