Election 2016

Jeb Bush Learned Nothing from Iraq

The war wasn't just a bad decision. It's the result of bad foreign policy.


Credit: Gage Skidmore / photo on flickr

Jeb Bush began a talk the other day by addressing the issue of his brother George, noted architect of the Iraq War, and he did not shrink from the challenge. "I can't deny the fact that I love my family," announced Jeb. 

So if you suspected that the Bush Thanksgivings in Kennebunkport resemble August: Osage County—with lots of screaming, sobbing and clawing—you probably feel pretty silly right now. 

On a more pertinent question—whether the war was a wise idea—the answer is not so clear. The former governor of Florida first said that, knowing what we know now, he would have favored the invasion. He then claimed he misunderstood the question. 

Had he known that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), Jeb said later, "I would not have gone into Iraq." But he mainly wants to avoid the whole issue, which he dismisses as "a hypothetical." 

If you're looking for deep, searching reflection on the Iraq war, the 2016 presidential campaign may not be the best place to look. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last year found that 71 percent of Americans and 44 percent of Republicans think the war "wasn't worth it." 

But nearly all Republicans and many Democrats supported it at the time. So the less said on the subject, most of the candidates doubtless feel, the better. Most prefer to "focus on the future," as Jeb urged. 

This desire not to dwell on the past often comes from the same candidates who invoke the Munich agreement of 1938, a failed attempt to appease Adolf Hitler. But how a candidate assesses the lessons of the past is one of the best ways to get a sense of how a president would behave in the future—which is also "a hypothetical." 

Among Republicans, there has never been much interest in acknowledging what a catastrophe the Iraq war was. In 2012, Rick Perry said the U.S. should send troops back to Iraq. In 2008, Mike Huckabee was still insisting Hussein might have had WMDs: "Just because you didn't find every Easter egg didn't mean that it wasn't planted." In 2012, Mitt Romney affirmed, "It was the right decision to go into Iraq." 

Some current candidates have been a bit less enthusiastic. Ted Cruz tiptoed, noting that WMDs were the reason for our invasion. "Without that predicate, it is difficult to imagine the decision would have been made to go into Iraq, and that predicate proved erroneous," he said, in a masterpiece of sterile verbosity. Marco Rubio said he would not have attacked Iraq based on today's knowledge—though in March, he defended the invasion. 

But neither they nor any of the others—with the obvious exception of Rand Paul—have renounced the basic worldview that produced it. The Republicans almost unanimously favor an aggressive stance based on brawny slogans and an assumption of American omnipotence. 

Scott Walker sounds as though he misses George W. Bush: "I want a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us." Rubio says America must have the mightiest military forces in the world, as if we don't already. 

Paul is the only entrant willing to disavow the reckless adventurism of the Bush-Cheney years. When other Republicans blamed Barack Obama for the rise of the Islamic State, Paul disagreed, faulting those who mounted the Iraq war for "the chaos that is in the Middle East." 

He's an outlier, and not just in his party. Hillary Clinton, who as a senator voted for the war, concedes she "got it wrong." But if the experience made her reassess her basic assumptions, she has kept it secret. 

The unanticipated consequences of the Iraq invasion didn't keep her from pushing Obama to use air power to topple Moammar Gadhafi—which led to another unanticipated disaster, in Libya and beyond. Clinton insists on sticking to that same approach in spite of all the times it has let us down. 

Since 2001, our interventions have not only fallen short, but blown up in our faces. What should be clear is that when presidents resort to military force, they usually lack an understanding of the countries they attack, a due regard for the commitment required and a full appreciation of all the things that could go very wrong. 

If the candidates haven't learned those lessons yet, they'll probably get another chance. 

NEXT: Watch Comedian Ed Helms Eviscerate Rolling Stone in Awesome UVA Graduation Speech

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  1. But nearly all Republicans and many Democrats supported it at the time.

    Those Democrats will dodge the premise by pointing out they only voted to authorize Bush to wage war. They didn’t actually think he would do it.

    1. Actually, they claim it was because Bush lied to them about the intelligence, even though they had the same intelligence and so did other allied nations.

      1. They all had the same intelligence. I agree with that.

        1. Well, I think we can all agree that the lack of “intelligence” led us to war.

          1. Stop collectivizing. That is not a universal agreement.

            Yes, the casus belli was weak, but not as weak as the nonexistant exit strategy which was the main problem. That vacuum was what permitted ISIS to congeal

            So while you beat your chests and loudly proclaim to have been against the war since whenever, I still recall how convincing the information we had at the time was. I freely admit I thought Iraq would be better off without Saddam. And the possibility for improvement existed until we botched the occupation.

