Jeb Bush Has His Own Iraq Quagmire

Iraq seems to becoming a political headache for yet another member of the Bush family.

Jeb Bush George BushIn the days since he told Fox News Channel Megyn Kelly that he would have invaded Iraq just like his brother did,  Jeb Bush has taken nothing but heat from the media and, surprisingly, from many of his fellow conservatives. Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham, for example, found his answer unbelievable. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is arguably closer to Bush ideologically than any of the other current or prospective candidates, took Bush to task for his response in an interview yesterday with CNN, as did Senator Rand Paul. Even Ted Cruz said that he disagreed with Bush’s response. Given the general tone of the foreign policy discussion in the Republican Party, these reactions are somewhat surprising with the possible exception of Senator Paul. The more the story grew, the worse it seemed to become for Bush:

Jeb Bush, the Republican presidential hopeful, was struggling on Wednesday to get a handle on the toxic legacy of the 2003 Iraq war ordered by his brother, fumbling a series of questions on whether he would have authorised the invasion.

Mr Bush, the former Florida governor who is expected to formally announcea run for president in the summer, was facing derision from some sections of his party after apparently refusing to acknowledge that the war was a mistake.

Asked on Fox News if he would have backed the war – knowing what is known now about the non-existence of weapons of mass destruction – Mr Bush appeared to reply in the affirmative.

“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Mr Bush said. “And so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

The remark caused anger on the Right – which is increasingly isolationist and concerned about the enormous debts racked up by President George W Bush in prosecuting the war – causing the younger Mr Bush to try and clarify his remarks.

He managed only to deepen the consternation, however, in a radio interview with Sean Hannity, the conservative talk show/talk-show host.

Mr Bush claimed that he had misheard the question and that he’d have greenlighted the invasion based on the intelligence available at the time, adding “clearly there were mistakes as it related to faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the war and the lack of focus on security.”

But pressed again over whether he would have made a different decision knowing what he knows now, Mr Bush dodged the question. “Yeah, I don’t know what that decision would have been – that’s a hypothetical,” he said.

Whether Mr Bush, 62, was speaking out of family loyalty or personal principle – 90 per cent of his foreign policy advisory team is drawn from the administrations of his brother and father, President George H W Bush – remains unclear.

First of all, Bush’s explanation that he “misheard” Kelly’s question seems dubious at best. He’s not a stupid man, he’s done many interviews before, and, Kelly’s question is exceedingly clear, as this transcript of the exchange shows:

Kelly: “On the subject of Iraq, very controversial, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” (The interview was conducted last week but aired in full on Monday.)

Bush: “I would have and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,”

Kelly: “You don’t think it was a mistake?”

Bush “In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty. And in retrospect, once we, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn’t focus on security first,”

Rather than “mishearing” Kelly’s question I would suggest that Bush’s response, along with his subsequent efforts to walk that statement back, is a reflection of both the fact that he is reluctant to openly criticize his brother’s legacy, which as I said the other day is understandable, and his recognition of the fact that he is already viewed skeptically by the Republican base and must therefore be careful not to stray too far from GOP orthodoxy on foreign policy, which seems destined to become a central issue in the fight for the nomination. In that regard, it’s important to note that notwithstanding the criticism that Bush has received from many fellow Republicans, much of which is likely opportunistic on the part of the people running against him for the Republican nomination, the Bush Doctrine is still essentially foreign policy status quo in the Republican Party. To the extent that Republicans even talk about the current state of Iraq and the war against ISIS, they argue that President Obama is solely responsible for the current state of the nation because he failed to keep troops in Iraq after 2011. The Bush Administration gets almost no blame whatsoever from these people, and when you actually look at the policies they advocate regarding the fight against ISIS, Iran, and Ukraine, you recognize that there really isn’t very much difference

As for Bush, he faced a question on the campaign trail today that shows what he really thinks about the Iraq War and its aftermath. The moment came in an exchange with a nineteen year old college student who identified himself as a Democrat and challenged Bush’s contention that the Obama Administration is solely responsible for the rise of ISIS:

Ziedrich: The threat of ISIS was created by the Iraqi Coalition Authority which ousted the entire government of Iraq. It was when 30,000 individuals who were part of the Iraqi military, they were forced out, they had no employment, they had no income. Yet they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons. Your brother created ISIS.

Bush: Is that a question?

Ziedrich: You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir.

Bush: Pedantic? Wow.

Ziedrich: You could just answer my question.

Bush: So what is the question?

Ziedrich: My question is why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars, when we sent young men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? It’s this idea – like, why are you spouting nationalistic rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?

Bush: We respectfully disagree… Al Qaeda had been taken out, there was a fraudulent system that could have been brought up to create, to eliminate the sectarian violence and we had an agreement that the president could have signed, it would have kept 10,000 troops, which is less than what we have in Korea. It could have created the stability that would have allow for Iraq to progress. The net result was, the opposite occurred because immediately that void was filled. And so, look, you can rewrite history all you want but the simple fact is that we’re in a much more unstable place because America pulled back.

What Bush says here, of course, isn’t very different from what you’ll hear from other Republican candidates. The difference is that, given his last name, there’s obviously more scrutiny by the media and by voters when he talks about Iraq in general and the Iraq War in particular. As I’ve said before, it would perhaps be asking too much to expect him to completely repudiate his brother’s legacy, but at the very least one would have hope to see the former Governor respond to these rather obvious questions in a way that showed that he had some degree of sound judgment when it comes to foreign policy issues. I suppose that’s asking too much, though. After all, as I’ve noted before Bush’s foreign policy rhetoric even before the Iraq issue was raised demonstrated that he would approach these issues in ways very similar to how his brother did. Add to that the fact that he has surrounded himself with several top advisers from his brother’s administration, including Paul Wolfowitz, one of the chief architects of President Bush’s Iraq War policy in the months after the September 11th attacks.

