Jeb Bush has a problem with the Iraq war and his brother’s role in the disastrous outcome and repercussions. His problem is that he’s clinging desperately to failure and the failure is equally devoted to him. This phase of his public disconnect with reality, began on his interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. Ms. Kelly asked Bush, “Knowing what you knew then, what would you do?” Bush answered that he would do what his brother did – launch an invasion of Iraq. Bush now claims he “misinterpreted the question”. How such a fundamentally basic question can be misinterpreted is subject to question, but Bush’s entire neoconservative narrative about Iraq contradicts itself in numerous ways.
Jeb was in Nevada on Wednesday visiting a town hall meeting in Reno. Bush, to his credit, unlike Hillary Clinton, is actually answering spontaneously to questions, so he gets points for candor even though the answers are unsatisfactory. The Washington Post reports one interesting unscripted encounter between Bush and a young woman named Ivy Ziedrich, who questioned his view that Islamic State is a consequence of withdrawing from Iraq:
Ziedrich: The threat of ISIS was created by the Iraqi Coalition Authority which ousted the entire government of Iraq. It was when 30,000 individuals who were part of the Iraqi military, they were forced out, they had no employment, they had no income. Yet they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons. Your brother created ISIS.
Bush: Is that a question?
Ziedrich: You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir.
Bush: Pedantic? Wow.
Ziedrich: You could just answer my question.
Bush: So what is the question?
Ziedrich: My question is why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars, when we sent young men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? It’s this idea – like, why are you spouting nationalistic rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?
Bush: We respectfully disagree… Al Qaeda had been taken out, there was a fraudulent system that could have been brought up to create, to eliminate the sectarian violence and we had an agreement that the president could have signed, it would have kept 10,000 troops, which is less than what we have in Korea. It could have created the stability that would have allow for Iraq to progress. The net result was, the opposite occurred because immediately that void was filled. And so, look, you can rewrite history all you want but the simple fact is that we’re in a much more unstable place because America pulled back.
Bush’s conclusion in the exchange is idiosyncratic, particularly the phrase, “there was a fraudulent system that could have been brought up …”. In reality, the system, almost in its entirety was fraudulent, starting with the cherry picked intelligence that served as a pretext to launch a war. Bush’s reassessment of the consequences of the invasion and occupation of Iraq are not logically coherent. For example, he lauds his brother’s fix (more like a temporary band aid) for the chaos created by the invasion.
Most foreign policy analysts that are not invested in the Bush legacy or neocon narratives, are in agreement that the Sunni “Awakening” in Anbar province, which began to take traction before the surge, was mostly accountable for the temporary stabilization against the Al Qaeda insurgents and a second, more significant factor, which was to reignite the problem later. That factor was the ethnic cleansing that was unleashed on Sunnis by the Shiites that were consolidating their grip on the national government in Baghdad.
It should be remembered at the time that President Bush was fairly comfortable with the prolonged stalemate that existed and was not particularly passionate about the idea of a surge. He wasn’t that is, until the results of the 2006 Congressional elections and national polls showed that a majority of Americans were fed up – fed up with “Mission Accomplished”, fed up with the obvious exposure of the fictitious premise behind the invasion and occupation, and fed up with the perpetual prospect of our ongoing engagement in the sectarian conflicts that exploded following Saddam Hussein’s removal. He then only had two choices, wrap things up or commit more troops. Surge it was, but to no lasting effect.
Jeb Bush decries the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces, arguing that holding 10,000 troops would have prevented the emergence of the Islamic State. Of the surge, Jeb Bush comments:
Once the mess was created, he (George W. Bush) solved that mess with the surge and created when he left a much more stable Iraq that now, that was squandered in some ways when President Obama did not keep any small amount of troop level.
But again, the facts don’t support Jeb Bush. The Islamic State was in emergence well before American troops were withdrawn and the main cause of their enfranchisement was not U.S. troop withdrawals, it was the vicious policies of Nouri al-Maliki’s government that led to to the Sunnis embrace of ISIL. Policies including ethnic cleansing, torture, imprisonment with no due process and murders that at best, we acquiesced to and at worst, we openly cooperated with or covertly encouraged.
As for “a much more stable Iraq”, George Bush instead, left sprouting seeds of new sectarian conflict which have reached maturity. Bush continues:
“What we ought to be focused on is what are the lessons learned? There are two lessons. One is, if you’re going to go to war, make sure that you have the best intelligence possible and the intelligence broke down. That’s clear, clearly one of the mistakes of this. And secondly, if you’re going to do this have a strategy of security and a strategy and have a strategy to get out. And both of those things didn’t work the way they did.”
On one hand Jeb speaks of a “strategy to get out”, but laments that we didn’t maintain forces in Iraq. Admittedly, he may have swerved into something accidentally. In the vast majority of cases, if a clearly defined and faithfully adhered to strategy to get out is incorporated in the military campaign, a lot of the seduction and enchantment of an invasion will evaporate quickly among the cryptocracy and many such events will be scrapped in favor of diplomatic engagement.
Jeb also chafed at what he termed “hypothetical” questions regarding the factors in the decision to invade Iraq, citing them as a disservice” to U.S. troops who died or were injured in the war, and to their families. To the contrary, not asking serious and probing questions about the legitimacy and authentic national interest of a deployment of our armed forces is the real disservice to troops killed and injured and their families. Yes, Mr. Bush, we truly ought to be focused on what are the lessons learned, but clearly you have not grasped the lesson. Redo this assignment.