POLITICS

The Attack On Jeb Bush's Iraq Fumbles Grows Personal

05/19/2015 05:56 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Jeb Bush’s much-chronicled difficulties in describing how, with 20/20 hindsight, he would have handled the Iraq invasion have raised doubts about the former Florida governor's dexterity as a presidential candidate.

Shouldn’t he have been better prepared? the wonderment goes. Will his brother’s legacy prove problematic on other fronts? asked The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. Perhaps it is just that hard to whitewash the war’s origins, critics argue.

Add to these concerns another, put forward by former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) in an interview with The Huffington Post on Monday. What if, in fact, Bush believed his first answer -- that even in retrospect, he would have supported the war authorization -- and scrambled frantically when that response was met with raised eyebrows?

“I'm trying to avoid being categorical about a whole family,” Hart said. “But the Bushes do not demonstrate analytical minds. They demonstrate visceral minds. The father I knew and liked a lot. The sons respond to events and respond to stimuli, and they are not analytical thinkers. And that comes out in their rhetoric or lack thereof and their thought process and how they look at complex issues. Governor Bush, half his mind is how to protect his brother. The other half is, How do I answer without alienating two-thirds of the Republican Party?”

Hart, who publicly opposed the Iraq War when it was being launched, was making a larger case that the current debate over that decision has been fairly trivial. Rather than wondering what presidential candidates now think of the war 13 years after it began, he argued, it would be more valuable to know what they would have done in the moment.

Still, Hart's take on Bush was far more raw and personal than much of the commentary about the former governor’s foibles this past week. Asked about it, Bush spokesman Tim Miller said he was “going to count Gary Hart criticizing Governor Bush's judgment as a win” -- a reference undoubtedly to Hart's scandal-plagued presidential run in 1987-1988.

Other critics of the Iraq War have made points similar to Hart's broader commentary. Former Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told HuffPost that some of the revisionism being peddled today -- that most everyone agreed at the time that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and represented a threat to the United States –- doesn’t “pass muster.”

“Frankly,” Conrad added, “knowing what we knew then, we shouldn’t have gone to war.”

Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who served as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, took that argument further, telling HuffPost that the George W. Bush administration essentially misled Congress by withholding evidence that cast doubts on the case for war.

“After 9/11,” said Graham, “I think we moved into a period of more deception than cover-up, where information was withheld from people and in some instances public statements were made which the people who made those statements knew or should have known they were not consistent with the actual evidence, which has and continues to be classified.”

Lawmakers, he said, were simply too willing to trust that what the White House claimed was true. And because those claims have since been proven false, he suggested, there probably won't be the same relationship between the executive and legislative branches again.

But Graham, who served as governor of Florida before going to the Senate, would not make the same personal argument that Hart did when it came to Jeb Bush.

“I hope not,” he said, when asked if he believed Bush actually supported the war’s authorization. “I've known Jeb for a long time. I disagree with him on policies, but he has always struck me as an intelligent, thoughtful person and I would not use those same words -- particularly 'thoughtful' -- to describe his brother."

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