During the same town hall, Bush said that asking him about what he would have done in Iraq “”does a disservice” to military service members killed in action,” a comment which Daniel Larison calls disgraceful:

If anyone is doing a disservice to Americans that died in the unnecessary war in Iraq, it is the politicians that refuse to acknowledge the folly of the war. Nothing could be more self-serving and disrespectful to those killed and injured in the Iraq war than to hide behind them in order to duck a basic and easy question about foreign policy that any candidate for the presidency should be expected to answer candidly. Bush supposedly wants to be president, but he doesn’t know how to handle the simplest questions that are put to him on one of the most important foreign policy issues of the very recent past.

Bush’s comment isn’t all that dissimilar from something that we heard from many on the right during the Iraq War itself, namely that criticizing the war was somehow akin to being disloyal to the men and woman who were sent there to fight it, in many cases because they happened to be members of National Guard or Reserve units that got swept into the conflict by the Pentagon, It’s absurd, and it’s little more than an effort to shut down debate and criticism and to silence critics. The fact that Bush is engaging in these kinds of tactics should tell you everything that needs to be known about where his judgment lies when it comes to foreign policy issues. More interesting, though, is that it appears as though Iraq could become a political quagmire for Governor Bush just like it became a quagmire for his brother.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Iraq War, National Security, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    In the 2 years since Romney lost to Obama, have the Republicans just been sitting around, engaging in a bunch of dick-staring (my apologies to Fiorina)? Open elections are the best chance to change the control of the White House. You would think there would be at least some semblance of a plan on how to achieve victory.

    Instead we have a bench of candidates a mile wide and an inch deep, and the very best prospect they have seems to have spent absolutely no time trying to prepare himself for the most obvious questions.

    You normally only see this type of campaign clusterf*ckery out of the Democrats.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    we had an agreement that the president could have signed, it would have kept 10,000 troops,

    Follow up question Gov. Bush: Would you have signed that agreement? An agreement that would have subjected our service men and women to the Iraqi judicial system? Would you have Governor? Yes or no, sir?

  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    I’m not a conservative but whenever I need a dose of sanity I read Daniel Larison. Glad you quoted him.

  4. Scott says:

    This is going to be fascinating. Will there be an emerging consensus among Republicans that the Iraq War was ill-advised? Will there be an on-going debate and a demand for accountability?

    I think there is going to be a lot a sleight of hand wordsmithing trying to thread a lot of needles: trying to support the war; trying to pin the aftermath on Obama; trying to say yes it was a mistake but today is not like tommorow?

    I think what we need to focus on is not what the candidates say but rather who they surround themselves with.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    For stuff and giggles (the only reason to go there) I glanced at NRO’s The Corner yesterday. They had a piece by a Quin Hillyer (no link, I read it so you don’t have to) on Bush’s gaffe. Reading comments, wow, they really do believe that W left Iraq in great shape and it’s all Obama’s fault.

    I confess I am dithering. Sometimes I think Jeb is pulling off a clever planned maneuver, playing to the base, then making a big show of being forced to back down by the MSM, but (wink, wink) we all know what he really believes. Other times I think wow, this guy can’t handle a softball question from a FOX fellow traveler and GOPs want to elect him to face off with Putin. I think my vacillation is a reluctance to believe a leading Prez candidate is really as dumb as I’m starting to think Jeb is.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    People whose entire political life takes place inside the Fox-Limbaugh echo chamber are never prepared for contact with reality. Just look how frequently our right-wing commenters are knocked down by a simple Google search. This is what happens when you depart reality.

  7. Katharsis says:

    @gVOR08: There are two kinds of ignorance: natural and willful. You’re wondering if Jeb is naturally ignorant (which sometimes can be mitigated) and finding it hard to swallow. I agree. Willful ignorance is something different but the two are not mutually exclusive unfortunately. I believe it is the willful ignorance which is his problem here, and that’s what was wrong with the last Bush administration too.

    If people are disappointed that it seems Hillary is just awaiting her coronation, a position I find myself in sometimes, this should remind us all that it will be Jeb who does coronating.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    Asked on Fox News if he would have backed the war – knowing what is known now about the non-existence of weapons of mass destruction – Mr Bush appeared to reply in the affirmative.
    “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Mr Bush said. “And so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

    Which explains of course why Jeb’s brother rushed to war when it was beginning to become clear that the weapons inspection team wasn’t going to find any WMDs, and that the intelligence was bad and going to war was based on a false premise. Just to remind everybody.

    The Republican Party is doubling down on the revisionist notion that GW Bush waged the war effectively and Obama has sold the Iraqis out and emboldened extremists in the region.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Katharsis: I’ve sometimes said of W that he was exposed to the best education available in this country, but chose to become an ignorant hillbilly.

  10. Lit3Bolt says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Iraq War!! It’s got what plants need!

    The Right’s propaganda mill is starting to brainwash even the “smart” ones. This is why the GOP is on its way to becoming a joke, not just domestically but around the world. It’s like a Soviet premier who was astonished that his country is not full of happy, singing peasants, or the American President (can’t remember if it was JFK or Eisenhower) who was bewildered by the fact that half of America has below average IQs.

    A 19 year old just made a fool of Jeb. And a lot of otherwise smart, capable people want to leave him alone in a room with other world leaders? We tried that once, and his brother has historically damaged the US standing across the world so badly that it’s likely to never recover from the 9/11 peak of goodwill.

  11. Lit3Bolt says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I’ve wondered about that myself. How does the GOP Kabuki itself out of GWB’s legacy? Especially in the age of youtube and the internet? It’s like if the Democrats had to deal with a picture of Carter in a cardigan sweater every time they brought up any issue. The GOP has to deal with the fact the last time GWB was in Iraq, he had shoes thrown at him.

    Maybe the GOP thinks they can literally media blitzkrieg the airwaves, and by sucking up enough headline space with meaningless horserace coverage, they can memory-hole what happened the last time the Republicans were in charge of foreign policy? They seem so confident/shameless with their own propaganda, while all HRC has to do is just sit out of sight, mutter an apology for her role in the Iraq War, and people LIKE HER for that. It’s minimalist but it elevates her to a stateswoman level, while the media and the GOP hysterically try to keep hitting the media reset button hoping for a different result.

