So Gov. Jeb Bush has flubbed massively in his attempt to answer an obvious question about whether we should have invaded Iraq knowing that there were no weapons of mass destruction.
As Jack Shafer put it at Politico:
The fact that Bush didn't speak with absolute clarity about his Iraq War views signals that (1) he hasn't done his homework; (2) he didn't expect the question; or (3) he still thinks the war was a good idea that wasn't prosecuted directly. Or, god forbid, maybe a combination of all three.
Over at National Review, Reason contributor Veronique de Rugy says the question itself is besides the point. She suggests that
A better question…would have been: "What has the experience of the Iraq War taught you today that you, and most members of Congress, didn't know back then? And how will this lesson inform your presidency?"
And a good answer to that, in my opinion, would be: "I've learned that we politicians often don't have the correct information, and that our policies can have serious unintended and negative consequences." Or if Bush wanted to really embrace his inner nerd, he could have said, "Forty years ago, the economist F.A. Hayek delivered a lecture called 'The Pretense of Knowledge,' in which he forcefully challenged all those who believe that government has the wisdom or ability to successfully plan the economic and social affairs of society accurately. Well, I have learned that the pretense of knowledge is one of the biggest problems we have in politics. It plagues both the executive and the legislative decision-making process, and the failures can be seen in domestic and foreign policy. The Iraq War experience has taught me that, on the eve of making big policy moves, we must be more humble about the possibility we'll be very wrong about the consequences of our actions."
That sounds about right. Just like generals, politicians (and voters!) too often fight the last wars, or are at least obsessed with them (recall Bush I's crowing that success in the first Gulf War meant the United States had "kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all").
Iraq was a gigantic and preventable mistake, both in conception and in prosecution. But the question for today's candidates are not about time travel and second guessing. It's about how they would engage events in the future. And so far it seems there's little reason to feel upbeat about foreign policy come 2017.