Was there method in the seeming madness of Jeb Bush’s pretty bad week on the Iraq War?
His four-day stumble over what he might or might not have done about the costly invasion and occupation of Iraq launched by his older brother did smoke out all the other Republican candidates on the subject.
“No,” they said to a man, “Knowing what we know now [about the faulty – some say concocted – intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and connections to al Qaeda], I would not have done what George W. Bush did.” Or words to that effect, which Hillary Clinton has had to say too since as a US Senator she voted to approve US military action in Iraq.
Even Robert Gates, who served as CIA director and Defense Secretary under Bush 43, now admits (as he does in a prerecorded interview for CBS’ "Face the Nation” Sunday) that he got it wrong.
“I would like to think, based on my years in intelligence, that I would have questioned the intelligence more severely," Mr. Gates says.
But for the most part, pundits and politicians – Republicans, that is, since Democrats can just sit back and watch the fun – are left wondering why Mr. Bush had such a rough time answering a relatively simple question from Fox News host Megyn Kelly. (“Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”)
Some wonder whether the question and Bush’s multiple answers over the next several days indicate a problem deeper than just trying not to criticize his brother.
“This goes beyond Iraq, to the question of whether Jeb Bush is too cosseted by parental and establishment blessings – raising money has been easy for him – to realize what hard work becoming, and being, President might be,” writes Amy Davidson in the New Yorker.
As BuzzFeed reports, Iraq War hawks are “dismayed” at Bush’s handling of the question.
“Making a basic misstep like that with a question that was perfectly, 100% predictable is frankly astonishing,” said Randy Scheunemann, a former adviser to defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and president of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. “It does not bode well for his candidacy.”
Especially, perhaps, since an Associated Press poll last September poll found that 71 percent of Americans – including 76 percent of Republicans – said they think history will judge the war as a failure. Giving the simple answer on Iraq “based on what we know now” should have been easy.
In Congress, reports The Hill newspaper, some Republicans “wonder if he has what it takes to win the White House.”
“Foreign policy is pretty important,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R) of Utah. “Anybody who is running for president better darn well understand foreign policy. It’s not something you can be taught once you get on the job.”
Off the record, some Republicans have been harsher in their criticism.
“Jeb’s curb appeal was supposed to be experience, pedigree and smarts, and therefore ready to lead,” one Republican senator, who insisted on anonymity to speak candidly about a presidential hopeful, told the New York Times. “These kinds of statements plant him squarely in the middle of the primary pack — with GOP voters unsure of exactly what political lessons he truly has learned.”
The Bush dynasty question is at play here as well.
“That’s the issue here: Are you actually a unique, different person or are you a third Bush?” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told the Times. “To the degree that he’s defined as a third Bush, he has a bigger mountain to climb, though I think he certainly has the potential to carve out a path because he has an extraordinary record as [Florida] governor.”
Other Republicans said it’s been “tough week” for Bush but argued it’s still early in the season, the Hill reports.
“This stuff is like spring training. There is some All-Star shortstop who’s flubbing the ball because he’s just rusty, and that’s why you start these [campaigns] when you do,” said Rep. Tom Cole, (R) of Oklahoma, who so far is neutral in the GOP primary.
“I just don’t see any lasting effect here,” Rep. Cole said. “But you say to yourself, ‘Hey, we didn’t handle that very well. We need to get better.’”
Between questions about her private email set-up, donations to her family foundation, and the millions made at speaking engagements, Mrs. Clinton’s presidential rollout hasn’t been very smooth either
“Both he and Hillary Clinton don’t appear ready for prime time. She’s had the worst few weeks of any candidate I’ve ever seen, and Jeb was a close second this week,” former Republican consultant Ed Rollins, who worked on Ronald Reagan’s campaigns as well as Mike Huckabee’s 2008 race, told Politico. “But she has no real Democratic challenger while he’s got a very, very tough battle in the Republican primary. He can’t afford to make these types of mistakes.”