    This is why it’s Clinton’s race to lose. She doesn’t even have to participate to win, that’s how bad the spectacle of American presidential election coverage has gotten.

  12. Gustopher says:

    Why do people think he is the smart one?

    George W. was lazy, intellectually incurious, and couldn’t speak off the cuff without garbling sentences, but he never struck me as actually being stupid.

    But, Jeb… he is a much harder worker, but he is either willfully or genuinely stupid. He reconsiders events with new information and always comes to the same conclusion, no matter what that new information is. He prepares, and his is still this dumb.

  13. Tillman says:

    So did Roger Ailes plan for every Republican to watch his channel and believe it? ’cause that’s what has happened, and while it had its time in the sun it’s starting to rot his party from within.

    Well, at least the old coot is making money I suppose.

  14. C. Clavin says:

    So on a basic level…if you’re talking about your brother making the biggest foreign policy blunder in history…it doesn’t bode well for your own Presidential candidacy.
    Hillary is talking about immigration and criminal justice reform and unsubstantiated donation crap…and Jeb is talking about his loser brother.
    Good luck with that.

  15. dazedandconfused says:

    Larison is engaging in moral indignation. He has a point but I would suggest instead we ask Jeb if he will address the issue of cooked and stove-piped intelligence. The NIE that Cheney redacted all the qualifiers and caveats on WMD out of has been made public. It is no longer possible to say the American people and Congress were not lied to by omission.

    I am trying to keep an open mind about Bush, The Third. In the Bush school of management one must display loyalty to one’s “people” in order to expect and demand loyalty from them. However tactically convenient tossing his own brother under the bus might be he could be worried that doing so would undermine his ability to lead a team if he won.

    However, there is no excuse not to throw Cheney under a bus in this theory. By cooking and stove-piping the intell to Bush, The Second, Cheney betrayed that trust. I want Bush, The Third, to prove he is aware of what happened and has not been fooled. I don’t mind being BSed a bit, they all do it, pretty much have to to win a populist election, but it’s a deal-breaker if he is unaware of what happened. There is no excuse for the press to not button-hole him on the issue of stove-piped and cooked intelligence. Somebody in Bush, The Second’s, team must take the hit. I barely care who, what matters is what Jeb really believes.

    I view Hillary as John McCain’s favorite Senator, aside from Graham (of course). I hope there will be someone who isn’t a neocon in the finals.

  16. M13 says:

    @dazedandconfused: I think you (and seemingly a lot of other people) give Cheney and the neocons far too much credit.

    The invasion of Iraq was baked into the cake if George W. Bush were elected President.

    Try as desperately as they did to come up with a reason, a plan, a purpose, an excuse even, they couldn’t, it didn’t matter how baked the intelligence was, it didn’t matter how far fetched and grandiose the visions of victory.

    It didn’t matter if thousands of Americans were slaughtered in the middle of America’s largest city in broad daylight by foreign terrorists, it didn’t matter if those same terrorists crashed a plane into the Pentagon itself.

    No one and no thing was going to deny George W. Bush his invasion, his Desert Storm.

    Cheney knew it, the neocons knew it, they tried to take advantage of what they knew George W. Bush was going to do if he were to win the election, which of course he did.

    But make no mistake about it, the ownership of the Iraq war from top to bottom, front to back and beginning to end rests squarely on the head of one man, George W. Bush.

    The neocons didn’t order it.

    Cheney couldn’t order it.

    Only one man could and would and that man was G.W. Bush.

    Cheney and the neocons just hopped on the gravy train when they saw it coming down the tracks.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    What is still missed in the apparently eternal debate about Iraq is that Mr. Bush was likely using WMD as a pretext for the idea of transforming the middle east by turning Iraq into Japan. And I suspect some members of Congress who now claim to have been hoodwinked knew perfectly well that the real mission was transformation.

    I gave the Iraq war a nervous 51/49 vote of support because I assumed transformation was the goal. It would have been a ballsy, game-changing move – had we pulled it off. And please don’t tell me it was utterly impossible because: Japan, Germany, Austria, all completely refashioned by invasion and occupation. France as well, when you think about it. By invading, imposing our will, and maintaining control, we turned Nazi Germany and Austria, Vichy France and Imperial Japan into four prosperous democracies and allies.

    Unfortunately, this does nothing to rescue Mr. Bush’s reputation. You can argue whether he was perpetrator or victim of bad intel, but there is no room for doubt that the occupation was staggeringly incompetent. From soup to nuts the occupation was utterly ill-conceived, driven by Republican magical thinking, hobbled by cronyism, by a lack of resolve, by a complete lack of planning. . . . We can argue whether or not it was the greatest foreign policy blunder in our history, but there can really be no argument that the Bush administration was absolutely incompetent.

  18. dazedandconfused says:

    @M13:

    I think agree they wanted to but the notion they could have convinced the public of it without a 9/11 is a stretch. I strongly suspect Cheney pulled the wool over W’s eyes to a certain degree. The “Is that all you have?” moment and the dismissal and dismantling of all of Cheney’s organization that stove-piped the intell after the Plame affair. It was then, I believe, that George first became aware that not only could Dick lie to him in matters of war, but had.

    Dick was left with his surly lawyer Addiington and that was about it. Started losing arguments in the big room too. I hear a lot of his dad’s old friends started getting phone calls. Poppy had always deemed Rumsfeld a sleaze ball. Perhaps dad got some calls too.

  19. Ron Beasley says:

    I thought for some time that the Republican primary was Jeb Bush’s to lose and it looks like he may have done just that before even official getting into the race. The smarter one? While Jeb is able to speak in complete sentences what he says doesn’t make anymore sense than it did in W’s phony Texas hillbilly.

  20. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Gustopher: nah, ok’ Dubya really is as stupid as he sounds. One of my friends met him during Dubya’s business phase and told me that Dubya was the stupidest man in business that he had ever met.

  21. Tony W says:

    The sad thing is that all this hillbilly/stupid name calling will persuade the base that Jeb is a victim of the liberal media and that he’s no elitist like Obama.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08:

    I’ve sometimes said of W that he was exposed to the best education available in this country, but chose to become an ignorant hillbilly.

