Is it possible that in 2016, more than a decade after the invasion of Iraq, the Republican party's presidential nominee could become bogged down in debating whether the war was the right thing to do? The answer, a depressing one for many in the GOP, is yes — if the nominee is Jeb Bush.
Fox News' Megyn Kelly asked Bush a straightforward, concise question: "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?" Bush's answer was an unhesitating yes.
"I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody," Bush said, "and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."
"You don't think it was a mistake?" asked Kelly.
"In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty," Bush answered.
Bush's view of the war is considerably less clear-eyed than that of his brother, former President George W. Bush, the man who ordered the invasion. In his memoir, Decision Points, W. wrestled with the dilemma of his decision to start a war on the basis of bad intelligence. Only W. did not call the intelligence "faulty," as Jeb had. W. called the intelligence "false."
"The reality was that I had sent American troops into combat based in large part on intelligence that proved false," George W. Bush wrote.
Even though W. still argued that the world is "undoubtedly safer" without Saddam Hussein, he knew the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction that he used to justify the invasion was "a massive blow to our credibility — my credibility — that would shake the confidence of the American people."
"I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it," George W. Bush wrote. "I still do."
As for whether Hillary Clinton would have authorized the invasion "knowing what we know now" — it's hard to believe that Jeb Bush is serious when he says she would. Of course she wouldn't.
Nor would others involved in the decision. For example, look at the account of another key player in the 2002-03 Iraq debate, top presidential advisor Karl Rove. "Would the Iraq War have occurred without WMD?" Rove asked in his book, Courage and Consequence. "I doubt it: Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the threat of WMD. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change and deal with Iraq's horrendous human rights violations."
So no, Congress would not have authorized war if lawmakers knew there were no WMDs.
If Jeb Bush sticks to his position — that he would still authorize war knowing what we know today — it will represent a step backward for the Republican Party. Other candidates before Jeb have grappled with the issue and changed their position. Look at the evolution of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
In January 2008, Romney said, "It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time; I support it now." In 2011, Romney said: "Well, if we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction — if somehow we had been given that information, why, obviously we would not have gone in."
So now Jeb Bush takes a step back to support an invasion even in the absence of WMD.
Jeb's statement is likely to resonate until he either changes his position or loses the race for the Republican nomination. Should he become the nominee, the issue will dog him into the general election campaign.
To his credit, George W. Bush wrestled with the consequences of his decision to invade Iraq. Other war supporters were forced to re-think their positions, too. In coming days, Jeb Bush will likely have to do the same.