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Jeb Bush on Iraq war comment controversy: ‘I interpreted the question wrong, I guess’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is widely expected to announce a presidential bid in the coming month. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush on Tuesday engaged in damage control over his controversial response to a question about the invasion of Iraq, in which he had seemed to indicate that he would have gone forward with the invasion even knowing the intelligence that led to the war ultimately proved faulty.

“I interpreted the question wrong, I guess. I was talking about, 'Given what people knew then, would you have done it?'" Bush told Fox News host Sean Hannity during a radio appearance. "Knowing what we know now, clearly there were mistakes as it related to faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the war and the lack of focus on security. My brother’s admitted this and we have to learn from that.”

The controversy began after Bush suggested during an interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly that he would have ordered the Iraq invasion even knowing, as we do today, how the war unfolded. The exact wording of Kelly’s question seemed straightforward, “On the subject of Iraq, very controversial, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” (The interview was conducted last week but aired in full on Monday.)

“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,” Bush told Kelly.

"You don't think it was a mistake?" she asked him.

"In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty. And in retrospect, once we, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn’t focus on security first,” he said.

Critics sharply condemned Bush’s apparent support for the war in Iraq, with many pundits suggesting that his refusal to denounce the most controversial aspect of his brother’s legacy as president represented a significant obstacle to his own presidential ambitions.

[Conservatives aren’t happy with Jeb Bush’s Iraq war comments.]

Speaking with Hannity Tuesday, Bush knocked President Obama’s foreign policy approach and again blamed the administration for growing unrest in the Middle East.

"But the simple fact is that under the last few years of my brother’s presidency, the surge was quite effective to bring stability and security to Iraq, which was missing during the early days of the United States’ engagement there," Bush said. “And that security has been totally obliterated by the president’s pulling out too early. And now these voids are filled by this barbaric asymmetric threat that endangers the entire region and the entire world."

During the interview, Bush also addressed conservative concerns over his support for the Common Core education standards and comprehensive immigration reform, presenting them as pragmatic positions in line with conservative ideals.