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“My Brother’s Keeper”: Should We Relitigate The Iraq War In The 2016 Campaign? You Bet We Should

If all goes well, in the 2016 campaign we’ll be rehashing the arguments we had about the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003. You may be thinking, “Jeez, do we really have to go through that again?” But we do—in fact, we must. If we’re going to make sense of where the next president is going to take the United States on foreign policy, there are few more important discussions to have.

On Sunday, Fox News posted an excerpt of an interview Megyn Kelly did with Jeb Bush in which she asked him whether he too would have invaded Iraq, and here’s how that went:

Kelly: 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 have 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. So, news flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.

While the full interview airs tonight so we don’t yet know whether Kelly followed up to clarify, in this excerpt Jeb Bush deftly answers not the question Kelly asked him but a slightly different question, one that lets him rope in Hillary Clinton and get himself off the hook. While she asked him whether he would have authorized the invasion knowing what we know now, he answered as if she had asked whether he would have authorized the invasion believing what many believed then. For the record, there were plenty of people at the time who objected to the invasion, so it’s utterly false to say “almost everybody” supported it, and while Hillary Clinton did indeed vote for the war, she wouldn’t say she would have invaded knowing what we know now.

Bush’s answer may be evasive, but it’s understandable—after all, it’s not like he’s going to say, “Yes, the whole thing was a catastrophe and we never should have done it.” As of now, Rand Paul is the only Republican presidential candidate who has said that the war was a mistake.

But the question isn’t so much whether a candidate will admit what a disaster Iraq was, but what they’ve learned from the experience. How do they view the extraordinary propaganda campaign the Bush administration launched to convince Americans to get behind the war? Does that make them want to be careful about how they argue for their policy choices? Did Iraq change their perspective on American military action, particularly in the Middle East? What light does it shed on the reception the American military is likely to get the next time we invade someplace? What does it teach us about power vacuums and the challenges of nation-building? How does it inform the candidate’s thinking on the prospect of military action in Syria and Iran specifically? Given the boatload of unintended consequences Iraq unleashed, how would he or she, as president, go about making decisions on complex issues that are freighted with uncertainty?

I would love to know how Jeb Bush would answer those questions, whether he’ll say that the invasion was a mistake or not. The same goes for his primary opponents. But if what we’ve seen so far is any indication, we aren’t likely to get a whole lot of thoughtful foreign policy discussion from them. This weekend the non-Bush candidates were in Greenville for the South Carolina Freedom Summit, where they walked on stage and beat their chests while advocating for a foreign policy inevitably described by the press as “muscular.” Scott Walker apparently thrilled the crowd by telling them that terrorists are coming to America, and “I want a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us.” But the real good stuff came from Marco Rubio:

“On our strategy on global jihadists and terrorists, I refer them to the movie Taken. Have you seen the movie Taken? Liam Neeson. He had a line, and this is what our strategy should be: ‘We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.'”

Ah, the inspiringly sophisticated foreign policy thinking of the GOP candidate. I’m old enough to remember when we had another president who liked to sound like a movie-star tough guy. “There’s an old poster out West, as I recall,” he said when asked about Osama bin Laden, “that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.'” You’ll recall that it was a different president who was in charge when bin Laden was found. “There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there,” he said about Iraqi insurgents early on in the war. “My answer is, bring ’em on.” They came, and thousands of American servicemembers were killed in the ensuing fighting. But George W. Bush was praised at the time for his “moral clarity.”

We shouldn’t forget Hillary Clinton—I doubt she wants to talk much about Iraq, since she supported the war at the time (which was one of the biggest reasons she lost to Barack Obama in 2008). She should explain how the the Iraq War will inform her thinking about the foreign policy challenges the next president is likely to face. But twelve years after the war started, we’re back in Iraq (albeit with boots hovering in midair). Large swaths of the country have been taken over by a terrorist group that emerged out of the war’s chaos. And the glorious flowering of freedom and democracy across the region that George W. Bush promised hasn’t come to pass.

