Jeb Bush: I would have invaded Iraq

In an interview with Megyn Kelly to be aired today, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush told the Fox host that he would have made the same decision his brother did as president to invade Iraq. As he said, quoted by The Washington Post: “I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

That’s a brazenly emphatic bear-hug for what turned out to be the biggest foreign policy catastrophe of the 21st Century, setting aside the fact that “the intelligence they got” was false — and George Bush knew it was false.

While it’s true that Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War — a vote that cost her the Democratic nomination in 2008 — she has at least admitted that the vote was a mistake.

Jeb has not made such concessions. In fact, throughout his entire soon-to-be-launched campaign, he has refused to create substantive space between himself and his brother, who left office as one of the most unpopular presidents in the modern era. Aside form saying “I am my own man,” Bush has gone out of his way to endorse his brother’s record on multiple occasions. Furthermore, his emerging team of advisers are, by and large, alumnae of prior Bush campaigns and administrations.

This, despite former President Bush’s indications that he will keep a low profile in 2016, cognizant of how toxic he could prove to be on the campaign trail.

But here’s the thing: despite the baggage George W. Bush would bring as a surrogate, Jeb probably loses less by embracing his record than he gains by distancing himself from it. No matter what he says about the previous Bush administration, he’s going to be tied to it. If he runs from it, it’ll be seen as a political dodge. Owning the issue tells voters that he doesn’t think it’s a liability, so they shouldn’t, either. Given that Hillary’s position on the Iraq War is, for all intents and purposes, the same as Jeb’s — “We made the best decision we could given the information we had.” — Jeb does more to defuse Iraq as a 2016 campaign issue by embracing the invasion than he does by criticizing it. As there is no clear separation between any of the 2016 frontrunners on the issue, none of them feel any particular need to play defense on it.

This being the case, the Iraq War is likely to get less attention in the campaign than it likely deserves — especially given the fact that you can draw a straight line from the power vacuum created by the removal of Saddam Hussein to the rise of the Islamic State.

(By the way, this is George W. Bush’s “only regret” about the invasion of Iraq.)

Jeb Bush has also undoubtedly noticed that, despite leaving office in borderline disgrace, George W. Bush has seen his favorability rating rise since leaving office, a common trend in presidential approval ratings. While those of who are still paying attention certainly remember just how bad George W. Bush was as president, the American public has, by and large, forgotten. And Hillary Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy — both as a Senator and as Secretary of State — gives her little room to attack him. This being the case, Jeb has more of an opening to reclaim and rebrand the early 2000’s than he otherwise would.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a soon-to-be presidential candidate stands more to gain by doubling down on the biggest foreign policy blunder of the 21st Century than they do by distancing themselves from it. But without a frontrunner with a demonstrably different foreign policy worldview, that’s unlikely to change.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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