During a friendly interview on Fox News, a Republican presidential hopeful from Florida was asked a simple question: Was it a mistake to go to war in Iraq?
“No, I don’t believe it was. The world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn’t run Iraq,” he said, adding, “Hindsight is always 20/20, but we don’t know what the world would look like if Saddam Hussein was still there.”
That interview took place in March; the candidate was Sen. Marco Rubio.
Less than two months later, the most extraordinary thing about former governor Jeb Bush’s statement that he would have authorized the Iraq war despite “knowing what we know now” wasn’t the statement itself, but rather the immediate backlash it provoked among conservative pundits and candidates for the Republican nomination. “You can’t still think that going into Iraq, now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to do,” said conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham. “If you do, there has to be something wrong with you.” And nearly all of the party’s would-be standard bearers, including Rubio, pounced on the controversy. “Not only would I have not been in favor of it,” he declared, “President Bush would not have been in favor of it.”
The uproar on the right was especially remarkable given that hawkish foreign policy has become something of a litmus test in the Republican primary. At the recent South Carolina Freedom Summit, Rubio summed up his strategy toward global terrorism by quoting Liam Neeson’s character from the movie “Taken”: “We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.” In addition, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – who previously suggested that his crackdown on Wisconsin’s public-sector unions prepared him to take on the Islamic State – told the crowd that the United States needs “a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us.”