So there’s a basic question the Republican candidates should answer: Is there anything they learned from the Iraq War? Anything at all?


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 11, 2015

May 12, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Iraq War, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Next Palin Is In Your Pigsty”: She May Not Field Dress A Moose, But She Castrates Pigs

Before the 2016 campaign for president could even begin in earnest, the greatest political romance of our times has already died. And it could make all the difference next November.

In a turn that was perhaps inevitable but nonetheless remarkable, Sarah Palin delivered a hyped-up speech (at Iowa’s high-profile Freedom Summit) that drew disappointing reviews from within her own base of support.

To the surprise of no one, Palin’s critics blew a gasket straining to capture the extent of their contempt for the warmed-over address. An apparent TelePrompTer malfunction — the nightmare of pols ten times more polished and canny than Palin — only added to their sense of gleeful horror.

But with her rambling rehash of familiar tropes and postures, Palin finally outlasted the patience and goodwill of her own core constituency — the red-meat grassroots and the movement conservative media. Without any infrastructure, without any institutional platform, Palin could always count on her brand of performance art to put going rogue back in vogue. No longer.

Small-time soap opera, you say. End of an error. Actually, this is a big deal. Because the Palin phenomenon — the popularity, the opportunism, the branding, and, yes, the politics — all arose from a single source. Palin’s importance wasn’t as a new kind of conservative, ideologically speaking. It was as a new kind of politician.

There had never been a Republican or a Democrat with Palin’s combination of personality, character, youthfulness, and very specifically gendered sort of sex. Even to the critics, she didn’t come off as a pencil-necked weenie like Bobby Jindal or a sound-body-sound-mind orthogonian like Paul Ryan.

Being a woman helped. But, to borrow a line of analysis from critical theory, Palin wasn’t gendered the same way as other political women, in any party. She was no granny in a pantsuit, like Elizabeth Dole or Hillary Clinton. She doesn’t come off as fustily professional as Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman. Palin’s character type can never be a career politician because she’s not even a career woman, in that stereotypical manner now apotheosized by Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer.

Palin’s life experience mattered because it betokened the entry into politics of a new kind of woman — equally into sports, guns, and kids. Palin’s character type eventually appeared to exist everywhere across the vast red swath of the American interior. Conservatives have long understood in what complex way their youthful women could be masculine without losing the femininity. (Tocqueville bemusedly praised American ladies’ “manly virtue.”) The revolution was in a conservative woman mobilizing that naturally grown manner in the arena of national politics.

However you choose to slice and dice gender identities, you must admit that Palin’s success arose from her own — and that losing her appeal in spite of it, much like earning an F in English, took a lot of willpower to pull off.

The failure was on glaring display when the right-leaning Washington Examiner went in search of praise for Palin’s prospects, but notable figures in the conservative mediasphere balked. Red-state stalwarts like HotAir’s Ed Morrissey sighed that her speech “wasn’t well prepared”; Gabriel Malor at Ace of Spades HQ said simply: “She is done.”

Voices like these, once locked into mutual admiration with the rogue Republican who decried the “lamestream” media, can’t by themselves consign Palin to the political scrapheap. As they freely admit, however, the grassroots has “generally moved on,” too, in the words of Ben Domenech (whose website, The Federalist, I have written for).

So the essential question for 2016 is where, or whom, they’ll move on to. The tea party ethos that Palin helped midwife may be protean and loosely organized, but it hasn’t weakened much  as a political force. This year’s crop of presumptive Republican candidates offers the conservative base its strongest, broadest, and most credible choices ever. Domenech could plausibly suggest to the Examiner that contenders with an outsider appeal, such as Gov. Scott Walker Or Sen. Ted Cruz, were well positioned to attract and energize Palin’s former constituency.

But character type is deeper, and it’s prior to politics. The true heir to Palin’s constituency will be a woman. How could it be otherwise?

