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Jeb and Hillary’s Iraq Quagmire
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Jeb and Hillary’s Iraq Quagmire

Refighting lost wars has become a cornerstone of American electoral politics. To the accusatory phrases “Who lost China?” and “No more Vietnams” we can now add “If you knew then what you know now about Iraq, would you have invaded?” Jack Shafer wrote for Politico.
Although he should have seen the Iraq-redux question coming, Jeb Bush booted it in a Fox News Channel interview on Monday. “Yes, I would,” Bush said, and so would have Hillary Clinton and anybody else who saw the intelligence. That wasn’t the answer anybody wanted to hear, so Bush deftly repaved his path with a new answer on Tuesday for Sean Hannity’s radio show. “I interpreted the question wrong, I guess,” Bush said. He thought the question was, would he have gone to war then knowing what they knew then? If you want to give Bush the benefit of the doubt, go ahead, because of the precise context he placed his original answer in. That is, he said Hillary Clinton was for the war at the time.
But 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.

 Family Legacy
One of the best arguments against political dynasties is that they force the latest heir to conform to the policies and practices of his forefathers—when what the political system really craves is a system reset.
Bush can’t be oblivious to the importance of managing the family legacy. Yet there he was, fumbling on Fox, attempting a do-over on Hannity’s radio show, and in Nevada getting snippy with a 19-year-old member of the local Young Democrats chapter who asked if his brother George W. Bush was responsible for the rise of the Islamic State. “You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir,” the student said. “Pedantic? Wow,” Bush responded.
Bush’s response wasn’t as pathetic as that of presidential candidate Wesley K. Clark in 2003 during a routine Q&A session by reporters on a campaign plane about his views on Iraq. “Mary, help!” Clark called out to his press secretary. “Come back and listen to this.” Clark’s press secretary Mary Jacoby eventually put the brakes on the interview. “I want to clarify—we’re moving quickly here,” Jacoby said. “You said you would have voted for the resolution as leverage for a UN-based solution.”
“Right,” said Clark, who like Jeb Bush, had failed to do his homework. “Exactly.”
It’s not like Bush hadn’t received fair warning that somebody would fling the Iraq question at him. In December 2011, Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney muffed the question on Fox and then took a mulligan on MSNBC. The invasion was “appropriate at the time,” Romney first told Chris Wallace. Then, three days later, he told Chuck Todd “obviously we would not have gone in” if we had known the Iraqis had no chemical or biological weapons capability. Romney’s wandering on the issue was amply documented by Byron York in the Washington Examiner who found him saying in a January 2008 debate, “It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time; I support it now.”

 Hiding Place
The problem of politics - and life itself - is that we never get to know then what we know now. Framing an issue as important as the Iraq War in a whimsical context of a do-over, a do-over with the benefit of perfect knowledge, may make a dazzling question. But it also affords candidates a hiding place. They weren’t wrong, their passive argument goes. Their inputs were wrong! And you can’t fault them for having received the wrong inputs, can you?
Hillary Clinton’s views on the Iraq War have swung equally wide. A member of the US Senate, she voted for the 2002 resolution that authorized military action, and then literally played the “if we knew then what we know now” card in a December 2006 appearance on Today. But the switcheroo wasn’t enough to prevent Barack Obama’s supporters battering her straight through 2008 for supporting a disastrous war that he, then an unknown Illinois politician, had been smart enough to oppose. And we know how that race turned out.
It takes political bravery to change a flawed position and accept blame. Theoretically, that’s what we want in politicians—accountability and the ability to self-correct. But shouldn’t the fact that both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush got Iraq wrong argue against making either president—and for giving the job to somebody who saw through the intelligence “failure”? At the very least, I’d love to hear their answer to that one.

 

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