Jeb Bush says he’s running for president in 2016, not in 2004, after his brother invaded Iraq. But he keeps defending ex-President George W. Bush’s war of choice—and not just on Fox News this week, where he endorsed the war but backtracked later that day.
Let’s go through a half-dozen statements that Jeb Bush has made, showing this foreign policy compass has long supported that war even if it’s an inconvenient truth in 2016.
1. First The Fox News Admission. Host Megyn Kelly asked, “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” Bush replied, “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
The first part of that quote got him in trouble, but the follow-up was more telling. Kelly asked, “You don't think it was a mistake?” He replied, “In retrospect, 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 on 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.”
2. Bush Backed The War Then. There’s a long line of quotes from Bush where he said the invasion and war effort were the right choice. As Politifact.com reported, he said at a 2003 news conference in Pensacola that the war was the correct moral choice. “It is the last thing that a commander in chief, a president of the United States, wants to do. But in his heart, I know he is doing what he thinks is right, and I concur with him.”
3. He Backed It As Florida Governor. In his 2004 State of the State speech, he praised the war effort. “Last month, we welcomed home almost 2,000 soldiers of the Florida National Guard from the war on terror. Some won’t make it home. It has been said, ‘God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to defend it.’ Because of the thousands who continue the fight, America will always be free.”
4. Visited Troops And Rebuffed Critics. As the war effort began to drag on and the White House was was criticized for creating a quagmire, Bush visited Floridians serving in Iraq in April and defended the efforts, saying that it always easy to criticize a president in wartime. Bush said, “In a mission this ambitious, and this extensive, is it possible that mistakes were made? Of course it is. After the fact, it’s easy to harp and to criticize, and, frankly, people have the right to do it.”
5. Defended Its Morality Upon Returning. When he returned from that trip, Bush told Floridians that the war was a noble mission. “It is very important that we stay the course, that we provide support for these incredible people that are doing such a service for liberty around the world and protecting our freedoms here.”
6. Said History Will Laud W’s War. In March 2013, Bush was asked by CNN if polls showing the public felt the war was a mistake would change. He said, “Yes. You know, a lot of things in history change over time. I think people will respect the resolve that my brother showed, both in defending the country and the war in Iraq. But history will judge that in a more objective way than today. The war has wound down now, and it's still way too early to judge what success it had in providing some degree of stability in the region.”
7. Now Jeb Says If He Only Knew Then. This is what every Republican candidate is now saying, except for Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, who said the invasion and war was a big mistake. “I interpreted the question wrong, I guess,” Bush told Sean Hannity’s national radio show, to try to revise his honest admission to Megyn Kelly. “I was talking about, given what people knew then.” He continued, “That’s a hypothetical… Mistakes were made, as they always are in life.”
Big Picture And Big Pattern
Perhaps the public should be grateful that the first words uttered by candidate Jeb Bush in 2016 generally reflect what he believes—not what his handlers tell him to recite. Jeb has come out in favor of “religious liberty” legislation, such as Indiana’s much-criticized anti-LGBT law. He’s told supporters that he favors federal education standards and comprehensive immigration reform, both to the dismay of the GOP’s far right wing.
But on the question of the biggest foreign policy blunder in a generation—a war of choice in Iraq—Jeb Bush clearly stands with his ex-president brother who decided to invade. That’s been his stance for years. The 2016 campaign trail doesn’t change it.