Jeb Bush Is Willfully Blind To The Truth About The Iraq War

Like many Republicans, Jeb Bush continues to be willfully blind to the truth about the Iraq War.

3-no-iraq-war

In an interview yesterday, Jeb Bush said that the Iraq War was a success because Saddam Hussein was ousted:

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Jeb Bush is owning his Iraq War problem.

Bush, wrestling with his brother’s legacy of the war for the second time in three days, again sought to cast blame on the Obama administration for its failure to achieve a “fragile but secure” peace in the region that has been overrun by ISIS militants.

As he did in his speech Tuesday night outlining his own approach to combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the former Florida governor and presidential hopeful glossed over his brother’s decision to go to war in Iraq — and while acknowledging that mistakes were made, he seemed to view the war itself in positive terms.

“I’ll tell you, taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good deal,” the former Florida governor told a crowd of roughly 200 people who attended a forum on national security at St. Ambrose College.

Bush’s efforts to present himself as a strong, sensible commander in chief are complicated by the unpopular war his brother waged in Iraq — a war the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, supported at the time — and by his own tendency to view it in a more favorable light.

While Democrats are sure to mine Bush’s words for attack ad soundbites, the candidate showed no signs of tempering his praise for his brother’s war record.

To the contrary, after months of difficulty reconciling the broadly held public view that the Iraq War was a mistake with his own hawkish foreign policy views and an innate unwillingness to rehash and criticize his brother’s record, he has settled on a strategy: unapologetically arguing that the war, however misconceived, brought about an opportunity for a more stable Middle East, one that the current Democratic administration squandered.

“I’m not saying this because I’m a Bush,” he said. “I’m proud of what he did to create a secure environment for our country.”

This isn’t the first time that the former Governor of Florida has commented on the Iraq War and his brother’s legacy, of course. Back in May before he formally entered the race, Bush told Fox News’s Megyn Kelly that he would have invaded Iraq just like his brother did,. This set off a storm of comments and criticisms from across the political spectrum and even from several of Bush’s fellow Republican candidates, including not just someone like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul but also Chris Christie and even Ted Cruz. In a short period of time, Bush found himself in the middle of a quagmire over his comments about Iraq and his apparent unwillingness to even slightly question the decisions that his brother and the rest of the Bush Administration made from 2002 going forward. Given the fact that the war cost more than 4,400 American lives and an estimated 115,000 Iraqi lives, cost the United States Government nearly two trillion dollars, and never resulted in the finding of any of the weapons of mass destruction that were supposedly the justification for the conflict to begin with, it’s really somewhat remarkable that Bush seems to display not one bit of judgment on this issue. On some level, I suppose it is understandable that he’s unwilling to criticize his brother, but in the end family only goes so far and if he wants to be President endorsing what may well be one of the gravest foreign policy mistakes in American history certainly doesn’t seem like a smart idea.

Bush’s comments this time are particularly galling because they seem to so obviously conflict with reality. Far from making Iraq or the Middle East a more stable place, the removal of Saddam Hussein from power set in motion a series of events that we are still dealing with today and will likely be dealing with well into the future. In the short term, of course, removing Saddam and the entire Ba’ath Party bureaucracy that ran the country led to chaos in the Iraq that resulted in a a civil war that the United States was inevitably dragged into, and which resulted  in most of the American and Iraqi casualties suffered during the war. It also led to the introduction into the country of foreign fighters connected to al Qaeda and other groups that joined with Iraqi insurgents in attacking American forces and Iraqi civilians. One of those groups, al Qaeda in Iraq, eventually became the group we now call ISIS. One can make the case, in fact, that the current situation in Iraq is a direct effect of the Iraq War itself, Internally, the argument that deposing Saddam was good for Iraq is simply nonsense. A multi-ethnic state that was largely the creation of European diplomats at the end of World War One would survive as long as the iron fist of an authoritarian ruler was there to hold it together Once that was removed, the country began to divide along its traditional ethnic lines, with Sunni, Shia, and Kurds all acting in their own interest rather than the interest of a United Nation. Finally, whatever else you might say about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the one thing that it did well was act as a counterbalance to its neighbor Iran. With that counterbalance removed, Iran’s power in the region has been enhanced. Try as he might,  doubt that Bush could argue that this was in the interests of the United States.

