Wherein I Defend Jeb Bush (Really!)
Both the liberal media and the conservative media are pulling out the fainting couches over something Jeb Bush said to Megyn Kelly during an interview on Fox News. In response to a question about whether he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 if he knew what we know now about WMDs and the like, Jeb supposedly said yes — he would still invade. That’s how both Josh Marshall and Byron York (polar opposites, they!) read Jeb’s answer. (And Kevin Drum. And Ed Kilgore.)
But that’s not what Jeb said. Here is the exchange, taken from York’s post:
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.
Jeb now says that he misunderstood the question. And that does, in fact, seem to be the case. Note the verb tenses in his first answer: he “would have” invaded Iraq, as “would have” Hillary Clinton and anyone else who had seen the intelligence “they got.” He didn’t say he or Hillary or anyone else “would” invade Iraq given the intelligence “they have now.” The tenses thus clearly indicate that Jeb was answering a different question — namely, whether he would have invaded Iraq given what decision-makers knew at the time. That reading is then confirmed by his second answer, in which he acknowledges that “in retrospect” — ie, based on what we now know — the invasion was a mistake.
To be sure, Jeb deserves some criticism for his answer. A number of important people opposed the invasion of Iraq even in the face of the faulty intelligence George Bush and Hillary Clinton received. And, of course, if Jeb wants to be president, he should probably pay attention to the questions journalists ask him in televised interviews.
But Jeb didn’t say he would have invaded Iraq knowing what we know now. He just didn’t.