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Jeb Bush says he misheard the Iraq war question

But Bush still doesn’t say whether the Iraq war was a mistake.

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…).

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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.)

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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.”