As Paul Waldman notes, Bush’s comments reveal something both about his own thinking and about Republican foreign policy in general:

And this is perhaps the most dangerous thing about Bush’s perspective on Iraq, which can also be said of his primary opponents. They display absolutely no grasp of the internal politics of Iraq, now or in the past, not to mention the internal politics of other countries in the region, including Iran. Indeed, most Republicans don’t seem to even believe that these countries have internal politics that can shape what the countries choose to do and how they might react to our actions.

This was one of the key failures of imagination that led to the Iraq disaster in the first place. The Bush administration barely bothered to consider that removing Hussein could trigger internal strife within the country as different factions emerged to struggle for power. It just assumed that we’d bomb the hell out of the place, and then all Iraqis would crawl from the rubble and join hands to create a flourishing, peaceful liberal democracy.

And incredibly, after all that has happened, so many Republicans still don’t get it. They continue to believe that the only factor that matters when we approach any new challenge in the Middle East is whether we’re sufficiently “strong.” Any victory can be achieved, any intricately complex knot can be unraveled, any unintended consequence can be avoided, if only we remain strong and project our strength. They’ve learned absolutely nothing.

They’ve learned nothing, and they want the White House back.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2016, Iraq War, National Security, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. Rafer Janders says:

    Jeb! Bush isn’t “willfully blind.”

    Rather, Jeb! Bush is a contemptible lying little sociopath who knows full well that he’s lying.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Of course they’ve learned nothing. They are no longer participants in reality. I know you think this is hyperbole, but it’s simple fact.

    Republicans now believe the Iraq War went just great, that we can re-outlaw gay marriage, build a massive wall around Mexico while ethnically cleansing millions of our own employees and neighbors, fight a war with Iran, cut taxes and ignore global warming forever. They believe in things which simply cannot happen. They hold ideas which have been as thoroughly discredited as the anti-vaxx movement.

    Here’s the thing, for all my hyperbolic rhetorical flights, the GOP Is actually as bad as I and all the Democratic critics have said they are. They are clearly driven by rage. They are clearly driven by racism and nativism. The GOP is indisputably the party of bigots and rage-o-holics. They are out of touch with reality, disconnected, senile. The GOP Has Alzheimers.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Rafer Janders: That. A thousand times that. And given that he’s had a year to work out his response on this, he’s incompetent.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    And while we’re talking GOP indifference to reality, remember when I said gun ownership is responsible for the fact that our cops are necessarily on a hair trigger? And pretty much everyone told me I was wrong? Well, guess what: higher rates of gun possession = More dead cops.

    “If you are looking to protect the lives of police officers — if that’s something that interests you as a person, as a reader, as a policymaker — consider the firearm laws in your state,” said David Swedler.

    Swedler isn’t a gun control activist. He’s a research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences in the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and the lead author of a new study showing that police officers are more likely to be killed by firearms in states with high gun ownership, regardless of the level of violent crime in that state.

    The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health in August, found the states with high gun ownership reported three times the number of police officer homicides as states with low gun ownership.

    (I’d link to the study but it’s paywalled.)

  5. steve says:

    This has been set up for Bush by the round of claims in the recent past that we could have stayed in Iraq if we had really wanted to stay. Vague sources were cited claiming that Maliki said, something. Of course, Mailiki never went public about this, knowing that no one in the ruling coalition, or anyone out of the coalition for that matter, was willing to grant US soldiers immunity, absolutely necessary if we stayed. Bush negotiated the best deal he could, while we still had leverage to make a deal. The deal he got meant we had to leave. If a better deal was to be had, it should have been negotiated when we still could do so. (Read the commentary from contemporary Iraqi sources and this all becomes much more clear.)

