Jeb Bush, former Republican governor of Florida, was asked on Fox News by host Megyn Kelly, "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion (into Iraq)?"
"I would have," he answered.
By now, the widespread criticism of his statement, even from many conservatives, has been apparent. His "I would have" is not the problem, though. The problem is that -- well, okay, that is the problem. It's a terrible problem, but what I mean is that it wasn't the only problem in the interview, and he made it worse. But sure, it's a problem. Knowing what we know now -- that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction hidden in Iraq, and the supposed evidence we were given about Saddam Hussein trying to buy yellowcake in Niger was actually a lie -- it's sort of ghastly that Jeb Bush says he would still have sent war troops into Iraq.
But without almost skipping a breath, so as not to let the viewer linger on that, he immediately continued, "And so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."
Here's the big problem with that -- that wasn't the question. The question, very clearly, began, "Knowing what we know now." And what we know now is (again) that there were No Weapons of Mass Destruction hidden in Iraq, and it was a lie that Iraq was trying to buy yellowcake to make weapons.
But even that's problem. This is a tale, after all, of continuing to get it wrong.
For instance, next, his disingenuous obfuscation gets even worse when he rambled on explaining that the real problem with the wrong intelligence (and, again, to be clear, it wasn't just "wrong," it was a lie) is that we didn't establish security in Iraq. No -- the real problem with the wrong and lying intelligence is that, had it been accurate, we wouldn't have gone into Iraq in the first place! And we wouldn't have had to stay there for over 10 years, spent over $2 trillion and had 4,500 Americans killed. (And over half a million Iraqis, including civilians.)
But that's not the problem, either. Because somewhat smugly, almost seeming pleased with himself, Jeb Bush added, "So just for the news flash to the world, if they're trying to find places where there's big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those,"
Just for a news flash to Mr. Bush the younger, not having a big space between you and your brother on the Iraq War is not the great selling point you think it is, and you've given a great news bite to your opponents, given that an NBC/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll just last year showed that only 22 percent of Americans feel that the Iraq War was worth it. And given that according to a CBS/NY Times poll your brother left off office with an approval rating of that same 22 percent, you really might want to be pro-active and get in front of the news to make incredibly clear all those places where there is a massive space between you and your brother. Because if the public is left to decide on their own whether a Jeb Bush presidency will just be a continuation of your 22-percenter brother, that's just not going to fly.
At least knowing what we know now...
And remarkably, that isn't the problem either.
Because several days after sitting down in friendly territory on Fox News and giving an answer that has gotten scathing responses, even from conservatives, to a question that was not only incredibly easy, but should have been obviously expected and prepared for when you're the brother of a former president, and then a full day after that interview went public, Jeb Bush asked for a mulligan, a do-over, a second-chance to get the question right, "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion (into Iraq)?"
And the thing is, even with days to think about it and craft a proper, indeed impeccable reply, Mr. Bush the younger still got his answer wrong.
Whereas before he said, "I would have," and tried to suggest that all candidates would have, he now raised his hand for the teacher to call on him for a second chance -- with his carefully crafted response after sitting down with his advisers since he knew that a "Okay, what I really meant..." reply was needed. Actually, he didn't even wait to be called on -- he called on himself, himself. He called Sean Hannity's radio show (even far friendlier territory than before, sort of the safe room of the save haven "Fox News") to give his side of...well, his side.
And what Jeb Bush and his foreign policy experts carefully came up with as a much better reply was --
"I interpreted the question wrong, I guess. I don't know what that decision would have been -- that's a hypothetical. Simple fact is, mistakes were made."
People do misunderstand questions. Though how on earth do you misinterpret "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?" And bending over backwards to accept that you did misinterpret the question, what does that say about your ability to interpret questions if you ever became president, especially since this wasn't under stressful circumstances but as easy a question as they come? And what does it say about your ability to correct a misunderstanding when this is the best you and your advisers can come up with after a few days to think about it and carefully craft a reply?
First, where on earth did the "I guess" come from? Are you saying you did interpret the question wrong -- or you aren't sure, but just guessing maybe not? And secondly, agreeing that mistakes were made is not a simple fact, it's a matter of opinion, and one that I suspect not every conservative agrees with. And further, if mistakes were made, and it's a simple fact...what were those mistakes? But mainly, while yes, that is indeed a hypothetical question, it's still a brain-dead easy one: knowing what you know NOW, would you have authorized an invasion into Iraq where we KNOW now there are no hidden weapons of mass destruction, and where we KNOW now it was a lie about yellow cake being bought in Niger, and where he KNOW now that 4,500 Americans were killed, we KNOW that over two trillion dollars were spent, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis including citizens were killed and we absolutely KNOW that were entrenched there for over a decade?