    That is an insult to Hillbilly’s everywhere! 😉

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I am trying to keep an open mind about Bush, The Third.

    Why? See @michael reynolds: for a cautionary tale:

    I gave the Iraq war a nervous 51/49 vote of support because I assumed transformation was the goal.

    Michael learned from that mistake. We all should.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    Doug, it looks like this photo is from the same event, but I liked your May 8 photo of Jeb a lot better. It seemed to capture the man’s soul.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I gave the Iraq war a nervous 51/49 vote of support because I assumed transformation was the goal. It would have been a ballsy, game-changing move – had we pulled it off.

    So you actually thought there was even half a chance they would commit the necessary resources to pull that feat off? A Marshall Plan for the Middle East? This same party that has been trying to kill SNAP, Medicare, Medicaid, SS, since their creation because they “cost too much”? The same people who said Iraqi oil would pay for the invasion? The invasion they said would only cost $60 billion?

    Wow. Just wow. Naivete, thy initials are MR.

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Sorry Ozark. Nothing personal intended. 😉

  27. JohnMcC says:

    A factoid that I recall from school days, about the importance of birth order, is that younger siblings often appear smarter than their (esp same-sex) oldest sib because they’ve observed their older sib’s life and have gauged what are things to follow and what to avoid. But the first-born (esp if a boy) is statistically more likely to excel because they’ve personally experienced that life so their learning is deeper. Or I think that’s the understanding that got me through the course and nothing I’ve seen in my life completely overthrows it.

    Anyhow, one can see how Jeb Bush could have profited up until this point by being the smart
    Bush brother. Now we see he’d merely learned how to be the non-GWBush.

  28. Kylopod says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    It was then, I believe, that George first became aware that not only could Dick lie to him in matters of war, but had

    We need to keep in mind, though, that it was the official strategy of the administration to pretend it was Iraq who attacked us on 9/11. W. himself strongly implied it during his first debate with John Kerry–when talking about his justification for going into Iraq, he said “The enemy attacked us.”

    This point tends to get overlooked in the discussions about whether the Bush Admin lied its way into the war. It wasn’t just about the WMDs, it was about the fact that they made a concerted effort to link Saddam with Al Qaeda in the public mind. And all the evidence suggests W. was perfectly fine with this level of deception; he wasn’t being duped.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    And please don’t tell me it was utterly impossible because: Japan, Germany, Austria, all completely refashioned by invasion and occupation. France as well, when you think about it. By invading, imposing our will, and maintaining control, we turned Nazi Germany and Austria, Vichy France and Imperial Japan into four prosperous democracies and allies.

    Hmmm…is that really an apt comparison? Germany and Austria before Hitler, France before Vichy, and Japan before the military government all seemed to have much better conditions for prosperity and democracy than Iraq has ever had at any point in its history…no offense, but it seems like a lot of people make that comparison in an attempt to justify the idea that invading Iraq was never a total clusterf@ck proposition…

  30. Barry says:

    Doug: “First of all, Bush’s explanation that he “misheard” Kelly’s question seems dubious at best. He’s not a stupid man, he’s done many interviews before, and, Kelly’s question is exceedingly clear, as this transcript of the exchange shows:”

    It was a softball question, as well – “Asked on Fox News if he would have backed the war – knowing what is known now about the non-existence of weapons of mass destruction – Mr Bush appeared to reply in the affirmative.”

    This gave him the obvious out, on the most important question to be answered.

  31. Barry says:

    @Neil Hudelson: “You normally only see this type of campaign clusterf*ckery out of the Democrats.”

    That’s the thing – we don’t, not nearly as much as in the GOP.

    It’s not the 1980’s.

  32. Barry says:

    “we had an agreement that the president could have signed, it would have kept 10,000 troops,”

    Jeb has won the ‘Chutzpah of the year’ award right now, which is pretty good given the competition. His position is not only ‘a residual force would have made everything all right’ (a lie right there), but ‘Obama is at fault for not negotiating a better agreement than my brother did’.

  33. Barry says:

    @Scott: “This is going to be fascinating. Will there be an emerging consensus among Republicans that the Iraq War was ill-advised? Will there be an on-going debate and a demand for accountability?”

    Not for decades. It’ll always be defended as something which had to be done, you had to be there at the time, intelligence was flawed, liberal hippies betrayed us, not as bad as Saddam, worked out in the end, [pick anything good happening after 2003 in the world] would not have happened without it,….

  34. Barry says:

    @Lit3Bolt: “A 19 year old just made a fool of Jeb. And a lot of otherwise smart, capable people want to leave him alone in a room with other world leaders?”

    And not by any special ability besides knowing history and being able to ask an important question.

  35. Barry says:

    @dazedandconfused: “I am trying to keep an open mind about Bush, The Third. In the Bush school of management one must display loyalty to one’s “people” in order to expect and demand loyalty from them. However tactically convenient tossing his own brother under the bus might be he could be worried that doing so would undermine his ability to lead a team if he won.”

    Somebody (Charles Pierce?) put it that there is The Family and The Help.

    Note that Powell in the end was still just The Help, and he was working for them for decades.

    “However, there is no excuse not to throw Cheney under a bus in this theory. By cooking and stove-piping the intell to Bush, The Second, Cheney betrayed that trust. I want Bush, The Third, to prove he is aware of what happened and has not been fooled. I don’t mind being BSed a bit, they all do it, pretty much have to to win a populist election, but it’s a deal-breaker if he is unaware of what happened. There is no excuse for the press to not button-hole him on the issue of stove-piped and cooked intelligence. Somebody in Bush, The Second’s, team must take the hit. I barely care who, what matters is what Jeb really believes.”

    Cheney has got to have monstrously nasty dirt on Dubya, and be willing to use it. For example, given their personalities, there has got to be cases of Dubya watching some torture and laughing at it. I’ll bet that the camera in that laptop was running, and Cheney has those files.

    And that’s just the start.