            The question becomes when does the mess we made stop being ours to clean up?

            1. “The question becomes when does the mess we made stop being ours to clean up?”

              Stop collectivizing.

              1. It’s always our mess. Whether you voted for them or not. Whether you’re in the country or not. Promises to SS or public pensions? Our mess. You’re weren’t even born when some sleaze bag politician promised a part of your life to someone else? Suck it up citizen.

                1. “It’s always our mess… Suck it up citizen.”

                  That’s the repugnant reality, straffinrun, yet I’m defiantly with Lysander Spooner on this one.

            2. I didn’t find the information convincing at the time. I’ll grant you that was partly based on my innate skepticism toward anything politicians tell me, and partly on the history I’ve read that has taught me that the intelligence services just plain get it wrong sometimes. But the information that was available to the public consisted primarily of assertions that we were expected to simply swallow without question. I never find that sort of “evidence” overly convincing.

      2. Some of the Bush lies were refuted at the time. Like yellowcake from Niger and the bogus aluminum tubes story. The former made Cheney so angry he leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent for revenge.

        1. You are so right!

        2. Welcome to Retardation: A Celebration. Now, hopefully, I’m gonna dispel a few myths, a few rumors. First off, the retarded don’t rule the night. They don’t rule it. Nobody does. And they don’t run in packs. And while they may not be as strong as apes, don’t lock eyes with ’em, don’t do it. Puts ’em on edge. They might go into berzerker mode; come at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and elbows. You might be screaming “No, no, no” and all they hear is “Who wants cake?” Let me tell you something: They all do. They all want cake.

      3. One of them voted against the war before he voted for it, so there is that.

        (Not that fecklessness is to be found only among Democrats)

      4. As well.as tje tevisionist history that the casa bella rested solely on the existence of WMDs.

  2. As Steve Chapman explains, this desire not to dwell on the past often comes from the same candidates who invoke the Munich agreement of 1938, a failed attempt to appease Adolf Hitler

    You know who else,…oh, wait, this article is self-Godwined.

    1. As long as it doesn’t become a habit…

      1. You know who else had habits, don’t you?


        1. Whoopie Goldberg?

            1. Nice.

        2. My great-aunt Jackie was a nun. She had habits.

        3. J.R.R. Tolkien?

          1. +1 Shire

    2. Appeasement didn’t work with Hitler, therefor the USA must take over and run the entire Galactic Cluster (for the good of all beings everywhere). See, we ***DO*** learn from history!!!

      1. Or maybe it did work, just not in some magically extreme way some people might’ve thought.

  3. You write from a false predicate where you assume people learned nothing from history just because they have not suddenly decided to push the policy agenda you advocate. I submit that they did learn, but took away a different lesson.

  4. Things were said, objects tossed, anger expressed. Can’t we put this behind us, baby.

  5. slightly OT Jeb video

    Brass balls award for being that direct, although I’m sure she wouldn’t hesitate to defend the current administration…

    1. Actually his brother created something worse. Obama.

  6. War with Iran is up for the next GOP president – treaty or no treaty.

    1. War with Iran is up for the next establishment approved president -Republican or Democrat.

    2. Again with the incisive comment!

      Thank you just for being alive!

    3. Dreams are a great thing, but you know something? They take a lot of energy. But that’s OK. There’s a job waiting for you down the block from your house that doesn’t require a thought in your head or a hope in your heart. So come on down and work for the artificial flower factory. Why fight it? OK? Thank you.

    4. Hello? Libya? Just who mucked that fucking place up – Santa Claus?

  7. So if you suspected that the Bush Thanksgivings in Kennebunkport resemble August: Osage County?with lots of screaming, sobbing and clawing

    Tennessee Williams did it 60 years ago with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and it was a bunch of tedious suckitude even then.

  8. I was against the war then and now. But whether you agree with me or think the war was the best thing this country’s done in the last 100 years, wouldn’t you expect any candidate — but especially Jeb! — to have a stock answer to this question before he started to campaign? It just boggles the mind.

    1. I get the impression that Jeb doesn’t really want to run, but feels he is expected to.

      1. His demeanour seems to suggest that to me as well, UnCivil.
        It’s somewhat reminiscent of his father’s second run for office.