    OTOH, the GOP gets major credit for planning ahead on this issue. Part of the long term misinformation campaign.

    Anyway, vote Jeb! If you liked Iraq in 2004, you are gonna love Iran in 2018!

    Steve

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    Well so much for he smarter brother meme for Jeb.

  7. CB says:

    I remember around 2008-2009, when Iraq was “quiet”, you still saw major bombings and mass casualty events on a weekly basis. You still had tortured bodies turning up in the streets every morning. You still had a complete lack of infrastructure, politically, militarily, and civilly. People in the know were saying “pay attention.” The Syrian Civil War happened, and here we are.

    Jeb Bush can go play in traffic.

  8. Pete S says:

    Jeb Bush is owning his Iraq War problem.

    In what way is Jeb! owning his Iraq War problem? He seems to be in deep denial that he even has a problem. Unless by owning it the author meant “making worse”? Blaming the whole thing on the Obama Administration is the opposite of owning it.

  9. al-Ameda says:

    Maybe Jeb is “Fredo” after all?
    Thus far – 2 months in – he has been surprisingly inept.

  10. C. Clavin says:

    It’s bad enough that JEB!’s comments, which are blithely un-tethered from reality, will probably not do him any harm, or that htere are people out there who believe this crap. What’s amazing here is that the focus is on JEB!’s brother and not on himself. (A result of the fourth estate being little more than a steno pool, I think.)
    JEB! was a founding member of The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which is the group that pushed for war with Iraq and the removal of Saddam in the first place.
    JEB! is not an innocent bystander in this. If anything his brother W. was the dupe. JEB! needs to be forced to take accountability for his role in the debacle that is Iraq. Unfortunately our press corps is tragically incapable of doing so.
    And don’t even get me started on JEB!’s claim that he will grow the GDP at 4% (or Huckabee’s claim he will grow it at 6%).

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @CB: Juan Cole gutted Jeb on this a couple days ago.

    Second, Jeb Bush’s narrative about the “surge” is mythical history unconnected to reality. See my Engaging the Muslim World for the real story.

    So when Abu Omar al-Baghdadi changed al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia into the Islamic State of Iraq he found many willing recruits, and the organization grew in strength and influence.

    Because, Jeb, of the Surge. Not to mention the US invasion and occupation in the first place, and the backing of al-Maliki.

    Hillary didn’t build that.

    Well worth a read.

  12. Moosebreath says:

    This post could be written about any number of debacles of recent Republican administrations, about nearly any topic, domestic or foreign. None of them believes in policies different than Bush the Younger, except they believe he did not go far enough.

    The Republican consensus is that if only they govern like Bush the Younger, but turn it up to 11, everything will be roses and kittens. Until the Republican Party comes to grips with the simple truth that the years 2001-2008 were a disaster on every level, they cannot be called anything other than willfully blind.

  13. Dave D says:

    You guys are getting this all wrong because you are not dedicated to reading comprehension. Listen to what he said “taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a good deal.” It likely was a good deal for him and his necon buddies. Of the almost $3T spent how much lined his and his friends pockets? Him, his brother, Cheney and all their defense contractor high dollar donors probably made out like bandits. To them it probably was “a good deal.”

  14. Shirt says:

    .Google Carlyle and Bush. You’ll figure out why the Jebster called it “a good deal”/

  15. jukeboxgrad says:

    I remember around 2008-2009, when Iraq was “quiet”, you still saw major bombings and mass casualty events on a weekly basis.

    Link:

    there were 257 suicide bombings in Iraq in 2008

    Another instance of Republicans suffering from Romnesia.

  16. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Dave D: Well this was my question. For whom was this deal good, exactly. I’m not even sure that your likely suspects came out ahead–although, like Trump, they’ll say they did if pressed.

  17. Tillman says:

    You know, all he has to say, really, is, “You know what? With hindsight, I think the war was wrong. Obviously that’s the case. But with the intel we had then? I’d’ve done it.” This way he presents himself as capable of learning and discernment, but also shows he’s ready to go shotgun on things if need be like the older brother. But with learning and discernment so it’s not as bad.

