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Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton and authorizing the war in Iraq
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 12, 2015

Editor's note: Bush made two more significant statements about the decision to invade Iraq after we published this story. We've appended a summary of those statements at the end of this story. 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s comments on Fox News about the Iraq War brought up more questions than answers.

Did Bush fully understand the question posed by Megyn Kelly on May 10? We’ll go straight to the transcript.

Kelly: "On the subject of Iraq, very controversial, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?"

Bush: "I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."

Kelly: "You don't think it was a mistake?"

Bush: "In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty. And in retrospect, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn't focus on security first, and the Iraqis in this incredibly insecure environment turned on the United States military because there was no security for themselves and their families. By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush."

His remarks drew considerable attention: Was Bush saying that even knowing the intelligence was faulty, even he and Clinton would have gone to war anyway?

After the interview aired, Kelly said, "I do think, in fairness to Gov. Bush, when I said ‘knowing what we know now would you have invaded Iraq,’ I think he was trying to answer the question: ‘Do you think it was a mistake at the time?’ " she said. "That was my take on it in the interview. He wasn’t trying to say, ‘Still today I don’t there is an issue.’ "

Bush went on Sean Hannity’s radio show May 12 to clarify his remarks.

"I interpreted the question wrong, I guess," Bush said. "I was talking about, given what people knew then, would you have done it, rather that knowing what we know now. And knowing what we know now, clearly there were mistakes as it related to faulty intelligence in the lead up to war and the lack of focus on security. My brother has admitted this, and we have to learn from that."

Of course, it’s impossible to know with certainty how people would have acted if history were different. But we suspect Clinton would have answered the question differently than Bush. How candidate Clinton and presidential contender Bush talk about the Iraq war will be a major foreign policy topic in the 2016 race, so we decided to take a look at their statements about the Iraq war.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton has said recently that she regrets her 2002 vote, which ended up being a stumbling block during her 2008 presidential campaign.

In her 2014 book Hard Choices, Clinton said this about her vote:

"While many were never going to look past my 2002 vote no matter what I did or said, I should have stated my regret sooner and in the plainest, most direct language possible. I’d gone most of the way there by saying I regretted the way President Bush used his authority and by saying that if we knew then what we later learned, there wouldn’t have been a vote. But I held out against using the word mistake. It wasn’t because of political expediency. After all, primary voters and the press were clamoring for me to say that word. When I voted to authorize force in 2002, I said that it was ‘probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make.’ I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple."

On Meet the Press on Sept. 23, 2007, she said, "Well, I cast a sincere vote based on my assessment at the time, and I take responsibility for that vote. I also said on the floor that day that this was not a vote for pre-emptive war. ... Now, obviously, if I had known then what I know now about what the president would do with the authority that was given him, I would not have voted the way that I did." She made similar comments on the Today Show on Dec. 18, 2006: "Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote, and I certainly wouldn't have voted for it."

Her decision in 2002 to vote for the Iraq war urged international co-operation and focused on Saddam Hussein’s atrocities. She described Hussein as "a tyrant" who used weapons to kill more than 20,000 people and that he blocked weapons inspections in 1998.

"A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president and we say to him -- use these powers wisely and as a last resort," Clinton said in a speech on the Senate floor. "And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein -- this is your last chance -- disarm or be disarmed.

Jeb Bush’s statements about the Iraq war

Bush showed strong support for his brother leading up to and during the war.

During a 2003 news conference in Pensacola, Bush said, "It is the last thing that a commander in chief, a president of the United States, wants to do. But in his heart, I know he is doing what he thinks is right, and I concur with him."

In April 2006, amid mounting criticism of how President Bush was handling the war, Gov. Bush visited Florida troops in Iraq for Easter.

"It is very important that we stay the course, that we provide support for these incredible people that are doing such a service for liberty around the world and protecting our freedoms here," Bush said upon returning.

Bush has been asked about the Iraq war several times since he left office in January 2007.

In March 2013, CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Bush about polls showing that the American public thinks the war was a mistake: "Do you think that will ever change?"

Bush: "Yes. You know, a lot of things in history change over time. I think people will respect the resolve that my brother showed, both in defending the country and the war in Iraq. But history will judge that in a more objective way than today. The war has wound down now, and it's still way too early to judge what success it had in providing some degree of stability in the region."

As Bush has explored a bid for president, at times he has tried to avoid picking apart his brother’s decisions about Iraq.

At an event with his mother in Florida in February, Bush told reporters that he would not be addressing the war in Iraq or "re-litigating anything in the past."

But that’s exactly what he has had to do.

In a February speech in Chicago, Bush said during the question-and-answer session:

"There were mistakes made in Iraq, for sure," Bush said, adding that the intelligence "that everybody embraced about weapons of mass destruction turned out to not be accurate."

Bush also faulted his brother's administration for failing to create "an environment for security" in Iraq after the removal of Hussein.

However, he called his brother's decision to deploy 20,000 additional troops into Iraq in 2007 "one of the most heroic acts of courage, politically, that any president's done because there was no support."