      2. He’s a Bush and it’s his DUTY. Unless he really effs up.

        Then he’s the neighbor’s bastard (wink, wink)

  9. In case I miss the morning links: 4 Teens Charged With Felonies Over ‘Senior Prank’

    The students are accused of deflating the tires of all 24 of their school district’s buses, leaving a note saying, “You have been pranked by seniors 2015” in chalk on the asphalt. It was an apparent ploy to get school cancelled for the day, but it also caused thousands of dollars in damages.

    “Chalk on the sidewalk is fine, but purposeful, damaging vandalism is criminal conduct and you’re going to suffer the consequences of your actions,” said Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly.

    Felony charges???

    1. Tens of thousands in damages? Bullshit. I doubt it would amount to that unless they’d out and out slashed all of the tires on all of the buses.

      1. Oh, I misread that. It was only “thousands”

        I guess it’s all those union hours pumping air back into the tires they’re counting.

        I’m not really kidding. In various Cyber Security Seminars, it was stated time and again that the best way to get to the threshold to get the feds involved in an investigation was to count the pay of everyone who spends time working the issue. That way the ‘damages’ rack up quickly.

        1. And that way you can ruin the lives of some kids. It’s a win-win!

        2. If the tires were completely deflated, they may have been damaged by the rims resting on them.

      2. Because they let ALL the air out of the tires by removing the valve stems, sidewalls on the tires might have broken down. Also, from the video it appears that the tires pulled away from the rims. Presuming those are tubeless tires, those wheels had to be dismounted by a professional, reinflated, and replaced on the bus. That’s not cheap x 24. Throw in any lost deposits, etc. from the activites that they mentioned that had to be cancelled and I can see the cost reaching 5 figures.

    2. Fred Astaire would make a better sheriff.

      1. Nice.

        1. Ginger Rodgers would make a better sheriff -law enforcement, backwards and in high heels

    3. Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly is making a bold statement toward those involved, “The first one to get on the bus is going to get the shortest ride,” he said.


  10. Jeb Bush is a moron, plain and simple.


    1. Yeah, he should have just blamed Cheney and dodged the bullet. If I am President, I won’t run with a wawar monger like Dick what’s his name

  11. Let’s say there was no conference in, or agreement arising from, Munich. What then?

  12. Why does the choice have to be between – shitty execution of a shitty foreign policy or wait until the enemy is at our gates and then blame the other party?

    1. Why are we still in Korea?

      1. Kimchee and Kim Tae-yeon from SNSD of course!

  13. No fear – Lindsey Graham is running for POTUS and will fix it.

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  15. Why are we still in South Korea, that’s what I would like to know.

    To keep the North Koreans from doing what – getting a nuke?

  16. Maybe we should vote for the candidate who led opposition to the war in Iraq back in 2002 when reason.com, a libertarian magazine, was posting articles from its writers that wmds in Iraq demanded a full-scale military occupation.

    1. You got a mouse in your pocket?

    2. Naturally someone called American Socialist would be upset to see the end of Ba’athist Socialism in Iraq… and it ain’t looking too healthy in Syrian these days either.

  17. The Republican excuse for the Iraq war failure is the same used by Democrats for Amtrak failure – not enough money, not enough resources.

    If we just HAVE more money, Iraq would be the land of milk and honey. If we just had more money, Amtrak would never, ever crash.

    1. “The Republican excuse for the Iraq war failure…”

      Strangely all the Kurds I know, including some in Southern Kurdistan (it seems silly to call it Northern Iraq now) see that war as an epic triumph that set an entire people on the road to realising a dream. They must not have got the memo that this was a terrible thing that We Did To Them.

      I suspect if I walked down the streets of Kirkuk or Erbil or Halabja, and asked person after person “Who would like the Ba’athists back in power?”, even with the Daesh Islamic State at their door, I very much doubt anyone would hanker for the ‘good old days’ before mean old Mr. Bush came along and tipped over the date and fig cart looking for WMDs. Go figure.

  18. The statements of most of the current crop of presidential candidates – Democrat and Republican – remind me of the old line about the Bourbon kings – they learned nothing and forgot nothing.

  19. The major issue that we should be asking our candidates about – both GOP and Democratic – is not what decisions they would have made in 2003. It is what decisions they are going to make in 2016.

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