It’s a question not lost on the Republican elite, which is smart enough to know there is no real reason Palin’s character type can’t be brought into a more establishmentarian alignment. Enter Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst — servicewoman, heartland heroine, and the no-brainer choice to respond to the president’s State of the Union on behalf of the whole Republican Party. Even a pig-castrating farm girl, you see, can find her way into the arms of such king- and queen-makers as Mitt Romney.

To her credit, Ernst possesses far more discipline than Palin, whose taste for guns did not extend into a longing for the military life. But if the whiff of the establishment gets too strong around her, the base will balk — just ask Marco Rubio. And the jilted Palin constituency will be up for grabs again.


By: James Poulos, The Daily Beast, January 29, 2015

January 30, 2015 Posted by | Joni Ernst, Sarah Palin, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Praise God And Bash The Gays”: More Hate On The Way. Oh, Joy

This past week, I read that “social conservatives” will attempt to reinvigorate their anti-gay campaign for the 2016 presidential race. Briefly, I succumbed to the old response of bracing myself.

More hate on the way. Oh, joy.

James Hohmann, writing for Politico from Des Moines, Iowa: “The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule on gay marriage once and for all in June, and there are many Republicans who privately would love nothing more than to have the question settled and off the table in time for the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s not going to happen. Social conservatives here are determined to keep the issue alive during the run-up to next February’s Republican caucuses, no matter how the high court rules or how much some establishment figures would like to move on.”

Such a curious term, “social conservative,” when there is nothing cordial or hospitable in wielding God as a political two-by-four in the fight to deny basic human rights — in this case, the right to marry.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. I live in one of the holdouts, Ohio. I’m not proud of that, but I can say it out loud without the usual spine rattle because I’m confident that on this issue, the bigots’ days are numbered from sea to shining sea. You can tell by the desperate, ridiculous things they’re saying lately, particularly in Iowa.

My favorite quotation so far came out of Mike Huckabee, who showed up last week at Iowa’s conservative summit. Rep. Steve King organized the gathering. His most famous contribution to public discourse is his 2013 description of immigrants as dealers dragging their drugs across the desert with “calves the size of cantaloupes.”

Not to change the subject, but I’ve always wondered why the congressman was spending so much time looking at those guys’ legs. It’s the kind of thing that makes you go “hmm.”

Anyway, back to Huckabee. He likened laws allowing gay people to marry to the U.S. Supreme Court’s racist 1857 Dred Scott decision, which said that no black person, free or enslaved, could become an American citizen.

And this, Huckabee argued, is why gays can’t marry.

“Nobody argues that Abraham Lincoln should have abided by the Dred Scott decision,” Huckabee said. “We recognize that he had the courage to realize that he didn’t have to enforce something that was morally wrong.”

If you think you should be able to figure out how Huckabee managed to connect those dots, you’re in for an even longer Republican presidential primary than the rest of us. Don’t try to make sense of this stuff.

I’m making light of this only because for too long, I was angry with people like Huckabee and didn’t like what it did to me. More to the point, I didn’t like how I was letting their nonsense whittle down faith. For a while there, I was reluctant to say I was Christian for fear that someone might think I was one of them. In my worst moments, I began to wonder where God fit into all of this.

I used to resent fundamentalists for this internal crisis of mine, but now I thank them. I hear them saying stupid things about gay people they’ve never met and feel the tug of my Christian roots, which taught me that faith is a riverbed where hope bubbles up and carries us along.

One of my favorite books is a collection of sermon excerpts by the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin. That man was a Christian willing to take on his own people.

“It is not Scripture that creates hostility to homosexuality,” he wrote, “but rather hostility to homosexuals that prompts some Christians to recite a few sentences from Paul and retain passages from an otherwise discarded Old Testament law code.

“In abolishing slavery and in ordaining women we’ve gone beyond biblical literalism. It’s time we did the same with gays and lesbians. The problem is not how to reconcile homosexuality with scriptural passages that condemn it, but rather how to reconcile the rejection and punishment of homosexuals with the love of Christ. It can’t be done.”

