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
Add to Briefcase
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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