He just misheard the question. A basically friendly interviewer on Fox News asked Jeb Bush, now seeking the Republican nomination for the US presidency: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorised the invasion (of Iraq)?” To which Bush replied: “I would have.” When the storm of protest, even from Republicans, swept over him, he explained that he thought the interviewer had said: “Knowing what we KNEW THEN.”
An easy mistake to make. “Know now” sounds an awful lot like “knew then”. Besides, Jeb Bush is on record as claiming that he is Hispanic - on a 2009 voter-registration application - so the poor man was struggling with his second language. If only she had asked the question in Spanish, he would have understood it perfectly.
Enough. When you listen to the entire interview, it’s clear that Bush didn’t want to say a flat “no” to her question, because that would be a condemnation of his brother’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. But as soon as he could, he switched to talking about the “intelligence failures” that misled his brother into invading the wrong country. Anybody can make a mistake. So nobody’s to blame.
Hillary Clinton, currently the favourite for the Democratic presidential nomination, uses exactly the same defence. In fact, every American politician who voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq at the time claims that the problem was faulty intelligence, and maybe some of them outside of the White House genuinely were misled.
But the intelligence wasn’t “faulty”; it was cooked to order. There was no plausible intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, so the US intelligence services were told to “find” some. There were no Islamist terrorists in Iraq either: Saddam Hussein hunted down and killed anybody suspected of being an Islamist activist, because the Islamists wanted to kill him.
The US Central Intelligence Agency tried very hard to create a link between al-Qaeda, the organisation responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and Iraq. The only thing they came up with, however, was a rumour that a little-known Islamist from Jordan called Abu Musab al-Zarqawi knew that Osama bin Laden had been in Baghdad receiving treatment for wounds received in Afghanistan in May-November 2002 - he was actually in Iran at that time.
If you were on the White House staff in early 2003, you HAD to know that the “intelligence” you were using to justify the invasion of Iraq was false because you were one of the people demanding that the spooks manufacture “evidence” for it. The decision itself had been taken even before Bush’s election in 2000 and the 9/11 attacks in 2001, for reasons that had nothing to do with terrorism.
The incoming Bush administration was full of people called “neo-conservatives”. They believed that the Clinton administration had failed to exploit the sole superpower status that the United States inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to put the world right.
What was needed, therefore, was a display of US power that would make all the “bad guys” behave. So the plan was to invade somewhere and take the local bad guy down. Iraq was the obvious choice, because it was very weak after a decade of arms embargo, and Saddam Hussein was a very bad guy.
We don’t yet know just how disastrous the invasion of Iraq was because the damage is still accumulating. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the man who now rules "Islamic State," the terrorist-ruled new country that occupies the eastern half of Syria and the western third of Iraq, started fighting Americans as part of the Iraqi resistance in 2003.
By 2006 at the latest, al-Baghdadi had joined the group then called al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was largely made up of jihadis from other Arab countries who had flocked to Iraq to fight the infidel invaders. And the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq was none other than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – who parlayed the reputation as a major jihadi leader that the US intelligence services gave him, into a real leadership position in the resistance.
Through the years that followed, that organisation gained experience in guerilla war and terrorism, and through several changes of name and leadership - Zarqawi was killed in 2006 - it ultimately morphed into Islamic State. Baghdadi was with it all the way, and now styles himself “Caliph Ibrahim,” demanding the loyalty and obedience of all Muslims everywhere.
So we owe a lot to the neo-cons in George Bush’s administration who pushed for the invasion of Iraq: people like Dick Cheney (Vice-president), Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defence), and Paul Wolfowitz (Undersecretary of Defence). They just used the 9/11 attacks as a vehicle for their pre-existing Iraq invasion plans.
It was Wolfowitz, above all, who worked tirelessly to link Iraq to terrorism. And guess who is the most prominent name on Jeb Bush’s current team of foreign policy advisers - apart from George W Bush himself. Why it’s the very same Paul Wolfowitz. The problem with Jeb Bush is not the foolish answers he gives. It’s the company he keeps.
- Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: A landing craft prepares to dock onto HMS Bulwark after rescuing around 100 migrants, 13 May (AFP)