It can’t be done, he said.

Let justice flow like a mighty river.


By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and an Essayist for Parade Magazine; The National Memo, January 29, 2015

January 30, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Marriage Equality, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They’re All Cronies”: Conservatives In Iowa Resist Bush, Romney

Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney face big trouble in Iowa — influential conservatives have had enough of them.

Disdain for the party’s center-right powerhouses, who are both considering seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nominations, could have implications well beyond the nation’s first caucus state.

Iowa conservatives mirror the views of like-minded activists nationwide, and having the party’s vocal right wing blasting away could stagger either candidate throughout 2016. And it’s uncertain that conservatives would actively work in a general election for Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, or Bush, the former Florida governor.

“This could be a big problem,” said Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of, a partisan web site.

With its town-hall-like precinct caucuses the first test of the nomination next winter, Iowa usually winnows the field of a party’s nomination contest and previews campaign styles and weaknesses. Just ask the Romneys and Bushes. The families have had a candidate in five competitive caucuses since 1980, and in all but one instance, the outcome foreshadowed the future.

George H. W. Bush was a barely-known former CIA director in 1980 when he stunned the political world by topping Ronald Reagan. Though Reagan would win the nomination, Bush showed enough strength to become Reagan’s running mate.

Bush faltered in Iowa in 1988 when he ran for the nomination a second time, this time as the sitting vice president, finishing third behind Kansas neighbor Bob Dole and evangelist Pat Robertson. The caucus prodded Bush to run a tougher campaign, and he went on to win the nomination and the White House.

In 2000, his son cemented his standing as the candidate to beat with a big victory over magazine editor Steve Forbes.

Romney finished second in 2008 and 2012, both times losing to Christian right favorites. It was a signal that that bloc was leery of Romney’s record.

Today, memories of Romney’s previous efforts dog him. “He’s a proven loser,” said John Eggen, a Des Moines air conditioning and heating contractor.

Another campaign, he said, would mean more debate over the 2006 Massachusetts health care law that Romney approved when governor. It’s considered the model for the 2010 federal health care law that Republicans hate.

Bush is also yesterday’s candidate, said Sabrina Graves, a stay-at-home mother from Blue Grass. Bush’s support for Common Core educational standards, which many conservatives view as big government reaching too far into local education, also gets slammed.

“I don’t know what is worse, nominating someone merely because he’s been nominated twice before or nominating a liberal supporter of Common Core because he has a familiar name,” said former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien, who spoke at a daylong conservative forum in Iowa Saturday featuring a long list of potential presidential candidates.

Romney and Bush did not attend. Bush, who last week spoke at length with the Iowa Republican chairman and hinted at a White House bid, cited a scheduling conflict. A spokesman for Romney did not respond to a request for comment.

Some of Saturday’s loudest cheers came when businessman Donald Trump fired away. “It can’t be Mitt because Mitt ran and failed,” Trump said, adding “the last thing we need is another Bush.”

The audience was largely hardcore conservatives, the crowd that boosted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, also a Baptist preacher, in 2008 and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a hero of the Christian right, four years later. Both won the Iowa caucus.

They watched Romney market himself as a fierce conservative in 2012, but never quite bought it. Saturday, they saw New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another moderate favorite, argue that he’s a true conservative.

“If the values I’m fighting for every day in New Jersey and all across this country are not consistent with your values, then why would I keep coming back? I wouldn’t,” he said. Reaction was spotty.

The conservatives say they’ve had enough of nominees with appeal to independent and more moderate voters.

“We are tired of being told who our candidates should be,” said Donna Robinson, a Marengo saleswoman. “They say they’re conservative, then they run to the middle.”

The right wants new faces and new ideas. They were particularly impressed Saturday with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, 47, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, 44.

“He has a proven record and he’s young,” Eggen said of Walker.

They also like people without lengthy political resumes. That’s why retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former business executive Carly Fiorina got warm receptions.