While in New Hampshire in March, Bush said that if Obama had kept 10,000 troops in Iraq, it would have prevented the rise of the Islamic State.

"The surge worked. We created a fragile degree of stability. The forces agreement the president could have signed, I think, would have avoided where we are today," Bush said, referring to a troop level increase that his brother had authorized. "But we are where we are."

He said the United States should "re-engage with some small force level who can help continue to train the Iraqi army, to be able to provide some stability."

In his most recent remarks on Hannity, Bush praised the surge again, but wouldn’t say if he would have authorized the war, knowing what he knows now.

"Yeah, I don’t know what that decision would have been," Bush said. "That’s a hypothetical. But the simple fact is, mistakes were made. They always are in life and (in) foreign policy. So we need to learn from the past to make sure we are strong and secure going forward."

Our conclusion

Bush said regarding the Iraq invasion that both himself and Clinton would have authorized it.

"I would have and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got," he said.

Bush can’t know what Clinton would have done if she had known that the intelligence was faulty. Here is what we do know: In 2002, Clinton supported the Iraq resolution, but by 2006 she said she regretted it.

Bush was a supporter of the invasion at the time and stood by his brother. He has acknowledged that the intelligence was flawed but has still expressed support for his brother’s decisions.

Update, May 14, 2015:

After we posted this report on May 12, Bush made two more significant statements about the decision to invade Iraq.

At a town hall in Reno on May 13, an audience member asked about Bush’s comment that he didn’t want to answer a hypothetical question about Iraq. He asked Bush, "Don’t you think running for president is hypothetical when you say, ‘If I run for president dot-dot-dot?’ "

Bush replied: "Rewriting history is hypothetical. I will give you the full story. ... What she said was knowing what we know now, what would you have done. Whatever I heard it was translated (to) knowing what you knew then, what would you do. And I answered it honestly, and I answered it the way I will answer it all the time, which is that there were mistakes made, but based on the information that we had it was the right decision, the same decision that people on the left and right agreed with."

Bush then talked about Florida military members who lost their lives and his calls to their relatives.

"So going back in time and talking about hypothetical what would have happened, what could have happened, I think does a disservice for them."

But after criticizing the idea of the hypothetical question, Bush finally answered it during a speech at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe, Ariz., on May 14.

"So here is the deal. If we are all supposed to answer hypothetical questions ‘knowing what we know now, what would you have done?’ I would’ve not engaged, I would not have gone into Iraq. That’s not to say that the world is safer because Saddam Hussein is gone -- it is significantly safer. That’s not to say that there was a courageous effort to bring about a surge that created stability in Iraq -- all of that is true, and that’s not to say that the men and women that have served in uniform and many others that went to Iraq to serve, they did so certainly honorably. But we’ve answered the question now."

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Our Sources

Fox News, "Exclusive: Jeb Bush says he would have backed Iraq invasion," May 10, 2015

Fox News, Transcript of interview with Jeb Bush, May 11, 2015

Fox News, Megyn Kelly talking about Gov. Jeb Bush interview, May 11, 2015

MSNBC, Hardball, Dec. 19, 2006

Office of Sen. Hillary Clinton, Floor Speech of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on S.J. res. 45, A Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, as Delivered, Oct. 10,. 2002

U.S. Senate, Roll call vote on Iraq war resolution , Oct. 11, 2002

Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton , Excerpt in the New York Times Magazine , May 29, 2007

NBC News, Meet the Press transcript, Sept. 23, 2007

CNN Transcript, Debate, June 3, 2007

NBC News transcript, Hardball with Chris Matthews, March 11, 2008

Pensacola News Journal, "Governor backs brother’s stance on Iraq," March 19, 2003

Boston Globe, "Bush prepared to be the third Bush to use military in Iraq," March 26, 2015

CNN, Transcript of Gov. Jeb Bush interview, Oct. 8, 2009

Miami Herald, "Despite war, business as usual for Jeb," March 21, 2003

Miami Herald, "Gov Bush tells students the freedom to disagree is one of the reasons the country is fighting Iraq," March 21, 2003

Miami Herald, "Patriotism, pride on display as thousands rally for troops," April 6, 2003

Miami Herald, "Jeb Bush: ‘mistakes made’ in Iraq on brother’s watch," Feb. 18, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, Bush worries war might strain ailing economy, Feb. 12, 2003

Tampa Bay Times, "Bush aims to inspire troops, public," March 27, 2003

Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Bush stealthily visits Iraq for Easter," April 16, 2006

Tampa Bay Times, "Governors return with praise for U.S. troops," April 20, 2006

Tampa Bay Times, "In Iowa, landscape looks hostile for Bush," Feb. 15, 2015

PolitiFact, "Yes, Clinton used the Bush administration line," March 12, 2008

Interview, Josh Schwerin, Hillary Clinton spokesman, May 12, 2015

Interview, Matt Gorman, former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise PAC spokesman, May 12, 2015

The Sean Hannity Show, interview with Jeb Bush, May 12, 2015

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