    Sure, the intel then was also bad, but it’s a dodge. It doesn’t have to be that clever.

    Considering I’m relaxing and came up with that in a few minutes, it really drives home how inept Jeb’s handlers have been.

  18. stonetools says:

    Well, Doug, your column makes clear it really does matter whether a Democrat or Republican gets elected next year.You didn’t post on it (big surprise!) but Hillary came out strongly in favor of the Iran deal:

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday night clarified that she supports the agreement that President Obama’s administration and its world partners have reached with Iran to freeze its nuclear program.

    “I support this agreement because I believe it is the most effective path of all the alternatives available to the U.S. and our partners to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” she said.

    Meanwhile, if JEB! gets elected we can look forward to an immediate repudiation of the Iran deal and “Gulf War 3: The Reawakening”.
    So, Doug refer back to this column when you vote next year… but wait , Hillary did do something with email that was legal but that you didn’t like. War it is, then.

  19. SenyorDave says:

    @michael reynolds: Here’s the thing, for all my hyperbolic rhetorical flights, the GOP Is actually as bad as I and all the Democratic critics have said they are. They are clearly driven by rage. They are clearly driven by racism and nativism. The GOP is indisputably the party of bigots and rage-o-holics. They are out of touch with reality, disconnected, senile. The GOP Has Alzheimers.

    A trillion times yes. And now the “establishment” Republicans, the “thinking” Republicans like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum are shocked at Trump taking the GOP by storm. He’s Einstein compared to some of the other candidates. And being a racist, sexist pig as an asset when you’re running as a Republican.

  20. Kylopod says:

    @SenyorDave:

    the “thinking” Republicans like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Frum

    I really don’t think it is fair to lump Frum, who has shown considerable intellectual honesty about the GOP’s problems, together with dishonest hacks like Will and Krauthammer.

  21. SenyorDave says:

    @Kylopod: Frum is one of the guys who goes on about Obama not reaching out to republicans and its a dysfunctional relationship because of the actions of both sides. That bs and either Frum is lying about it or he’s delusional. He’s just another version of a Republican hack.

  22. JohnMcC says:

    @Kylopod: Frum is the speechwriter who coined the phrase ‘axis of evil’. He’s been excommunicated from The Church of True Conservatives because he has a few functioning synapses but definitely do not give him too much credit if the topic is the Iraq war.

  23. humanoid.panda says:

    @Kylopod: On things relating to foreign policy, Frum is worse than Will, and probably as bad as Krauthammer.

  24. anjin-san says:

    @Dave D:

    Absolutely right. From their perspective, it was a good deal. Halliburton made billions. These folks do not give a rat’s ass about the unimaginable suffering the war caused.

  25. Rafer Janders says:

    One can make the case, in fact, that the current situation in Iraq is a direct effect of the Iraq War itself,

    One doesn’t need to “make the case.” It’s simple historical fact.

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tillman:

    Sure, the intel then was also bad, but it’s a dodge.

    It is not a dodge, it is a flat out lie. They wanted the intel to say Saddam had restarted his WMD programs and picked all the intel that lent legitimacy to their position, no matter how questionable it might have been, and threw out all the intel that negated their position no matter how sound it was.

    In other words, they cooked it.

  27. @OzarkHillbilly: Not to mention Cheney meeting with mid-level staffers at the CIA and other intelligence agencies pressuring them to change their findings and conclusions and if they wouldn’t, just going on Meet the Press and lying about their findings.

  28. jukeboxgrad says:

    and picked all the intel that lent legitimacy to their position

    And even this understates what they did, because they went beyond what any intel said. For example, Rice said the aluminum tubes “are only really suited” for centrifuges. Even CIA, their most favorable source, did not make this extreme claim. Link.

    So they didn’t just cherry-pick the most favorable intel they could find. When the most favorable intel they could find did not go far enough, they simply made shit up, inventing facts not found in any intel.

    lying about their findings

    Yup.