  36. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: @michael reynolds: “I gave the Iraq war a nervous 51/49 vote of support because I assumed transformation was the goal. It would have been a ballsy, game-changing move – had we pulled it off. And please don’t tell me it was utterly impossible because: Japan, Germany, Austria, all completely refashioned by invasion and occupation. France as well, when you think about it. By invading, imposing our will, and maintaining control, we turned Nazi Germany and Austria, Vichy France and Imperial Japan into four prosperous democracies and allies.”

    Please note that:

    1) We didn’t change France, just booted out the occupation and the regime in question.

    2) For Germany and Austria, that was after several years of devastating war, and after we put a million men in Germany, along with hundreds of thousands of British and French troops, and even more so a vast quantity of Soviet troops. Millions of German soldiers were killed in the USSR, and at the end of the war they were fleeing to the US/UK/French forces to surrender.

    3) We had the threat of Soviet invasion to make those two countries play nice. If we had pulled out, Stalin would have moved his borders a few hundred miles west.

    4) In the case of Japan, we again used massive force, and devastated the country.

    5) We actually tried to make those countries democratic – I made a joke once that the USA has a 100% success rate of democracy promotion: Germany and Japan were successes; in all other cases the USA was trying to stifle democracy. There’s no way in h*ll that the USA was going to promote any more democracy in the Middle East than the neocons thought necessary.

  37. Barry says:

    @Ron Beasley: “I thought for some time that the Republican primary was Jeb Bush’s to lose and it looks like he may have done just that before even official getting into the race. The smarter one? While Jeb is able to speak in complete sentences what he says doesn’t make anymore sense than it did in W’s phony Texas hillbilly.”

    It still is – my guess is that Jeb will have more money than everybody else put together and doubled.

  38. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    And please don’t tell me it was utterly impossible because: Japan, Germany, Austria, all completely refashioned by invasion and occupation. France as well, when you think about it. By invading, imposing our will, and maintaining control, we turned Nazi Germany and Austria, Vichy France and Imperial Japan into four prosperous democracies and allies.

    Well, nothing is “utterly impossible” but it’s certainly utterly improbable. And the comparison to Germany/Austria and Japan is entirely inapt, because both of those were wildly different cases:

    In Germany/Austria’s case, both countries were firmly in the Western economic/cultural/historic/ethnic etc. camp in the first place, were in the heart of Europe with advanced industrial economies and had strong democratic traditions (more so in Germany than Austria’s case) interrupted only by a twelve-year interregnum of dictatorship (seven years in Austria’s case). Both Germany and Austria had strong liberal and Enlightenment traditions going back hundreds of years and had a functioning civil society. Moreover, the war had been so long, the defeat so total, and the threat of Soviet domination so ready that they literally had no choice but to stitch themselves back into the Western democratic fraternity.

    Japan, meanwhile, didn’t have the same democratic history, membership in the West, civil instiutions or other advantages than Germany/Austria did — but it was an isolated island, completely under American control, utterly shattered by eight years of war, with a unified population willing to take its cue from the Emperor and an equally strong desire to protect itself from the Soviets.

    None of those factors were at play in Iraq — there was no democratic tradition, no membership in a Western fraternity, no history of liberalism or Englightenment traditions, no advanced industrial economy, no outside threat to focus on, no strong civil society, etc. etc. Everything that made the transformation of Germany and Japan work was entirely absent in Iraq.

    Also, too, I have no idea what the bizarre invocation of Vichy France is doing there.

  39. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    By invading, imposing our will, and maintaining control, we turned Nazi Germany and Austria, Vichy France and Imperial Japan into four prosperous democracies and allies.

    We didn’t just do it by “imposing our will” — we did it because of the background conditions that I, Barry and several others sketched out above.

    I will grant, though, that the transformation of Iraq might have worked if it had been planned and run by Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and George C. Marshall. Barring that, though, instead we had the Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest, Evil quartet of Rice, Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney. Who could have looked at those four and thought they would do a good job?

  40. Rafer Janders says:

    @Barry:

    It’s not the 1980’s.

    For a large part of our political press, it’s always the 1980s, and the Democratic candidates are always Mondale and Dukakis, and the Republican candidate is always Ronald Reagan. It’s like they’ve decided to wilfully ignore the last twenty-five years.

  41. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I gave the Iraq war a nervous 51/49 vote of support because I assumed transformation was the goal.

    Transformation of Iraq into a one-man, one-person democracy turns it very likely into a Iranian-allied Shiite tstate with strong theocratic leanings. Was that really the goal? We could have had Iraq as a Western ally, or as a democracy, but not both, not in this day and age. There’s a reason that most of our putative allies in the region are repressive authoritarian states….

  42. michael reynolds says:

    Ooh such a lovely hornet’s nest. I’m not avoiding, just have a lot of driving to do this morning.

  43. grumpy realist says:

    Now that Bolton did the teaser, he’s decided not to jump in the mosh pit.

    (Which begs the question–why on earth did he do the fan dance in the first place? Does he really think that anyone outside of mustache fetishists are waiting with bated breath to hear if Bolton will run for POTUS or not?)

  44. gVOR08 says:

    @Barry: Yeah. Bush took to defending Iraq as an effort to spread democracy, but it was after the fact, and all sounded pretty improvised.

  45. gVOR08 says:

    @Rafer Janders: The Soviet threat certainly was essential to the democratization of Germany, Austria, and Japan. But Iraq also faced an external threat from a large and powerful neighbor. Iran. After all, the Iranians are Shi’ite, while the majority of Iraqis are Shi’ite…wait a minute.

  46. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist: I see Bolton finally gave up looking for mustache dye to match his hair dye and let it all go white.

  47. Moosebreath says:

    Josh Marshall has a perceptive take on this issue:

    “It was one thing when John Kasich and Chris Christie said they would not have invaded Iraq – guys who would run as relative moderates and either aren’t running or don’t realize they’re not running for president. (Rand Paul said the same but that’s no surprise.) But now we have Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz saying they would not have either. Rubio is the big tell here since he among all the 2016 contenders is angling for the support of the neoconservative foreign policy intelligentsia. If he can say categorically that it was a mistake, the debate is probably really finally over.”

