Republican Jeb Bush tried Saturday to regain his stride after an awkward week, noting his misstep about the Iraq war with humility and a laugh while reaffirming his affection for brother George W. Bush, the president who ordered the invasion.
Returning to early voting Iowa, Bush offered an explanation to voters for his confused statements on Iraq over the last week. He joked to an audience in Dubuque that his response to a reporter’s question about Iraq was “a great answer, by the way. But it wasn’t to the question that was asked.”
In a Fox News interview, Bush was asked whether he would have ordered the 2003 invasion of Iraq in light of intelligence failures. He later said he was unsure what he’d do and on Wednesday dismissed such questions as irrelevant hypotheticals. The next day, on Thursday, he acknowledged he would have opposed the war had he known no weapons of mass destruction would turn up.
At the same time, Bush tried to strike a balance between loyalty to the former president and defining himself as his own man.
“War is incredibly tough,” Bush told about 100 GOP activists and students at Loras College in Dubuque. “I know my brother, and you can see it in the bond, when I’m with him, with the veterans. … The bond he has with these men and women is extraordinary.”
Meanwhile, voters seemed more interested in Bush’s stand on education — he supports Common Core education standards in spite of conservative opposition — and in his views of federal drug enforcement and President Barack Obama’s use of executive orders.
Bush was among 11 presidential hopefuls expected to speak Saturday night at the state GOP’s annual Lincoln Day dinner fundraiser. He held meetings with local GOP officials and other influential Republicans earlier in the day.
Others expected to speak at the Des Moines event were former surgeon Ben Carson, former CEO Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, businessman Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Walker, who appeared at an afternoon fundraiser for a Des Moines area county official, called for a stepped-up fight against terrorism. Having recently visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Walker called the Obama administration’s foreign policy to “draw a red line in the sand and allow people to cross it.” Instead, he suggested the United States “take the fight to them.”
Bush also criticized Obama’s strategy against Islamic State militants even while noting reports that U.S. Army commandos had killed a man described as the head of oil operations for IS. Bush praised those who conducted the mission, but he criticized Obama for pulling back U.S. forces in Iraq, arguing that the move allowed the rise of such groups.
“It’s a great day, but it’s not a strategy,” Bush said.