For more than a week now, political pundits have been obsessing over how Jeb Bush answered one question from Megyn Kelly. More precisely, they’ve been obsessing over how Jeb Bush answered a question that Megyn Kelly didn’t ask.
Kelly asked, “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion [of Iraq]?” But Bush answered the question, “Based on what your brother and other political leaders thought they knew at the time, would you have sought the invasion of Iraq?”
Politicians frequently answer questions they aren’t asked in order to avoid the questions they actually are; however, in this case Bush appeared to genuinely misunderstand the question. Oddly, there was no follow-up from Megyn Kelly pointing out to Governor Bush that he’d answered the wrong question, which may have cleared things up right there.
Bush then spent the better part of a week trying to answer the actual question before someone finally advised him that “No” would suffice. Of course Jeb Bush being a Bush, “no” came out as, “If we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions, ‘Knowing what we know now what would you have done?’ I would not have engaged, I would not have gone into Iraq. That’s not to say that the world isn’t safer because Saddam Hussein is gone, it is significantly safer. That’s not to say….”
It was the best he could do.
Having forced him into an implicit declaration that his brother’s actions were a “mistake,” the gods of the media were satisfied. Bush was damaged. The Republican god bleeds.
Smelling Republican blood in the water, the media tracked down other GOP candidates and asked them the same question. Most answered quickly and avoided the bait, but Marco Rubio, like Jeb Bush, seemed uncomfortable with the premise of the question. Once again it was a Fox personality that posed the challenge.
On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace went twelve rounds with Rubio trying to get Rubio to label the Iraq War a simple “mistake” and to confess at least a flip if not a full flip-flop on the subject. Rubio was unwilling to play along, and tried to challenge the nature of the question. He was visibly frustrated at the idea of judging presidential decisions based on “what we know now.” He likely would have been better served by making a sacrifice to the media gods and relenting. He could have avoided the flip-flop charge with a simple, “Well Chris, with the attack of 9-11 still fresh in American memory, I believe President Bush made the right decision based on the information he had at the time. Obviously, Hillary and Harry Reid agree because they voted to authorize it at the time. But based on what we know now, that approach was a mistake — I also think that based on what we know now, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was wrong not to prepare our forces at Pearl Harbor for the Japanese attack of December 1941.”
While the network news organizations were thinking of what other George W. Bush decision they could ask GOP contenders about (“Given what we know now, was it a mistake to disband the Iraqi army after the invasion?” “Given what we know now, was it a mistake not to find Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan?” “Given what we know now about Justice Roberts and how he would rule on Obamacare, was it a mistake to nominate him?”), more relevant questions should have been coming to mind.
Given what we know now, with the fall of Ramadi; the rise of ISIS; the expansion of Boko Haram; the Iranian desire for an atomic weapon; the vow of the Saudis to pursue nuclear weapons if the Iranians do; the failure of the “reset” in Russia; the creation of Chinese Communist airstrips in the South China Sea; and expansion of nuclear capabilities in North Korea, has president Obama’s foreign policy been a mistake?
The media seems almost singularly obsessed with asking about decisions made by George W. Bush as though no decisions made by the guy in the White House since 2008 have been relevant to how Bush’s decisions might be viewed now. When Jeb Bush was confronted by a college student who insisted that his brother “created ISIS,” it was treated as yet another fumble for Bush — a man haunted on the campaign trail by the sins of his brother or so the narrative is supposed to go. Jeb Bush’s insistence that the rise of ISIS was due largely to President Obama’s failure to negotiate a residual American force in Iraq (as we have kept in Korea) was largely unheard. Why bother examining whether a President who has insisted on projecting our intentions to our adversaries might actually be having an impact on the actions of our adversaries by doing so? After all, it’s George W. Bush’s fault. PolitiFact says so, so it must be true.
Yes, President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was important. It is perfectly fair and reasonable to ask about it. But at some point a president owns what he’s done with the world he inherited from his predecessor. The next president cannot undo the invasion of Iraq, but he or she might be able to undo some of the decisions President Obama has made. Given the stream of blood and fractured alliances that President Obama’s foreign policy has left in its wake, might not the questions about that be more relevant?
Science and personal experience has shown that men act “cognitively impaired” in front of beautiful women, so Jeb Bush should get a pass and Chris Wallace should feel flattered. But both Kelly and Wallace were focused on what has become essentially a liberal maxim, that the world is collapsing and it’s still George W. Bush’s fault.
The world has been shaped by Obama’s decisions. 2016 presidential contenders, given what we know now, what would you do differently and what can actually be done now to make the world better?