Via TPM, seems like pitifully weak spin but this actually might be the correct explanation per Occam’s Razor. Remember, Kelly asked him whether he’d order the invasion of Iraq knowing what he knows now. With the benefit of 12 years of hindsight, fully aware now of the problems with the WMD intelligence, would he still have gone in? Jeb said yes, adding quickly that Hillary would have too “and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.” Okay, but … that’s not what Kelly asked. And the bit about Hillary simply isn’t true if you believe Clinton herself. She said in her last book that she got Iraq wrong by voting for the war. Knowing what she knows now, she wouldn’t have done it. In fact, as Ana Navarro points out in the clip, Jeb himself went on to say to Kelly, “In retrospect the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty.” Right, and that was Kelly’s point — in retrospect, seeing that it was faulty, was it still worth invading to knock out Saddam and set up a democracy? Jeb didn’t answer that.
Assuming that he didn’t mishear the question and did what lots of politicians do when they dodge, i.e. answer a question they wish they’d been asked rather than the one they’ve actually been asked, what did he gain here by doing so? Yeah, granted, he got to remind everyone that Hillary supported the Iraq war too. Everyone’s well aware of that now, though, just as they’re well aware that she now denounces it routinely. A better use of Jeb’s time here would have been to use the question to distinguish himself from Dubya. E.g., “Sure, like my brother and the many Democrats who voted with him, I would have invaded based on the intelligence we had. In hindsight, though, knowing what we know now about WMDs, we should have gone a different route.” The Bush clan could have lived with that bit of quasi-distancing in the name of helping a third member of the family win the White House. And as Byron York noted yesterday, Jeb wouldn’t be breaking any new ground for a GOP nominee in having public second thoughts about Iraq. Mitt Romney answered the “knowing then what you know now” question in 2011 by saying “obviously” he wouldn’t have invaded if he had known that the intelligence was bad. It’s beyond bizarre for Jeb Bush, whose brother’s legacy is his biggest albatross and who’s made a big show of saying he’s not going to pander to right-wing opinion in the primaries, to suddenly engage in a mega-pander to GOP hawks by insisting that he would have invaded Iraq even in the absence of intel on WMDs. In which case, what’s the likelier explanation? That Bush deliberately ducked what Kelly was asking him, creating a totally predictable media clusterfark with lots of bad press over the last 48 hours? Or that he honestly misheard?
Even the “he misheard” explanation is odd, though. You’d think this guy would be looking for reasons when the topic of Iraq comes up to emphasize his differences with Dubya in hindsight. Why not at least tack something on to the end of the answer he gave Kelly by stressing he wouldn’t have launched a war with the benefit of hindsight, especially now that he’s seen what a mess Obama has made of the aftermath? Or, if he’s wedded to the idea of an invasion for whatever reason (protecting the Bush family’s honor? fear of being out-hawked in the primaries by Rubio?), at least give a thoughtful explanation for why the war was worth doing — no more Saddam, a democratic model for the region — even in the absence of WMDs. He seemed vaguely unprepared for this subject apart from the rote “Hillary supported it too!” part. Very odd.