“People who have been in and around government and politics for their entire lives may no longer be able to see the truth: our government must be fundamentally reformed,” Fiorina said.

The conservatives loved it. Romney and Bush? “They’re all cronies,” Graves said. “I want someone this time who’s not a politician.”


By: David Lightman, The National Memo, January 26, 2015

January 29, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jeb Bush’s Optimism School”: “The Only Thing We Have To Offer Is Fear” Is Not Going To Cut It Any Longer For Republicans

The Republican Party faces a long-term challenge in presidential elections because it is defining itself as a gloomy enclave, a collection of pessimists who fear what our country is becoming and where it is going.

The party’s hope deficit helps explain why there’s a boomlet for Jeb Bush, a man who dares to use the word “love” in a paragraph about illegal immigrants.

The flurry doesn’t mean that the former Florida governor is even running for president, let alone that he can win. But Bush is being taken seriously because his approach to politics is so different from what’s on offer from doomsayers who worry that immigrants will undermine the meaning of being American and that the champions of permissiveness will hack away at our moral core.

No wonder Bush’s statement that immigrants entering the country illegally were engaged in “an act of love” was greeted with such disdain by Donald Trump and other Republicans gathered at last weekend’s Freedom Summit in New Hampshire.

Let’s stipulate that people oppose immigration reform for a variety of reasons. Some see any form of amnesty as a reward for breaking the law. Others believe the country would be better off if the flow of future immigrants tilted more toward the affluent and skilled. Still others worry that immigration pushes wages down.

But it’s not just the immigration issue as such that separates Bush from so many in his party. It’s the broader sense of optimism he conveys when he describes an increasingly diverse nation as an asset. He even, on occasion, speaks of active government as a constructive force in American life. And while he is critical of President Obama — he’s a conservative Republican, after all — he does not suggest, as so many in his party do, that because of the 44th president, the United States is on a path to decline and ruin.

Bush is occupying this space because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has lost it for now. His administration’s role in causing traffic Armageddon on access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last fall and the rapidly multiplying investigations this episode has called forth created Bush’s opportunity.

At least before his immigration comments, Bush seemed to have more appeal than Christie to the party’s right. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last month asked Americans if they would “definitely” vote for, “consider” voting for, or reject various candidates. Among Republicans and independents leaning Republican, Bush drew acceptance across the board from moderate, somewhat conservative and very conservative Republicans. Christie appealed more to moderates. But Christie may be better positioned for a general election contest than Bush in one respect: Christie demonstrates higher levels of minimum consideration among Hispanics and African Americans.

Three Republicans — who, by the way, also manage to convey some optimism — ran close to Bush in acceptability: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. But all three were much stronger with the “very conservative” group than with the others. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin trailed because they were weaker in the moderate and somewhat conservative camps. (Thanks to Peyton Craighill, The Post’s polling manager, for running these numbers.)

These findings point to Bush’s potential not only with a donor class that clearly likes him but also with rank-and-file Republicans. Still, there are many reasons why he may never be the GOP nominee. He’s not the ideal pick for a party that might more profitably choose a younger, forward-looking candidate who could challenge a Hillary Clinton campaign that would inevitably be cast as a combination of restoration and continuity. A Clinton-Bush choice would necessarily prompt comparisons between the Bill Clinton years and the George W. Bush years. Outside Republican ranks, the Clinton era would win rather handily.

But if Jeb Bush doesn’t make it to the mountaintop, he could usefully offer his party lessons on how to avoid being seen as a convocation of cranky old (and not-so-old) politicians whose most devout wish is to repeal a couple decades of social change.

For there is a rule in American politics: Hope and optimism nearly always defeat fear and pessimism. Franklin Roosevelt understood this. Ronald Reagan stole optimism from the Democrats, Bill Clinton stole it back, and we all remember who had a 2008 poster carrying the single word “Hope.”

Republicans need to realize that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” works better than “the only thing we have to offer is fear.”


By:E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 16, 2014

April 19, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Immigration Reform, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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