If he had been president in 2003, Jeb Bush, like his brother, would have authorized the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
In an interview with Megyn Kelly that will air on Fox News Monday evening, she asks Bush whether he would have authorized the bombing that his brother’s administration called “Shock and Awe” and the subsequent invasion and occupation that was dubbed “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Here’s the exchange, which Fox has released in advance of the full interview:
Megyn Kelly: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”
Jeb Bush: “I would’ve. And so would’ve Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would’ve everybody that was confronted with the intelligence that we got.
“In retrospect, the intelligence that we saw — that the world saw — 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 U.S. military because there was no security for themselves and their families.
“And by the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well. George W. Bush. So — newsflash for the world if they’re trying to find places where there’s a big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.”
I would assume that a lot of thought has gone into how Jeb Bush will answer this as he heads toward the official announcement of his candidacy. As his latest crack at squaring this particular circle, it’s — well, it’s only his latest crack. He said pretty much the same thing in February. His answer to Fox, as his previous speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, leaves behind several questions that both Jeb and his brother should someday answer.
The intelligence was “faulty.” Who was responsible for the intelligence? The Bush administration, and not the senators who relied on the intelligence when they voted to authorize the war. Why was it wrong? There are certainly many, many critics of the run-up to the war who believe that the intelligence was heavily influenced — “cooked,” some say — by the desire of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to justify the war. Will candidate Jeb Bush be exploring the famous flaws in the evidence and how they came about?
Also, I don’t know how carefully Megyn Kelly prepared her questions, but Bush actually ignored her question. She asked him “knowing what we know now” whether he would have authorizing the war. We know now that the intelligence was “faulty.” Saying yes to that makes little sense, if you would have been starting a war that you know was based on faulty intelligence. He also “knows now” that the post-war restoration of order was botched. He is either engaging in magical thinking or he was prepared for a different question (“based on what was known at the time, would you have authorized the war”) and decided to answer the one he preferred rather than the one he was asked.
Hillary Clinton and “everybody” who saw the faulty intelligence would have authorized the war. On Hillary Clinton this is true. She needs to explain her vote to authorize the war and explain how she would avoid making such mistakes again in the future.
But “everybody” did not vote to authorize the war.
Twenty three senators (21 Democrats, one Republican and one independent) voted no. Both of Minnesota’s senators, Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton, voted no. Barack Obama, who was then running for the Senate, spoke against the resolution. Bernie Sanders, who was then in the House, voted no, as did three Minnesota members of the House (Betty McCollum, Martin Sabo and Jim Oberstar) and 128 other House members.
When I look at the list of Democrats who voted for the resolution, every one of them who subsequently ran for president voted “aye.” They are: Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd. I’ve always thought there was something sadly telling about this fact, that those with presidential ambitions all voted aye.
Hans Blix. Hans Blix. Hans Blix. Forgive me. This is one of my personal obsessions. I’ve written about it before and I will probably write about it again. The evidence that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction was deeply flawed. But the best evidence that he probably was hiding something was that Saddam had kicked out the international inspectors who were supposed to verify that he wasn’t hiding anything. And he wouldn’t let them back in.
Then he did. After the Senate had already voted and the war was imminent, Saddam allowed the U.N. inspection team back in and gave them complete freedom to look anywhere. (Bear in mind, Secretary of State Colin Powell had told the UNited Nations that the U.S. intelligence agencies not only knew what weapons Saddam was hiding but where he was hiding them.) Hans Blix of Sweden, head of the U.N. inspections team, went back in and was getting excellent cooperation from the Iraqis. He found no WMD. He asked for a little while longer to finish the work and verify that the WMD that had existed early had all been destroyed. But no, Blix and his inspectors had to be evacuated so they would not be killed by U.S. bombs.
This was months after Congress had voted to authorize the use of force and those senators who voted aye, including Sen. Clinton, did not have the benefit of Blix’s findings before they voted. It’s not clear from Jeb Bush’s exchange with Kelly whether her question — knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion — refers to what we knew before or after the U.N. inspectors had been allowed back in and had found no WMD.
The decision to ignore Blix — in fact to evacuate Blix and start the bombing — was George W. Bush’s. If Jeb Bush is saying that he would’ve authorized the invasion on that basis, it is different than the authorization the Senate had adopted.
I suspect he will not do this. Somehow or other, those who retrospectively want to justify the decision to bomb and invade and overthrow Saddam seem to get away with ignoring the Blix team’s findings. But if he wants to be honest and clear, Jeb Bush (and everyone else who still defend the decision to unleash the dogs of war) should clarify whether his answer includes the fact that when his brother made the final big decision to unleash the dogs of war, unbiased international inspectors had found that Saddam had, in fact, no WMD.
I haven’t seen the full Kelly interview, so perhaps she asked about Blix. But I’d be surprised. Can we really learn the right lessons of the Iraq War if we keep ignoring this?