Jeb Bush on the invasion of Iraq

Jeb Bush is taking heat for his response to a question by Megyn Kelly about the Iraq war. Here is the exchange:

Kelly: Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?

Bush: I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have 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.

Byron York, among others, finds this answer outrageous. But was Bush attempting to answer the question Kelly asked or did he misunderstand her question?

Bush says he didn’t hear Kelly’s first five words (“Knowing what we know now”), and his reference to “the intelligence [everybody] got” makes it clear that Bush did, in fact, mishear the question. The “faulty” nature of that intelligence is a key part of “what we know now.” Bush surely wouldn’t have referred to it if he had heard Kelly say “knowing what we know now. . .”

Now that Bush knows what Kelly’s full question was, he has taken his answer back. He told Sean Hannity that “clearly there were mistakes,” but that “I don’t know what that decision would have been” with hindsight.

I assume that this is an honest answer, but it’s not an optimal one. Bush may not know for sure what his decision would have been, but it seems unlikely that he would have backed an invasion if he had thought the intelligence about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction was fundamentally wrong. Few Americans would have, and I don’t think I would have been one of them.

Note that Kelly’s question is different from the following one: “Knowing what you know now, do you think, on balance, that the decision to invade Iraq was for the best?”

That’s a tougher question for me. If you had asked in 2008, I would have said “yes.” Knowing now that President Obama squandered our hard earned victory to the great detriment of both Iraq and the U.S., my answer would probably be “no.”

The situation in Iraq is better than the situation in Syria, which Iraq might well very closely resemble today if we had not removed Saddam Hussein. Moreover, Iraq is far from being a nuclear power, but might well have become one if Saddam had remained in charge as Iran, his arch-enemy, worked on developing nukes. But these speculative benefits probably don’t outweigh the massive costs, especially the loss of American lives, that our intervention imposed.

The situation in Iraq remains fluid. If we’re still chattering about this five years from now, my answer might be different.