The important thing about Jeb Bush’s comments about Iraq in the Megyn Kelly interview is not this dreary question of whether he is “his own man.” That’s a psychobabble question that can only produce a lot of bad punditry. The important thing—well actually, there are two: what kind of foreign policy he’d give us as president, and whether he can meet some minimal standard of truth-telling. From the looks of things we should be concerned on both fronts.
Let’s start with the truth. He made two statements in the interview that we should parse, the first of which was probably a lie and second of which provably was. The first: “I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody.” Really, particularly given what we know now?
Yes, she voted for the war. I’m not defending her vote. It was a craven vote, just like John Kerry’s was, and they never should have cast them. But does it follow that casting a vote as a senator means that, if the senator had been commander-in-chief, the senator would have chosen to pursue that kind of presidency-defining course of action? Would have put the machinery of the state to work—and massive, difficult work it was, involving thousands—trying to advance the lie of tying Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and justifying a war that had nothing to do with September 11?
Clinton is thought of by many these days, it seems, as a gung-ho hawk, but she really wasn’t that. When she voted for the war, she tried to argue that she was not voting to give the president authority to launch preemptive war. Of course she was doing exactly that, but the point for present purposes is that she wasn’t saying rah, rah, let’s go kill the guy. By the time she ran for president, she hadn’t yet admitted her vote was a mistake, but she had voted against funding the war and pledged to start bringing troops home in 60 days of becoming president. John McCain-Lindsey Graham she was not.
In addition, Hussein was a preoccupation, not to say obsession, of the neocon right in the 1990s, not of Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton adopted a pretty hard line toward Hussein, between the sanctions and the flyovers and the bombings, but you’ll note he never sent young American infantrymen to go have their faces and limbs blown off in his country. The famous Project for a New American Century (PNAC) “Statement of Principles,” (PDF) released in 1997 to rebuke Clintonian drift and demand a “Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity,” was signed by 25 people, and as far as I can see not a single one of them was a Democrat (that is, all the signatories are either publicly well-known Republicans or lesser-known foreign-policy types who worked for Republican, not Democratic, administrations).
This is important because it means that Iraq regime change simply was not a Democratic project, which to my mind makes it quite unlikely that any Democratic president, Al Gore or Hillary Clinton or anyone possibly save Joe Lieberman, would have decided that invading a country that had nothing to do with 9-11 would have constituted a reasonable response to 9-11. Twenty-nine Democratic senators, Clinton among them, cast a cowardly vote. But that hardly means that those 29 senators, if ensconced up the way on Pennsylvania Avenue, would have staked their presidencies and legacies on that war.
But that’s just the appetizer, because here’s the provable lie: “The intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was, um, was faulty.” This is just a monstrous falsehood that has been repeated many times by a range of neoconservatives, some with blood on their hands and others not, but it has to be slapped down.
It’s important that history not be rewritten and revised: Not all the intelligence was “faulty.” Think Progress did a good job on this point yesterday, citing Paul Pillar, the ex-CIA man who oversaw Middle East intelligence at the time. As Pillar has said and written on many occasions, a lot of intelligence was correct—Saddam Hussein had no stockpile of WMD and posed no imminent threat to the United States. And there were journalists, like Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, who did great work exposing intelligence community misgivings about the administration’s case for war.
But that wasn’t what the, ah, Cheney administration wanted to hear, so they cherry-picked bits of intelligence that would help their casus belli, and even set up ++a whole new intel operation, the Office of Special Plans, which was created precisely because the official intel wasn’t saying what the administration wanted it to say, so they created an intel shop that would put out the phony product they wanted to see put out. In other words, they rejected the good intelligence and cooked up their own false intelligence, and then, when their false intelligence was revealed to be (shocker!) false, they blamed the intelligence agencies for giving them the self-same false intelligence that they cooked up.
All this tells us something, perhaps a lot, about what kind of foreign policy Bush would direct if elected. Some say he’s more like his father, and Poppy’s realist buddies Baker and Scowcroft, and he’s not a neocon. Hard to know. But one of those 25 signers of that PNAC statement of principles was none other than Jeb Bush, then the governor of Florida. George W. was a governor then, too, but he didn’t even sign it! So it seems fair to presume that Jeb believed what it said. The principles are fairly boilerplate, but even so, Bush knew what he was doing putting him name next to Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s and Elliott Abrams’s and Frank Gaffney’s and so on.
None of this necessarily means that Bush would, say, drag the United States into a war with Iran. At the same time, let’s be clear on a crucial point: Jeb didn’t say he’d have authorized the war in Iraq solely for the sake of his brother and peace at the Thanksgiving table. He said it also because it’s where the Republican Party still is today. Most of the rest of the civilized world thinks the Iraq invasion was one of the great calamities of U.S. foreign policy history, if not the greatest. But to the neoconservative foreign policy establishment, and evidently still to the moneyed donor base too, it was still somehow the right thing to do.
That is, the people who’ll be bankrolling his campaign and then filling his administration if he’s elected are almost all going to be pro-preemptive war people. So it’s not in comparison to his brother that we should worry whether he’s his own man. It’s in comparison to them.