    Of course, it won’t really be over until the Bill Kristols and Paul Wolfowitzes of the world admit it was a mistake. We should only live so long.

  48. michael reynolds says:

    1) To all offering the response that Iraq was somehow uniquely intractable, that it was not analogous to Japan because we had not reduced it to rubble, or who offer that the threat of the USSR is what allowed us to maintain control over Japan/Germany:

    Yes and no. First of all, any society can be transformed if you put enough work into it. The UK today still carries the baggage of occupations by Rome, by the Norse and by the Normans/French. Closer to home you’ll notice how dominant European culture is over first peoples. Or you could look at modern Israel. Lots of examples of a bunch of people (generally technologically or culturally more advanced) moving in on another bunch of people and transforming them. Right? So, yes, it’s doable.

    I mean, it’s hard to imagine two more diverse cultures than 1940’s America and barely-out-feudalism 1940’s Japan. And yet we conquered, occupied, rammed our laws down their throats and tada: Toyotas! And the disproportionality of power is greater today than it was then, in other words Iraq was small,weak and backward, whereas Japan was populous and almost at par technologically, with a very rich culture and a unified population.

    So yes, it was doable.

    Was it doable without mass destruction? No. And within a few days of the invasion I was saying just that and people were ranting that I was a blood-thirsty warmonger. And yet, what did we get from a gentler approach? In the end we got a hell of a lot more casualties than we’d have had going in mean.

    As for the lack of a credible outside threat – the role the USSR performed so helpfully – it’s a valid criticism and one I missed at the time.

    2) For those asking whether it could have possibly been worth it:

    Yes. Would we, the Iraqi people, the entire middle east and the world been better off if we’d been able to Japanify or Germanify Iraq? Obviously. A big, rich, functioning multi-party democracy in the middle of the ME? It would have been brilliant. It would have empowered the whole Arab Spring movement. It would have safeguarded Israel. It would have gutted the repressive monarchies and the theocracies.

    3) For those asking how I could have believed Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld could pull it off, well, that’s why it was a 51/49 call for me. It’s hard to remember now, but Dick Cheney was supposed to be the wise old hand. He was as experienced as anyone who’d held the job, as was Don Rumsfeld. We clearly had the raw power for the job, and had we deployed it, there’s a good chance we’dhave succeeded.

    Unfortunately Mr. Rumsfeld turned out to be an idiot and Mr. Cheney was long on tough talk and very, very, very weak on actual planning.

    4) For those making the usual dovish arguments:

    In 1914 the whole world (except us) was rushing to war. The USA had an economy and population larger than Germany’s. But our army was a dozen guys with sharp sticks. And our policy was isolationist. Imagine if we’d had the army we could afford rather than the one dictated by outmoded 18th century Founding Fathers ideology? We could have announced that we did not favor a war, and whichever side first started firing, we would join the other side. Or we could have declared for the French or the Germans. In any event, it would have been clear that the Americans would be settling the matter in the end, and that our arrival on the big power scene meant a sea change the older powers would not have liked.

    Had we been prepared, we could have stopped WW1. Think about what came from WW1. Communism with its tens of millions dead. Naziism, with its tens of millions dead.

    When WW2 came around we were once again unprepared and tried to sit the whole thing out. Do you think Hitler would have gone after Czechoslovakia if a million-man American army said “Unh unh.?”

    The horrors of the 20th century – WW1, WW2, the Cold War, all flow from WW1, and we could have stopped it.

    We didn’t cause it, but we could have stopped it, had we been less committed to peace and non-intervention.

    So, if I may reprise the Megan Kelly question, “Knowing what I know now, would I have given even the tepid support I gave?” No. Because now it’s clear that the entire Bush administration was disconnected from reality, unwilling to prepare the American people, lazy, corrupt and ideologically retarded.

  49. JWH says:

    So if Jeb knew last week what he knew now then he would have said that he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq if he knew than that we know now. But if he didn’t know now what he knew then, then Jeb would have said that he would have invaded Iraq then if he didn’t know what he knew now. But now that Jeb knows now what he didn’t know then he should know now that what he said then when isn’t appropriate knowing what he should have known then.

  50. Ken says:

    @michael reynolds: It would have been a ballsy, game-changing move – had we pulled it off. And please don’t tell me it was utterly impossible because: Japan, Germany, Austria, all completely refashioned by invasion and occupation

    Comparing the rebuilding of post-war Iraq to that of post-WW2 Japan is ridiculous. Comapring it to Post-WW2 Germany is even more ridiculous, for much the same reasons

    Japan is, and even more importantly, was, at the time, a non-Muslim nation that was and is racially and culturally homogeneous. It was and is a 1st World industrialized nation. Japan created and,more importantly, maintained, civil institutions of and by itself during the Meiji period (1868-1912).

    The Diet was constituted in 1890, with universal male suffrage beginning in 1925 during the Taisho period (1912-1926). During this time The Japanese were already beginning to move towards a more modern representative system of government, until the militarists seized power in 1926.

    In other words, despite the ravages of war, in Japan we found an organized, disciplined, culturally and religiously homogeneous, fully industrialized society which had already developed a tradition of civil government more than fifty years before the end of WWII.

    How can you seriously compare THAT to the (majority of) contemporary Arab World, where today’s “nations” exist only because European imperialists drew arbitrary lines across the desert in 1919? Where, more often than not, loyalty to family, clan, tribe, and sect are stronger than loyalty to those arbitrarily assigned nationalities? Where a patchwork of mutually-hostile ethnicities and religious sects have been squabbling over power and resources for literally thousands of years – a situation only made worse by the enormous influx of wealth that an oil based world economy handed them pretty much overnight?

    A place where the one single unifying force outside of hatred of western imperialism — Islam — is also fractured into mutually hostile sects that are pretty much all inherently inimical to any outside philosophy, let alone anything remotely approaching the Reformation? Where there is a huge mosaic of different languages, different customs, and different traditions to go along with those different ethnicities and different sects?

