Some of us have been pointing out the great big, obvious problem with Jeb Bush's candidacy for a while now, but it took his fumbling and mumbling these past couple of days to wake the political press to to the fact that being George W. Bush's brother was going to cause him some very difficult moments on the campaign trail. After all, his name is Bush, the name most closely associated with America's bedeviled relationship with Iraq for the past 25 years.
So yes, it was inevitable that Jeb would be between Iraq and a hard place in this election, and that he would not have an easy time trying to squeeze out of it. After all, no matter what people may have thought going into the war, there is a strong consensus that it failed:
A September 2014 AP-GfK poll found that 71 percent of Americans said they think history will judge the war as a failure. Among Republicans, that assessment was even more prevalent, with 76 percent saying the war would be seen a failure.
With a result like that, dancing around saying the intelligence was faulty but everyone believed it so and while you wouldn't do it now you would have done it then isn't going to get you anywhere.
Here's one shocked political observer saying what he thinks needs to be said:
"[Joe] Scarborough was in disbelief over Bush's repeated blunders this week in trying to answer whether he would have invaded Iraq like his brother George W. Bush, knowing what he knows now about the results of the war.
The MSNBC host, who supported the war in 2003, asked contributor and Bloomberg's Mark Halperin to pose the Iraq question to him.
"No, it was a horrible idea, as bad an idea as sticking your face in a blender, what's your next question?" Scarborough said, to laughter from the panel.
(Hillary Clinton was a bit less colorful with her mea culpa, but it amounts to the same thing: "I wasn't alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.")
Scarborough's not the only one taking shots. Bush's rivals have all opportunistically stepped up to condemn him for his Iraq comments. Marco Rubio -- a certifiable neocon hawk who just a few weeks ago stated that the war was a net positive because Saddam Hussein was a very bad man -- this week solemnly declared that he wouldn't have gone in if he knew the intelligence was wrong. He kindly added that he didn't think President Bush would have gone in either, which is a joke.
(This piece by Paul Waldman shreds this silly myth that everyone was somehow "fooled" by the intelligence.)
Former "W" staffer Ted Cruz, meanwhile, weighed in with this repudiation of the neoconservative conceit that the whole thing was done to promote democracy (by freeing the Iraqis from their lives). His point of view probably best represents the base of the party: bloodthirsty and vengeful without all that extraneous hoohah about helping the children and letting a thousand flowers grow:
While Cruz said he couldn’t judge then-President Bush’s decision without having seen the intelligence himself, he reiterated his view that America should not get bogged down in nation-building after dispatching threats abroad.
“It is not the job of our soldiers, and sailors and airmen and Marines, to transform foreign nations into democratic utopias, it is the job to hunt down and kill terrorists who want to murder Americans before they can carry out jihad
These people are all distancing themselves however they can from the debacle that was Bush's war. But the one who is going to have the biggest problem doing that is obviously the guy with the same last name. The best he can do is pretend that his brother's administration didn't know they was getting false intelligence from his own CIA. (Again, simply not correct.) In fact, he's now so confused, he's saying that he wouldn't have gone in then if he knew what we know now --- but that if he's president he'll go back in:
“I think we need to reengage and do it in a more forceful way. The President is very reluctant for whatever reason to make a clear commitment that we should have kept, you know, 5,000 – 10,000 troops there.”
The fact that it was his brother who negotiated the total exit from Iraq, which the Iraqi government insisted on keeping even though the Obama administration desperately tried to get them to renegotiate, is a little detail none of the Republicans want to own up to either. And here's Jeb bringing that little bit of unpleasantness up again. It seems he just can't help but step in it.
But if Jeb is stuck with the Bush Iraq legacy, Rand Paul has a different problem. It's one thing to be embarrassed about the Iraq fiasco, it's quite another to be embarrassed about American dominance in the world. And that's pretty much how the base hears something like this:
“I think it’s a really important question and I don’t think it’s just hypothetical because we seem to have a recurring question in the Middle East whether or not it’s a good idea to topple secular strongmen or secular dictators and what happens after that."
Now Democratic audiences might be open to that discussion, but it's an article of faith on the right that the US of A can topple any damned dictator it wants, secular or not. (In fact, they consider the word "secular" to mean enemy both domestic and foreign.)
But then, Rand Paul is a dynastic scion just as Jeb is. And he has to walk a similar fine line between standing by his daddy and saying and doing the things that will make the GOP base trust him when it comes to national security and foreign policy. While Jeb's judgement is called into question over his brother's decision to invade Iraq, Rand's judgement is called into question over his father's unwillingness to invade anywhere. It's not easy being a prince.
But I do have to give Paul credit for finding creative ways to dogwhistle his right-wing bona fides. Get a load of this, from Right Wing Watch:
While speaking with Iowa-based radio host Jan Mickelson yesterday, Paul criticized efforts by the U.S. and the United Nations to settle Iraqi refugees in the country. Mickelson was even more sweeping, attacking efforts to settle Muslim refugees in general.
“We won the war in Iraq, why would we be giving political asylum to people to come from a country where we won the war?” Paul asked. “It’s one thing if you’re trying to escape Castro or trying to escape communism in Russia or Vietnam or somewhere else or China, I can understand asylum, but when you win the war, why would you give people asylum? And if the 60,000 coming here are friends of the West, wouldn’t you want that 60,000 to be in Iraq helping to form a better country over there?”
He continued: “If you let the better people, the people who like the United States leave and come here, then aren’t you diminishing the numbers of folks that would make that country a better place to live? So I think the whole idea of resettling 60,000 people from Iraq over here was a mistake. But I also think that the refugee program as well as the student visa program are some of the highest risks for us to be attacked.”
If you are wondering where in the world this callous immorality comes from, this is yet another far-right conspiracy theory in which Iraqi refugees -- people who risked their lives to help American soldiers, making it impossible for them to stay in their own country -- are closet terrorists who should be forced back to their own country top face ISIS.
Rand Paul may not defend America's invasion of Iraq but he is sure to capture the hearts and minds of the Republican base by degrading the Iraqi people and condemning those to whom America owes a debt. He hasn't gone as far as Michele Bachman did back in the 2012 race, demanding that the Iraqis reimburse the U.S. for "liberating them", but this is good start.
Jeb Bush isn't as slick as Rand Paul but you can be sure his team is working overtime to come up with something this good to make the base believe that while he isn't his brother or father, he's certainly one of them. Unless he manages to figure out a way to do that, he's going to have a very hard time getting through this primary.