Jeb Bush tries to move past Iraq questions

Washington CNN  — 

Jeb Bush has balked twice in recent days at questions about whether, knowing that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, he would have made a different decision than that of his brother, former President George W. Bush.

Bush’s woes started in an interview with Fox News that aired Monday night, when host Megyn Kelly asked whether Bush would have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq knowing the facts now.

But Bush appeared to answer a different question, about whether he’d have green-lighted the war in Iraq given the intelligence available at the time.

RELATED: Chris Christie hits Jeb Bush on Iraq War

“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Bush said. “And so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

On Tuesday, Bush had another opportunity to answer that question – this time in a radio interview with Sean Hannity.

He said that “clearly there were mistakes as it related to faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the war and the lack of focus on security.”

But Bush deflected when Hannity asked whether he’d make a different decision knowing what he knows now.

“Yeah, I don’t know what that decision would have been – that’s a hypothetical,” he said.

“But the simple fact was, look, mistake were made, as they always are in life. This is not a – and foreign policy. So we need to learn from the past to make sure we’re strong and secure going forward.”

Members of the Bush family
The Bush family and Iraq
01:44 - Source: CNN

But speaking in Nevada on Wednesday, Bush said participating in “hypotheticals” is also a disservice to U.S. troops who were hurt or killed.

“If we’re going to get into hypotheticals I think it does a disservice for a lot of people that sacrificed a lot,” he said at a town hall meeting. “Going back in time and talking about hypotheticals – what would have happened, what could have happened – I think, does a disservice for them. What we ought to be focusing on is what are the lessons learned.”

“Of course, given the power of looking back and having that, of course anybody would have made different decisions. There’s no denying that. But to delve into that and not focus on the future is, I think, where I need to draw the line,” he said.

Now, several Republican presidential contenders – including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul – are hammering Bush.

Paul told The Associated Press that it is “a real problem if he can’t articulate what he would have done differently.”

“To say that nothing would happen differently means we’re going to get George Bush 3,” Paul said.

He drew an even starker contrast with the rest of the field on the war, declaring in a Wednesday interview on CNN that he’s always felt invading Iraq was a bad idea.

“I thought the war, even at the time, was a mistake, [even] given the intelligence,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

Paul struck his familiar libertarian tone in explaining his rationale, arguing that toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein left both the region and the U.S. worse off in the long run. He said that generally, taking out secular dictators is a bad idea because every time it’s happened, “things have been worse and America has been less safe.”

But Paul insisted he’s not an isolationist – a charge opponents have thrown at him – and did express support for military action against ISIS, though he called for “Arab boots on the ground” to defeat the terrorist group, rather than American troops.

Other Republicans who are squaring off with Bush in the party’s 2016 presidential primary hit him and offered their own answers to the question.

“I don’t think you can honestly say that if we knew then that there was no (weapons of mass destruction), that the country should have gone to war,” Christie said in an interview on CNN’s “The Lead” with Jake Tapper.

Christie also took the opportunity to jab at Bush, both on substance and on style.

“We need a foward-looking foreign policy that talks about how to reassert American authority and influence around the world,” he told Tapper. “But I want to directly answer your question, because that’s what I do.”

Cruz told The Hill, “Knowing what we know now, of course we wouldn’t go into Iraq.”

Democrats pounced too, with Mo Elleithee, the Democratic National Committee’s spokesman, saying Jeb Bush makes his brother “look ready for prime-time.”

“To the rest of us, this isn’t a hypothetical,” he said. “It’s clear, and in this one case, we’d like you to be more like your brother – be a decider.”

CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report from Nevada.