Quotes of the day

Jeb Bush seems to have a talking point to explain why he hesitated so long to say, in hindsight, that the Iraq war was a mistake: He won’t “go out of [his] way” to disagree with his brother…

“There’s a lot of people out there [in the room] from the press, and there’s a lot of interest in finding the ways that we’re different and all this,” Bush said. “But I’m not going to go out of my way to say that, you know, my brother did this wrong or my dad did this wrong. It’s just not gonna happen. I have a hard time with that. I love my family a lot.”…

Earlier in the day, speaking to reporters after a town-hall-style meeting at a brewery in Tempe, Arizona, Bush also said he would not “go out of my way” to disagree with his brother.

“I am loyal to him,” Bush said.

***

Would George W. Bush still have authorized the invasion in 2003 had he known that Iraq did not actually have the unconventional weapons that intelligence agencies said it did?…

[W]hile Mr. Bush has said he was sick to learn the intelligence was off base, he has always defended his decision to invade Iraq as the right one, arguing that the world is still better off without Saddam Hussein…

The case against Mr. Hussein, they argue, was never solely about unconventional weapons. That was just one of three main elements of the indictment, the others being support of terrorism (he offered bounties to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, although allegations that he had ties to Al Qaeda were disputed by the C.I.A.) and repression of his own people (he was held responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during his long tenure)…

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, asked during an NBC interview a few years ago, said the decision was still the right one. “Oh sure,” he said. “It was sound policy that dealt with a very serious problem and that eliminated Saddam Hussein.”

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In addition to Christie, at least five other potential Bush rivals have said in recent days that they would not have backed the invasion if they knew in 2003 that the intelligence on Iraqi weapons was inaccurate: Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), plus Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“To say that nothing would happen differently means we’re going to get George Bush 3,” said Paul, who is attempting to bridge the hawkish and libertarian wings of the GOP…

James Mann, who has written two books about George W. Bush’s foreign policy team, said the issue allows the GOP field to isolate Jeb Bush.

“It’s a way to let Bush be out front on an issue where he’s uncomfortable,” Mann said. “They get to treat the war as history and let Jeb be the only one who has to squirm on the details of it.”

***

“That’s the issue here: Are you actually a unique, different person or are you a third Bush?” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “To the degree that he’s defined as a third Bush, he has a bigger mountain to climb, though I think he certainly has the potential to carve out a path because he has an extraordinary record as governor.”…

“Jeb’s curb appeal was supposed to be experience, pedigree and smarts, and therefore ready to lead,” said one Republican senator, who insisted on anonymity to speak candidly about a presidential hopeful. “These kinds of statements plant him squarely in the middle of the primary pack — with G.O.P. voters unsure of exactly what political lessons he truly has learned.”…

“We need to know what we’re getting ourselves in for,” Mr. Paul said in an interview on Thursday. “The difficulty that Jeb is going to have is on two fronts. One, he’s got conservative mistrust in the primary. That’s going to be difficult to overcome. But should he become the nominee, he’s going to have difficulty with independents who were opposed to the Iraq war. I see it as a very difficult place for him to be in.”…

Or, as the conservative writer David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, put it on Twitter this week: “Jeb Bush has just converted an election that should be about the past eight years into an election about the eight years before that.”

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Scott Walker:

Any president would have likely taken the same action President Bush did with the information he had, even Hillary Clinton voted for it, but knowing what we know now, we should not have gone into Iraq. President Bush deserves enormous credit for ordering the surge, a courageous move that worked.

Unfortunately, President Obama and Secretary Clinton hastily withdrew our troops, threw away the gains of the surge, and embarked on a broader policy of pivoting away from the Middle East and leading from behind that has created chaos in the region.

***

In interviews with more than half a dozen Republican foreign policy hands and veterans of the George W. Bush administration, the reaction to Jeb’s dithering on Iraq ranged from disappointment to disbelief…

Many of the party’s old-guard Iraq hawks hoped Bush would be the exception. They wanted to see him go to bat for his brother’s legacy in the region — reminding the electorate that, botched intel aside, there were good reasons to topple the Hussein regime and seek democratic change in the country. And more to the point, many believe the case should be made on the campaign trail that President Obama made a grave mistake in pulling troops out of Iraq.

“As a political messaging matter, Gov. Bush could easily say to Obama, ‘The surge was working. You were handed a three-run lead at the bottom of the ninth, all you had to do was come in and close, and you blew the game,” said Scheunemann…

That sentiment was echoed by a former Bush 43 State Department appointee, who said Jeb should be talking about the ink-stained fingers of first-time Iraqi voters and the success of the troop surge late in his brother’s presidency. “The answers aren’t hard for Jeb,” he said. “People may not all agree with them, but they’re pretty obvious.”

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But while Bush’s fumbles with the question, initially asked by Megyn Kelly in a Fox News interview on Monday night, marked perhaps the lowest point so far of the former Florida’s governor still undeclared campaign for the White House, it’s unclear if the controversy will affect his chances of being elected

Republicans don’t see the issue as something that will have much of an impact on the nomination. As Stuart Stevens, a top GOP consultant, told the Guardian: “I don’t see this as something we would be talking about while waiting to get results from New Hampshire or Iowa.”…

Further, George W Bush is still very popular among Republican primary voters – as is his 2006 surge in Iraq. As Ric Grenell, a longtime GOP operative and former US spokesman at the United Nations, told the Guardian: “A lot of GOP primary voters realize that the very complicated and messy Iraq war was turned around and given to Obama as a success.”

