As Jeb Bush continued struggling to respond to the question of whether he would have authorized the invasion of Iraq as his brother George W. Bush did, given the benefit of hindsight, a growing list of his Republican presidential rivals had no problem answering: absolutely not.
“There’s a lot of people who lost limbs and lives over there, OK?” Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a presidential run, told The Columbus Dispatch in a story published Wednesday. “But if the question is, if there were not weapons of mass destruction should we have gone, the answer would’ve been no. ... I wouldn’t have seen it as vital to national interests.”
Bush set off a torrent of criticism during an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who asked the former governor, "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion [of Iraq]?"
"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,” Bush responded. He has since said he misunderstood the question.
Bush went into damage control mode Tuesday, seeking to clarify his comments during a radio appearance with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity. But he didn't directly answer the original question: if he would have chosen to invade Iraq as his brother did, dismissing the query as a hypothetical.
“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,” Bush told Hannity."...I don't know what that decision would have been. That's a hypothetical. But the simple fact is that mistakes were made, as they always are in life."
The days-long fallout from Bush's exchange with Kelly has highlighted the tenuous balance Bush is seeking as he prepares his own presidential run -- distancing himself from the most unpopular aspects of his brother George W. Bush's record while continuing to embrace his family name.
On Tuesday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told the Associated Press that Bush had "a real problem if he can't articulate what he would have done differently."
Paul took those comments a step further Wednesday, tying the former president's foreign policy to Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state. He called the turmoil in Libya "Hillary Clinton's war," saying the situation in Iraq is proof that foreign intervention in the Middle East is not good policy.
"In many ways Iraq is sort of a vassal state to Iran. We worry about Iran getting a nuclear weapon. So I think we're a lot worse off with [Saddam] Hussein gone," Paul said on CNN. "I think even at the time invading Iraq was a mistake... given the intelligence. But now I think people should learn their lesson after the war in Libya. All the Republicans should be asked, 'Did you and do you support Hillary's war in Libya?"
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz pointedly said he would not have invaded Iraq knowing that the intelligence was faulty during an interview with Kelly Tuesday. But he stopped short of directly hitting Bush, contextualizing the former president's decision.
"Of course not. The entire predicate of the war against Iraq was the intelligence that showed they had weapons of mass destruction and that there was a real risk they might use them,” he said. "Now, I would note there was a bipartisan consensus. Both Republicans and Democrats looking at that intelligence concluded it was a real threat.”
Cruz, like Bush, chose not to weigh in directly on whether he would have ordered the invasion at the time.
"At the time I wasn't serving in the Senate so I didn't see the classified briefings. I didn't see the intelligence and so I don't want to second-guess based on what I lack [in] complete information."
Appearing on CNN, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave a similar response Tuesday – saying he would not invade Iraq today, but seeking to balance his answer with context.
"No, it wasn't [the right decision.] Now, I think President Bush made the best decision he could at the time, given that his intelligence community was telling him that there [were weapons of mass destruction] and that there were other threats right there in Iraq,” Christie said. "But I don't think you can honestly say that if we knew then that there was no WMD that the country should have gone to war."
He added: “I think we we've got to avoid is continuing to go backwards in this country. We need a forward-looking foreign policy that talks about how to reassert American authority and influence.”
Other presidential hopefuls have yet to weigh in, most notably Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is slated to deliver a major foreign policy address Wednesday afternoon.