author: Adam Johnson
Friday morning, Paul Krugman looked past the 24-hour 2016 media cycle to examine the true mechanisms behind Jeb Bush’s week of backtracking and Iraq War revisionism. Krugman argues, quite convincingly, that Bush’s inability to articulate a coherent position on Iraq – or the economy – is due to the fact that the GOP establishment, still held captive by the neoconservative clergy class, are constantly trying to fit a rigid ideological square peg into the round hole of reality.
W’s Iraq War was a categorical and unquestionable failure in every sense. Moral, strategic, legal, political: the wrongheadedness of the 2003 invasion isbroadly seen as one of the few black and whites in contemporary politics, despite recent attempts to “rebrand” the Bush presidency as anything other than a total disaster. Nevertheless, here we are. Little brother must at once acknowledge that the Iraq War was a bad idea while simultaneously not rejecting the American Enterprise Institute orthodoxy that makes up his inner circle and their entire foreign policy ethos. Krugman would call it what it was, total sleaze:
Then he tried to walk it back. He “interpreted the question wrong,” and isn’t interested in engaging “hypotheticals.” Anyway, “going back in time” is a “disservice” to those who served in the war.
Take a moment to savor the cowardice and vileness of that last remark. And, no, that’s not hyperbole. Mr. Bush is trying to hide behind the troops, pretending that any criticism of political leaders — especially, of course, his brother, the commander in chief — is an attack on the courage and patriotism of those who paid the price for their superiors’ mistakes. That’s sinking very low, and it tells us a lot more about the candidate’s character than any number of up-close-and-personal interviews.
Wait, there’s more: Incredibly, Mr. Bush resorted to the old passive-voice dodge, admitting only that “mistakes were made.” Indeed. By whom? Well, earlier this year Mr. Bush released a list of his chief advisers on foreign policy, and it was a who’s-who of mistake-makers, people who played essential roles in the Iraq disaster and other debacles.
Seriously, consider that list, which includes such luminaries as Paul Wolfowitz, who insisted that we would be welcomed as liberators and that the war would cost almost nothing, and Michael Chertoff, who as director of the Department of Homeland Security during Hurricane Katrina was unaware of the thousands of people stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food and water.
But this unchecked hubris wouldn’t be limited to just foreign policy. As Krugman would explain:
Take my usual focus, economic policy. If you look at the list of economists who appear to have significant influence on Republican leaders, including the likely presidential candidates, you find that nearly all of them agreed, back during the “Bush boom,” that there was no housing bubble and the American economic future was bright; that nearly all of them predicted that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to fight the economic crisis that developed when that nonexistent bubble popped would lead to severe inflation; and that nearly all of them predicted that Obamacare, which went fully into effect in 2014, would be a huge job-killer.
Given how badly these predictions turned out — we had the biggest housing bust in history, inflation paranoia has been wrong for six years and counting, and 2014 delivered the best job growth since 1999 — you might think that there would be some room in the G.O.P. for economists who didn’t get everything wrong. But there isn’t. Having been completely wrong about the economy, like having been completely wrong about Iraq, seems to be a required credential.
The craven team that made up W’s White House sits in waiting. Backed by the same toxic mix of free-market ideologues, religious extremists, and pseudo-centrist apologists, Jeb is trying the same lay low strategy his brother did in 2000. The only problem, politically, is that he must carry the baggage of a Presidency so inept and corrupt it’s become shorthand for what one doesn’t want in a President. Americans notoriously have short memories, but, as Bush is finding out, there are limits to our collective amnesia. As Krugman would note:
What’s going on here? My best explanation is that we’re witnessing the effects of extreme tribalism. On the modern right, everything is a political litmus test. Anyone who tried to think through the pros and cons of the Iraq war was, by definition, an enemy of President George W. Bush and probably hated America; anyone who questioned whether the Federal Reserve was really debasing the currency was surely an enemy of capitalism and freedom.
It doesn’t matter that the skeptics have been proved right. Simply raising questions about the orthodoxies of the moment leads to excommunication, from which there is no coming back. So the only “experts” left standing are those who made all the approved mistakes. It’s kind of a fraternity of failure: men and women united by a shared history of getting everything wrong, and refusing to admit it. Will they get the chance to add more chapters to their reign of error? Krugman hits the nail right on the head. The same arrogance and rigidity that refused for years to change course when it was clear Iraq was a lost cause are plaguing Jeb’s campaign, already. How to acknowledge you’re wrong without ever doing so? How to acknowledge you’ve made a mistake when you’re surrounded by people who think their brand of colonial adventurism is, quite literally, handed down by God? You can’t. The scars of Iraq are too deep. The pieces still being picked up. The PR strategists behind the Bush family’s latest attempt at the White House were counting on the American public to be ignorant of history. But with the ever-present war against ISIS that resulted from a chaos they helped create, it appears Bush’s team may have underestimated how deep the wounds they inflicted upon the body politic really are.