  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @jukeboxgrad:

    When the most favorable intel they could find did not go far enough, they simply made shit up, inventing facts not found in any intel.

    And when caught in their lies (yellow cake- Niger), destroyed the careers of people who stood against them.

  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Timothy Watson: Yep, and leaking intel to the press (Judith Miller, where are you?) than citing the articles resulting from the leaks as proof of the intel.

  31. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod: Used to read Frum Forum regularly and found him quite reasonable. Haven’t read him much lately, but my impression is that since they let him out from under the bus, he pretty much supports the party line.

  32. bricko says:

    Good explanation of why troop levels could not be negotiated.

    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2015/08/who-lost-iraq.php

  33. JohnMcC says:

    @gVOR08: You’ll find him occasionally at the Atlantic’s wonderful magazine-web-site. Like you I sometimes find him interesting.

  34. jukeboxgrad says:

    Good explanation

    When you cite the person who said this:

    It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

    Don’t expect too many people to take you seriously. And his sources are roughly as credible as he is.

  35. Tillman says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Sure, but Republicans don’t believe that and Jeb is currently running to lead them. I never said he had to tell the complete truth. No politician could survive that.

    Further, to get technical it’s not a lie for him to say with the intel they had, he’d still go to war. He was a signatory to PNAC after all.

  36. JohnMcC says:

    @bricko: Far be it from me to tell you that Sen Graham might shade his reply to Mr Hewitt, but any account of the negotiations that does not mention that the President of Iraq at the time was Mr Talabani is definitely suspect. One could also mention that Iran was conducting a vigorous campaign against the re-negotiated SOFA but somehow that escaped Sen Graham’s ken.

    The date of the original SOFA is significant — Nov 2008. Lemmesee, didn’t something else happen around that time? Anyway, Pres GWBush signed an agreement that as Juan Cole says:
    “Bush had to sign what the (Iraqi) Parliament gave him or face the prospect that US troops would have to leave by 31Dec08, something that would have been interpreted as a defeat.” So he signed what he could and left the defeat to his successor.

    The truth is that President Obama started negotiating with a goal of keeping a division of soldiers in-country but that met opposition both in the US and in Iraq (and Iran). This was whittled down to a training force of 3,000 or so and lengthy talks went on regarding bases and immunity. During this time Talabani, Maliki, Barzani and many other Iraqi politicians visited Tehran and both Ayatollah Sistani and PM Amadinejad lobbied hard against the US position and there was fighting between the Iranian-influenced militias and the Iraqi Security Forces. It was during this time that a US SpecForces raid “inadvertently” killed Abdullhussein Razak al Maliki, a close relative of our negotiations ‘partner’. So there was a bit of what one could call ‘headwind’.

    In the end, the immunity clause of the proposed SOFA was not accepted by the Parliament of Iraq. Without immunity it was impossible to keep American troops in-country. So they were withdrawn on schedule.

    It is not to be forgotten that Sen McCain was anxious to credit the Bush administration for the great success of American troops upon their withdrawal, tweeting: “Last US troops leave Iraq, Bush deserves credit for victory.”

    Sen Graham has had some event in his life that has affected his memory.

  37. Lounsbury says:

    As a point of order:

    A multi-ethnic state that was largely the creation of European diplomats at the end of World War One would survive as long as the iron fist of an authoritarian ruler was there to hold it together Once that was removed, the country began to divide along its traditional ethnic lines, with Sunni, Shia, and Kurds all acting in their own interest rather than the interest of a United Nation

    While this is true enough in the context of the cockamamie invasion by Bush ibn Bush and the subsequent massive incompetence of the occupation with all its utterly inane reliance on grossly ill-informed WWII analogies(*) and models, it is not per se a given over time.

    (*: which do rather seem to be the American go-to for understanding all things non-American, particularly for the Right Bolshevik party, e.g. Iran – explaining one should think a significant portion of American FP incompetence; the desire for all history post WWII to look like its shining WWII moment.)