Jeb's bizarre "hard of hearing" defense: Did he really "mishear" Megyn Kelly's Iraq question?

Jeb Bush's answer about authorizing the Iraq war made no sense. Apparently he just can't hear well?

Published May 12, 2015 3:30PM (EDT)

  (AP/David Goldman)
(AP/David Goldman)

If the purpose of Jeb Bush's foreign policy messaging was to back himself into a corner from which there's no clear exit strategy very early on, this week has been a smashing success. His position on his brother's war in Iraq is so confusing that his friends are now going on cable news to defend him with this winning line: He can't hear no good. Alas.

Fox News' Megyn Kelly asked Jeb Bush the following straightforward question in an interview that aired Monday night: "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?"

"I would've," he responded, "and so would've Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would've almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."

"You don't think it was a mistake?" Kelly followed up.

"In retrospect," Bush continued, "the intelligence that everybody saw -- that the world saw, not just the United States -- was faulty. And in retrospect, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn't focus on security first, and the Iraqis, in this incredibly insecure environment, turned out the United States military because there was no security for themselves and their families. By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush. So just for the newsflash 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."

What we have here, reader, is an answer that does not make sense. He seems to ignore the "knowing what we know now" part. Hillary Clinton's record on Iraq certainly has its problems, and she's known to dodge a question or two. But she has been pretty clear that she would not have voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq knowing "what we know now" -- i.e. that the intelligence on Saddam Hussein's WMD programs and purported connections to Al Qaeda were wrong. (It should be said that "what we know now" wasn't impossible information to ascertain back then. And even if the WMD intelligence had been correct, that still doesn't mean that the invasion of Iraq would have been a savvy move.)

Instead of answering the question about whether he would've authorized the Iraq invasion knowing that the intelligence was all wrong, he answers an easier question: He would have authorized the Iraq war knowing what we thought we knew then.

There are a couple of explanations for this. The first is that he has one canned Iraq answer, and it's the only answer he'll give when he hears the word "Iraq."

The other is that unwelcome clauses in questions trigger a latent deafness in Jeb Bush. Bush's old pal, Republican cable news strategist Ana Navarro, said on CNN this morning that Jeb told her he misheard the question.

Ana Navarro, a former aide to ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), said on CNN Tuesday that the potential presidential candidate told her he'd misheard a question about the Iraq War.

Navarro, who was Bush's director of immigration policy in the governor's office, said on CNN's "New Day" that she'd emailed Bush on Tuesday morning for clarification about his comments.

"I emailed him this morning and I said to him, 'Hey, I'm a little confused by this answer so I'm genuinely wondering did you mishear the question?'" Navarro said. "And he said, 'Yes, I misheard the question.'"

Interesting. Megyn Kelly was sitting right there in front of him. There weren't a whole lot of other distractions in the room? But fine, he misheard it. So what's his answer to the question: Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion? 

Jeb Bush's team has not responded to an inquiry from Salon. We will update this post in the unusual event that Jeb Bush's team responds to an inquiry from Salon or issues a statement or whatever.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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