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As for hypotheticals: The easiest and politically safest option is to coach Jeb Bush into saying something like this: “Barack Obama should have negotiated an agreement that would have allowed U.S. troops to stay and nip ISIS in the bud. But if you’re asking me if the world is better off without Saddam Hussein…” and then trail off into the obvious, empty-calorie rhetoric about American leadership that the nation grows fat on in every election…

If Hussein really was the madman the last Bush administration claimed him to be, sure, we could absolve ourselves. If Hussein was a key player in the 9/11 plot, if he was rapidly developing weapons of mass destruction that could deliver a mushroom cloud on United States soil, if he regularly made use of a human shredder machine for sport, absolutely, the world would be better off without him.

These were lies. Hussein was just another awful Middle Eastern autocrat, a man whose state was gelded by a no-fly-zone, a dictator with an expansive taste in ’80s tween erotica. But he was also a holdover of Baathist pan-Arabism, serving as a counterweight to Iran’s regional ambitions and an obstacle to Sunni radicalism. So, no, we don’t know that the whole world is actually better off without him.

But I do know that after the war in Iraq America’s credibility, its military capability, and its military personnel and their families, not to mention Iraq’s religious minorities, the Sunni Triangle, and Northern Syria, are worse off than they otherwise would have been. And I wait for a Republican candidate to say as much, and as clearly.

***

So why are conservatives furious at Jeb? Because they realize that to win in 2016, they must nominate a candidate who can publicly keep his distance from Iraq. They must be the party of foreign-policy amnesia…

But even if you judge Obama’s Middle East policies harshly, it’s hard to see Republicans as the remedy once you realize that virtually the entire GOP foreign-policy class cheered an invasion that makes Obama’s mistakes look trivial by comparison. For the Republican foreign-policy argument to work today, voters must blame America’s Middle East problems largely on Obama, and see in his potential GOP successor the promise of a fresh start. That’s easier for Marco Rubio or Scott Walker, who can distance themselves from the Bush administration and the Iraq War. It’s harder for Jeb. And the right’s fury at his Iraq answer stems, in part, from the fear that if he wins the nomination, Republicans won’t be able to pretend that America’s overseas problems began in 2009.  

Republicans want the late-Obama years to be the political equivalent of the Carter era, when America suffered foreign-policy humiliations that helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency promising to restore American honor and American might. In reality, the tribulations of the Carter years owed a lot to the aftershocks of Vietnam, which damaged America’s global image, distorted its economy, and harmed national morale. But Reagan—who had spent most of the war as governor of California—did not have to answer for Vietnam. That’s what Republicans want again today: a hawk untainted by the disastrous hawkishness of the past, a candidate who accepts the axioms that underpinned the Iraq War without having to answer for it. Jeb Bush, they increasingly realize, isn’t it.

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Third, Bush should answer the question behind the question. Jeb Bush’s views on Iraq aren’t a matter of historical curiosity. They are crucial to predicting the kind of president he’ll be. So answer that. Explain that a Jeb Bush administration will be cautious about the use of force, except in the highest national interest. Make it clear that a Jeb Bush administration won’t succumb to the narrow groupthink that locked out those like General Eric Shinseki who correctly warned that an Iraq war would require many troops and cost a great deal of money. Explain that you differ from your brother not in your values, but in your decision-making style: that you are the exact opposite of a gut player, that you want to hear all sides and reach decisions slowly and carefully—and are ready to revise them if the facts change. 

Fourth, don’t get trapped in the past. Those of us who advocated the Iraq war in 2003 over-learned the seeming lessons of the First Gulf War: There’s no making a deal with Saddam. Those who now advocate President Obama’s flawed Iran deal are in their turn over-learning lessons they take from Iraq. They reduce the vast array of choices and instruments at a president’s disposal to just two: war or signing on the other guy’s dotted line. Elections are about the future, and the future of American national security looks grim and threatening after two Obama terms. No wonder that Democrats would prefer to reargue the issues of 2006 than those of 2016. By his artless remarks, Jeb Bush has enabled them to get away with it. His competitors for the Republican nomination may appreciate it. The party as a whole—and the country that party seeks to lead—should not.

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Jeb’s current media quagmire, rehashing history over his brother’s 2002 Iraq war initiative, is a foreshadowing of Jeb’s inability to rehabilitate his family brand – something he must do in order to win the nomination and the White House.

Unfortunately, because former President George W. Bush’s name is poison with the media, most of the electorate, and within much of the GOP, Jeb Bush – who last ran successfully for his Florida gubernatorial reelection in 2002 – is now slightly rusty and has little chance of reversing such entrenched national name negativity.

Meanwhile, because politics is unfair, Hillary can run for both Bill Clinton’s and President Obama’s “third terms”, and expect support from traditional Democratic voter groups. But Jeb, given the national and media climate, must run away from his brother’s entire two-terms and that is unfair to him, his brother and his entire family. So don’t do it, Jeb!

Drop out now before you take the official plunge. Release your major donors so the party can move ahead and fight the Clinton past, present and into the future with new names and faces.