Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush has just finished putting on a spectacular week-long display of stepping on his own dick after setting fire to it, then setting fire to it again and stepping on it some more, over the question of whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003, knowing what we know now. That grand sacrifice set up a new hypothetical for Republican candidates to answer: knowing how badly Jeb Bush got beat up over this, would you ever give an answer to that question that didn’t consist entirely of the word “no?”
For one candidate, that question was literally a no-brainer. On this week’s Fox News Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put on a one-man SNL sketch when anchor Chris Wallace out that same question to him, managing to sneak the phrase, “It was not a mistake” into the discussion six times in three minutes:
WALLACE: Senator, isn’t that a flip? Six weeks ago, it made sense to invade Iraq in 2003. Now you say it was a mistake.
RUBIO: No, they’re two different questions. It was not a mistake. The president, based on — this is the way the real world works. The president, based on the information that was provided to him —
WALLACE: But she was saying based on the information —
RUBIO: No, no, but, look, there’s two different —
WALLACE: She was saying based on the — what we know now.
RUBIO: Well, based on what we know now, a lot of things — based on what we know now, I wouldn’t have, you know, thought Manny Pacquiao was going to beat in — in that fight a couple of weeks ago.
WALLACE: — you got asked the same question and you said since.
RUBIO: No, that was not the same — no, that was not the same question. The question was whether it was a mistake. And my answer was it’s not a mistake. I still say it was not a mistake, because the president was presented with intelligence that said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, it was governed by a man who had committed atrocities in the past with weapons of mass destruction —
WALLACE: But, what she asked you was, was it a mistake to go to war with Iraq?
RUBIO: It was not a mistake given the fact that what the president knew at the time.
WALLACE: No, she didn’t say that. She just said, was it a mistake?
RUBIO: Well, that’s not the same question. The question I was asked is, what you know now? Well, based on what we know now, I think everyone agrees that we still —
WALLACE: Was it a mistake — was it a mistake to go to war with Iraq?
RUBIO: It’s two different — it wasn’t — I —
WALLACE: I’m asking you to —
RUBIO: Yes, I understand, but that’s not the same question.
WALLACE: But I’m asking — but that’s the question I’m asking you, was it a mistake to go to war?
RUBIO: It was not a mistake for the president to decide to go into Iraq, because at the time, he was told —
WALLACE: I’m not asking you that. I’m asking you —
RUBIO: In hindsight.
RUBIO: Well, the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein is not there.
WALLACE: So, was it a mistake or not?
RUBIO: But I wouldn’t characterize it — but I don’t understand the question you’re asking, because the president —
WALLACE: I’m asking you, knowing — as we sit here in 2015 —
RUBIO: No, but that’s not the way presidents — a president cannot make decision on what someone might know in the future.
WALLACE: I understand. But that’s what I’m asking you. Was it a mistake?
RUBIO: It was not a mistake for the president to go into Iraq based on the information he was provided as president.
Today, we know of their — if we — if the president had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction at the time, you still would have had to deal with Saddam Hussein. But the process would have been different. I doubt very seriously that the president would have gotten, for example, congressional approval to move forward with an invasion had they known there were no weapons of mass destruction.
That doesn’t mean he made the wrong decision, because at the time he was presented with intelligence —
WALLACE: I understand that, but —
RUBIO: — that said there are weapons of mass destruction. He wasn’t dealing with a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He was dealing with Saddam Hussein. And he made the right decision based on the information he had at that time.
We’ve learned subsequently that that information was wrong and my answer was — well, if at the time it would have been apparent that the intelligence was wrong, I don’t think George Bush would have moved forward on the invasion and he certainly wouldn’t have had Congressional approval.
But presidents don’t have the benefit of hindsight. You have to make difficult decisions based on the information that’s before you at that moment.
From a sheer political perspective, Rubio’s decision to stay married to the “based on the information at the time” qualification at all costs was unforgivably stupid, especially given what just happened to his Florida homeboy last week. In that situation, you need to set your GPS to “no,” then take whatever route you need to to get there. The media, and life, have given Republicans an amazing blanket of cover for that colossal blunder by simply accepting the premise that no one could have known better at the time, when Barack Obama clearly did. Take the hindsight mulligan.
But substantively, Rubio’s comedy act obscures something important in his answers to this question this weekend, and the one Wallace shopped to Rubio from his March 30 appearance on The Five. Here’s the full version of that clip:
“Hindsight is always 20/20, but we don’t know what the world would look like if Saddam Hussein were still there, but I doubt it would look better. It would be worse for diff…or, it would be just as bad, but for different reasons.”
So, even given “20/20 hindsight.” Rubio’s position is that Iraq was a wash, at worst. To the thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who were killed, Rubio explains “the process would have been different.”
Give Rubio credit for honesty, though, because even though other Republican candidates are having no trouble beating up on Jeb Bush for his fumbling of this question, this is what they all think, and this is what will guide them should they ever make it to the White House. Here’s hoping Hillary Clinton is paying attention, and thinking up a much shorter answer to this question.