And Jeb Bush's answer, knowing all that, now, and after days with his experts to think about it, was "I don't know."
Seriously? He still doesn't know?? Perhaps that makes him the Undecider.
Of course, his uncertainty might be the result of how most of his foreign policy advisers are the very same men who crafted President Bush's war plans. And therefore are not terrible willing to have Jeb Bush say anything different. So much for him being his own man...
(Side note: While Mr. Bush was disparaging about this being a hypothetical question, it's worth noting that pretty much every question he has gotten and will get about what he'd do "if" he became president...is hypothetical.)
Worse still, though, lost in all this is that the bad part of his initial, terrible answer from days before isn't just that originally he said, "I would have." It's that he also said -- "So just for the news flash to the world, if they're trying to find places where there's big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those."
So...maybe even if he says he misinterpreted the question, it doesn't appear that anyone else misinterpreted his original answer.
I say "original answer" because when he called in to say that he misinterpreted the question...he didn't give a different answer. Apparently, he just wanted a do-over on what he was asked.
And news flash to the world, here's the correct answer to the question which the judges were looking for, when you're the brother of the guy who started a war that only 22 percent of Americans now say was worth it. And that reply is --
"Hindsight always makes everything easy. If we were able to know the results of all our actions before we made them, life would be so much easier, wouldn't it? But that's not how life works. And when you're president and called on to make monumental decisions every day, life doesn't given you the luxury of living it hypothetically You can only act on the information you're given. And while based on that information I understand and agree on acting as we did, same as most people acted, including Hilary Clinton, but given the miracle of looking a decade into the future and knowing what we all know now, and knowing now that so much of that information turned out to be wrong -- I don't think most anyone would have authorized the invasion based on that information, and that includes me. But I think what we've also learned in these same past 10 years, especially with the instability still in the region, the continuing threat of Iran, and the growth of ISIS, is that we now know that there are other powerful reasons which justify invading Iraq."
Bonus answer: for everyone else, the correct answer is, "Knowing what we know now a decade later that our information from experts was wrong, no, of course I wouldn't have."
Not that this would do any good, of course. That's because Jeb Bush continued to screw around with how to answer this easy, basic, totally expected question, and it just keeps getting worse. Because he then told a questioner in an audience -- who wanted a new answer to the now correctly-interpreted question -- that he now wouldn't even answer such a hypothetical question since it would be disrespectful to the troops.
Actually, he's wrong. It wouldn't be remotely disrespectful if his answer was, as he first said, "I would have" still invaded Iraq. So, perhaps he's suggesting that his answer is, in fact, no. But the reality is that even that isn't disrespectful to the troops. It's just hypothetical. What is disrespectful is having actually sent troops to a war where they never should have been sent, that was based on a lie.
Yet it gets even worse! (No, really.) Because later, Jeb Bush actually, finally answered the question he said was disrespectful to answer. And he said, knowing what we know now -- no, he wouldn't have invaded Iraq. But...but...it gets worse still. (No, really, honest.) Because he immediately followed that by saying - it was still a good idea because it got rid of Saddam Hussein and made the world safer. So...well, that sounds like a "yes."
Mind you, he didn't say how it made the world safer, other than getting rid of Saddam Hussein. But since Iraq was destabilized, never formed a substantive government, was weakened as a deterrent against Iran and opened the door for the creation of ISIS, it's really not quite clear what on earth Jeb Bush means, or if he even knows what he means.
Honestly, I don't dislike Jeb Bush. I think he's one of the more thoughtful candidates the Republican Party currently has. (Which should tell you something about the candidates that the party currently has.) But he has no foreign policy experience, and he's been out of politics for eight years. Indeed, if you looked at his job qualifications to be president, leading the list is "Father was a President. Brother was a President." But by that standard, I should be up for consideration by the AMA for my medical license. Next on the list of qualifications is, "Was governor of Florida," one of the most dysfunctional states in the union.
It was a bad weak for Jeb Bush. And no, that is not a typo.
That's the problem.
To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about this or many other matters both large and tidbit small, see Elisberg Industries.