    A place where a significant portion of the population is completely illiterate and mired in medieval superstitions? Where the majority of people are dirt poor and the modern infrastructure and industrial base are at a level where the phrase “bomb them back to the stone age” isn’t even all that useful a metaphor?

    Trying to take *that* and mold it into the shape of postwar Japan and Germany would have been a Herculean task for a competent administration with honest to god altruistic goals, nevermind the hot mess we had running things for the benefit of Halliburton et al

  51. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    First of all, any society can be transformed if you put enough work into it.

    There’s the problem. Hard work was not something W did.

  52. michael reynolds says:

    @Ken:

    We had two very different societies, Japan and Germany (and Austria) with two very different histories, wildly different cultures, different religions, different approaches to gender, and yet what came out the other end were two pacifistic democracies. Two militarized nations, neither with any recent history of being occupied, and yet we successfully occupied and transformed both and did so in a lasting and positive way.

    I think it borders on prejudice to assume that there is something utterly intractable about Iraq. You’d have to explain why A and B, which share nothing in common, cannot be part of a set with the equally different Iraq. Referring to Islam is not an explanation. Because if your point is that Muslims can never be democrats I wonder why we have Muslims voting peacefully in India and Indonesia. If the problem is an ethnic one then one is left to wonder what specifically about Arabs renders them incapable of democracy. I didn’t think we believed ethnicity determined politics.

    Culturally Iraq a decade ago was certainly closer to the US today than Japan was to the US 70 years ago. Iraq has internet, Iraq has English-speakers, Iraq had been occupied by the Brits and knew the outlines at least of Western cultural norms. The Iraqi people knew what an American was, what one looked like and sounded like. They’d been watching our movies for decades.

    It was not impossible. It was hard, no question. But we cannot say democracy in Iraq is impossible unless we are going to use ethnicity and culture as excuses to consign people to permanent slavery. I mean, why were we at all hopeful about the Arab Spring if there’s something inherently intractable about Arabs?

  53. michael reynolds says:

    The trick would have been to impose new institutions – as we did in Japan. Labor unions, for example. A written constitution enforced by an independent judiciary. Universal education. Universal suffrage. We did none of that in Iraq because Republicans think freedom is man’s natural state and requires no establishing. Of course that’s nonsense, man’s natural state is within a hierarchy. Man regularly surrenders his autonomy in return for bread and protection.

    Iraq had a history of restraining the influence of Islam, actually, Saddam and the Baath Party were not the mullahs. Had we employed the Iraqi army after defeating them, had we written their constitution, had we established necessary institutions and propped it all up for a couple of decades, it just might have worked.

    And boy, if it had worked, the middle east and the world would very likely have been a better place.

  54. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “I mean, it’s hard to imagine two more diverse cultures than 1940’s America and barely-out-feudalism 1940’s Japan. And yet we conquered, occupied, rammed our laws down their throats and tada: Toyotas! And the disproportionality of power is greater today than it was then, in other words Iraq was small,weak and backward, whereas Japan was populous and almost at par technologically, with a very rich culture and a unified population.”

    The thing is, we didn’t invade Japan to change it. FDR didn’t sit around and say “You know, the world would be better if these other people lived the way we wanted them to, so let’s kill their people and destroy their country until they agree to change.” Japan attacked us, we fought back and beat them, and that gave us the power — and I can agree the right — to force change on them.

    But to pick a country at random and say “Hey, we know more about their culture than they do, and they’re doing it all wrong, so we’re going to go murder hundreds of thousands of their people and destroy everything they’ve built so they’ll agree to live the way we like” — that’s monstrous. That is what the Genghis Khans and Attilas and Hitlers and Napoleons of the world do. It’s like the Catholic church murdering South American Indians to make them Christians.

    And it’s insane. Even in conception. There is not a nation in the world that, when invaded by another country with whom it was not at war, would simply say “Yeah, you guys are cool. We wanna be like you.” Even if they hate their own government, they will rally around it if it’s attacked by an outside force.

    At best this invasion was among the dumbest things ever conceived. But the way you describe it… it’s worse.

  55. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kylopod:

    We need to keep in mind, though, that it was the official strategy of the administration to pretend it was Iraq who attacked us on 9/11. W. himself strongly implied it during his first debate with John Kerry–when talking about his justification for going into Iraq, he said “The enemy attacked us.”

    This point tends to get overlooked in the discussions about whether the Bush Admin lied its way into the war. It wasn’t just about the WMDs, it was about the fact that they made a concerted effort to link Saddam with Al Qaeda in the public mind. And all the evidence suggests W. was perfectly fine with this level of deception; he wasn’t being duped.

    I’m not overlooking that point I’m talking about something else, Cheney lying to George and George becoming aware of that. I’m sure George was aware he and Dick were fudging some things, but if Dick had kept George fully in the loop there shouldn’t have been the “Is that all you have?” moment in the infamous “Slam dunk” meeting. Keep in mind I am not making excuses for that administration just suggesting ways that Jeb might, if he indeed does know how and why his brother screwed the pooch, show it.

    Explanation: I’m been suddenly unconvinced Jeb even understands what happened, which shocked me. Everybody I respect and know in Florida told me that he is a different and much smarter man than his brother and did a heck of a job managing things when he was Gov. I’da thunk that a man who vaguely resembles that description would have buried his head in this area for several weeks before even thinking of running.

  56. Ken says:

    @michael reynolds: We had two very different societies, Japan and Germany (and Austria) with two very different histories, wildly different cultures, different religions, different approaches to gender, and yet what came out the other end were two pacifistic democracies.

    The fact that Germany and Japan have numerous differences between them is irrelevant — what matters is that those things were shared within each of the societies we were rebuilding. Everything I discussed with respect to Japan are, in large part, true of Germany as well. Behold:

    “In other words, despite the ravages of war, in Japan Germany we found an organized, disciplined, culturally and religiously homogeneous, fully industrialized society which had already developed a tradition of civil government more than fifty years before the end of WWII. ”

    That re’s no requirement that they be a specific religion, or even type of religion, it’s about societal homogeneity of religious beliefs, broad agreement within that society on the extent and role of religion in the government, compatibility of those widely shared religious beliefs with commonly accepted standards of civil society, ability of large groups of people to tolerate the slight differences between various sects, etc.

