Jeb Bush says he misheard the Iraq war question

A couple of brief follow-ups to Tuesday’s post about Jeb Bush’s statements, in a Fox News interview, regarding the Iraq war.

Bush was asked: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”

He said yes, and noted that Hillary Clinton (who voted in the U.S. Senate in 2002 to authorize the use of force against Iraq) agreed with him.

I noted that Bush appeared not to have answered the question he was asked (“knowing what we know now”) but had answered a different question, that wasn’t asked (“knowing what was known in 2002, when the Senate voted, would you have voted to authorize…).

Speaking after the Fox interview on the Sean Hannity radio program, Bush acknowledged that he misinterpreted the question. In that round, he said: “I interpreted the question wrong, I guess. I was talking about, given what people knew then.”

“Interpreted” is not the word he means here. The question (“knowing what we know now”) cannot be “interpreted” to mean “knowing what was known then.” But let’s assume Bush is trying to say that he misheard the question.

Hannity then asked Bush to answer the correct question: Knowing everything we know now, was the Iraq war a mistake? He didn’t give a clear answer. “That’s a hypothetical… Mistakes were made, as they always are in life.”

Bush has identified some key mistakes: relying on intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be “faulty”; not providing enough security in the aftermath of the invasion, which caused many Iraqis to turn against the American occupation; and, in common with many neoconservatives, he has faulted President Obama for not leaving more troops in Iraq longer, after the “surge” had begun to stabilize the situation.

I would actually like to give Bush credit for continuing to address this. When I watched the full interview that he gave to Megyn Kelly on Fox I was impressed that he is trying to be candid and thoughtful, at least compared to the incredibly low standards of candor and thoughtfulness practiced by most candidates.

But whatever brownie points he may get for that effort, he still owes us a clear answer. Learning the right lessons from the invasion of Iraq is a key point for the next president, and Jeb Bush’s bottom-line assessment is at this point a complete muddle.

The muddle summarized

If we put together all of his recent comments, correct for the “misinterpretation” of the Kelly question, and try to make sense of his overall case, it seems to come out to something roughly close to this:

The premise on which the war was justified (that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction) was wrong. But despite the faulty premise, the war might have turned out to be a good thing, if not for the mistakes that were made, as they are always made in life.

In my post Tuesday, I also said that Hillary Clinton — who did, as Bush mentioned — vote to authorize the war, needs to explain her vote and what she learned from it. Since then, I discovered that Clinton has said quite a bit about that vote. (Politifact has an excellent collection of her statements here.)

To summarize, she has said that if she knew then what she knows now, she would not have voted to authorize. She has declined to use the word “mistake” to characterize the vote, but she did say in her most recent book, “Hard Choices,” that she “got it wrong.” Here’s that quote in a little bit of context:

“I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.”

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 05/13/2015 - 02:49 pm.

    “Mistakes were made”?

    Did he really say that? The quintessential cop-out when things go pear-shaped but somehow no actual, identifiable people were responsible. He’s going to have to do a lot better than that classic of non-accountability if he hopes to put this behind him.

  2. Submitted by James Johnson on 05/13/2015 - 04:32 pm.

    Bush “misinterpretation.”

    Why do people call politicians weasels? Is it because they can speak without saying anything?

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/13/2015 - 07:39 pm.

    Words (and politicians) are slippery things.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/13/2015 - 07:51 pm.

    The answer is “maybe”…

    …The attempt at mopping-up was quick, but it did not bring the controversy to an immediate end: When Mr. Hannity asked about the 2003 Iraq invasion again, in yes-or-no fashion, Mr. Bush said he did not know what the answer would have been, saying, “That’s a hypothetical.” Then, he seemed to go out of his way to absolve his brother, former President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion: “Mistakes were made, as they always are in life,” Mr. Bush said….

  5. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/13/2015 - 10:44 pm.

    What is easier

    The easiest way now is to say the old vote was a mistake – that is the path Clinton chose. It is much more difficult to try to explain the entire thing so Jeb Bush should be praised for his attempts (and I am glad Mr. Black gives him some credit).

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/14/2015 - 07:37 am.

      You’re right

      Anyone who lived through those days in 2002-2003 and has a modicum of memory knows that reasonable people can defend that invasion regardless of whether of not they found Saddam’s WMDs.

      But the people have been so misinformed by the press, academics and other partisans in the media that it’s simply easier for politicians to short-circuit the discussion and dismiss the entire episode with a wave of the hand.

      The entire subject seems way too complicated for a society of Grubers.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/14/2015 - 08:22 pm.

        Laughable Tester. What is defendable?

        A ruthless dictator is enough to start a war? Why don’t we invade China too on that theory?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/14/2015 - 01:08 pm.

      Oops, again….

      Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) on Thursday offered yet another answer on the Iraq war saying that, given what he knows now, he would not have authorized an invasion of Iraq.

      Those comments strongly contrast ones he made on Monday to Fox’s Megyn Kelly when he said he would have authorized an invasion. A day later, he backtracked, saying misheard the question and did not know what he would have done. On Wednesday, Bush said he refused to answer as it would be a disservice to American troops.

      But at an event in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday, Bush gave yet another answer.

      “I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq,” Bush said.

      From yes,

      to maybe,

      to no.

      No doubt about, he’s a dancer…

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/14/2015 - 07:37 am.

    There seems to be some confusion as to what a “hypothetical” question is.

    A hypothetical question would ask, “What do you think would have happened if the entire civil and military government had not been dismantled after the invasion ?” No one knows, it’s all speculation –hence “hypothetical”.

    On the other hand, there is no speculation involved in how things in Iraq turned out. It is what it is.

    In some ways, it is how humans learned survival–drawing lessons from the outcome of actions. If you burned your hand in the fire, you don’t answer the question “Knowing the things you know now, would you put your hand in the fire again ?” with the response, “I don’t know, that’s a hypothetical question”.

    Bush’s goose is still cooking.

    • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/14/2015 - 08:41 pm.

      A small twist

      Mr. Rovick, imagine your burned your hand pulling meat out of forest fire… or pulling a child out of house fire… then it is not that simple, is it?

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/15/2015 - 09:01 am.

        No, but you go in aware of the dangers and prepared for the dangers, yes?

        Don’t forget everything you know, no?

        Simple, isn’t it?

        • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/15/2015 - 06:45 pm.

          Still not easy

          If you are hungry, you will forget about danger; if it is your child, you will forget about danger. And if you see a stranger drowning and decide to help despite known danger and then barely survive yourself but break your arm (and you don’t even know if you really helped since the guy happened to be a champion swimmer as you learned later), would you do it again? Still not that easy…

  7. Submitted by Doug Gray on 05/14/2015 - 10:08 am.

    who got burned?

    A nice analogy, except you overlook that most of those involved in the ill-conceived, misplanned and badly executed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan actually got promotions and Presidential medals. This nation will continue to need to spend twice as much of its GDP per capita on its military as any other nation on the face of the Earth, so that it can continue to win most if not all of the battles in the wars it will continue to lose, until those who deliberately and thoughtlessly stick its hand in global fires actually get burned.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/14/2015 - 01:48 pm.

    Jeb Bush

    ought to have -something- above his neck line checked.

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