    @michael reynolds: I think it borders on prejudice to assume that there is something utterly intractable about Iraq. You’d have to explain why A and B, which share nothing in common, cannot be part of a set with the equally different Iraq.

    That’s exactly what I spent 400 words doing. Because Germany and Japan share MANY things in common – level of industrialization with respect to the rest of the world; strong nationalism as an overarching unifying force; long, established histories in and of the place they live; widely shared religious values within their respective borders; widely shared cultural values within their respective borders; recent experience with non-totalitarian civil government; broadly shared ethnicity; common language; etc

    All of which are missing in modern day Iraq

    Referring to Islam is not an explanation. Because if your point is that Muslims can never be democrats

    In fairness, I will own up to being overbroad attributing the issues I was discussing about Iraq to the majority of the Arab world. That said, summarizing what I wrote as claiming “Islam is the problem” is so much of an oversimplified cherry-pick that it borders on outright dishonesty. Actually, after rereading that entire paragraph, “borders on” is too weak.

    Pointing out that there are different religious and ethnic groups in Iraq that are so different that people seriously considered a three state solution; so different they’re willing to form militias and armies and start a goddamned revolution taking over cities; so different that
    they have differentlanguages; and arguing that these are some very large impediments to creating a unified civil society in the wake of decades of war is not saying “Muslims can’t be democrats” and your characterization of it as such is such sloppy thinking (or perhaps such poor reading comprehension) that I’m having trouble believing it was actually you who wrote that response.

    And please spare me the “you never actually said those specific things” — anybody with even a passing knowledge of the state of affairs in Iraq the past few decades is well aware of those things, and your inability or unwillingness to understand my comments about shared ethnicity, shared values, shared religion, unifying nationalism in that context does you little credit

    Also, too – Internet access and experience with American movies have literally nothing to do with anything I wrote.

    It was not impossible. It was hard, no question. But we cannot say democracy in Iraq is impossible

    I swear to god, you must have simply replied to the wrong person. Because this is the icing on the “did you actually bother to even read past the first three sentences?” cake.

    Herculean: “not easy; requiring great physical or mental effort to accomplish or comprehend or endure”

  57. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    But to pick a country at random and say “Hey, we know more about their culture than they do,

    But that’s not what we were doing. This wasn’t about us wanting to help Iraqis, it was about this open sore of the middle east which has repeatedly caused us trouble. It was pre-emptive war, for our own purposes. It was a superpower throwing its weight around in an effort to shape a more tractable world.

    Even if they hate their own government, they will rally around it if it’s attacked by an outside force.

    Of course they will. That’s why we sent the army not the Peace Corps. We weren’t there to persuade, we were there to compel.

    Let’s remember. Saddam Hussein was not the legitimate government of Iraq, because legitimacy can only be conferred by the will of the people. He was a thug who seized and held power. He was as legitimate asa mob boss.

    @Ken:

    I apologize if I misunderstood you. That does happen from time to time.

    But it is still a bit facile to pretend that Germany, Austria and Japan circa 1945 had aspects in common which made them somehow better targets for forced societal restructuring. Actually, if you and I were having this debate in 1945, we might look at what we knew of history and conclude that Japan and Germany were terrible targets for transformation, precisely because they had a unity that could have easily been turned against us.

    In 1945 either of us might have pointed out that subject nations had typically been pre-industrial, and dis-united. I think we’d both have looked at India, which Britain ruled successfully (from their POV) for 90 years. India has sectarian rivalries in numbers that would astound a simple Iraqi. They don’t even share a language, let alone a religion. It was that very sectarianism that should – by your logic – have made it impossible for tiny Britain to dominate.

    So, this argument in 1945 would have been the mirror image of this one and one or both of us would have sworn that united and coherent Germany or Japan would be the very last nations on earth to be easily re-shaped.

    What’s one of the the two official languages of India today? English. What’s their system of government? Parliamentary. That great big, sect-riven mess of a country was dominated by little Britain and so deeply influenced that to this day India is almost as much a child of Britain as we or the Canadians.

    Iraq was much more do-able than India.

  58. michael reynolds says:

    One more point, which is that the reason I go back to all this is that I think we are over-learning the wrong lessons. We go through these swings from interventionist America to isolationist America. Historically we’ve had terrible timing on these swings. We go interventionist to try and take Cuba and the Philippines even as the world begins to recognize the limitations on imperialism. Then we’re isolationist when the world could really have used American power (1914.) And we react to that debacle by swinging back to an isolationism that enabled the rise of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo.

    Since then we’ve remained fundamentally interventionist and as a result, Europe, which never knew peace has had 70 years without a major conflict. 70 years of peace in a land with a history of conflict that dwarfs anything the middle east has managed. And that happened in large degree because we came in with tanks and cash and ideas that made it happen.

    Is the world worse off because we imposed a Pax Americana on Europe and Japan? Clearly not. The world is unarguably better off. We followed that up by confining and outlasting the USSR. And now, look at the world as a whole, not just the festering mess in the ME. Number and intensity of wars: way down. Lifespans: way up. Literacy around the world: way up. The liberation of women and minorities: way up.

    All of this improvement in the human condition came because the Pax Americana imposed order and a shared political language and to a great extent a culture of individualism. We have lots of terrible sins on our national conscience – slavery and the extermination of native Americans being the two most egregious – but our actions, our willingness to intervene, has given the world 70 years of peace and unprecedented prosperity.

    What I was suggesting was imposing Pax Americana on the middle east, doing there what we had done so well in Europe and the far east. Our failure to pull it off hastened what was inevitable anyway: the breakdown of corrupt and incompetent governments and the rise of the only force left functioning: radicalized Islam. Had we succeeded in establishing an Arab democracy in the very heart of the ME life would have been infinitely better for the people there. And for us.