Juan Williams: Iraq war shapes 2016 landscape

Juan Williams: Iraq war shapes 2016 landscape
© Getty Images

Imagine Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE in a general election debate against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE. He is going to attack her over her vote authorizing the war in Iraq.

Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Interior moves to delay Obama’s methane leak rule MORE picked up that hammer in 2008 and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Clip shows Larry David and Bernie Sanders reacting after discovering they're related For now, Trump dossier creates more questions than answers MORE is hammering away right now.

For an already fractured Republican party, the sight of the GOP nominee taking shots at Clinton over a war started by the last Republican president will inevitably lead to a wild outcome: The Bush family will have to endorse Hillary Clinton.

They won’t have a choice. 

If the Bush dynasty backs Trump or even stands out of the fray, they will be effectively accepting his critique of the war as a catastrophic mistake for America.

The United States went to war against Iraq under President George W. Bush thirteen years ago this week.

Hardly anyone now contends Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or any connection to 9/11 or al-Qaeda.

In addition, the collapse of Iraq fueled the rise of Iran and the creation of the ISIS terrorist network. 

The war’s toll is shocking for the U.S. Over 4,400 American soldiers have died and 32,000 soldiers have been  wounded in what most people in this country now tell pollsters was a horrible mistake. 

A clear majority, 59 percent, believe the war was the “wrong thing” to do, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last May. 

And this year, the damage to the nation’s self-image is evident all over the campaign trail. 

One of the earliest signs that Jeb Bush’s candidacy was in trouble came when he botched a question from my Fox News colleague Megyn Kelly. She simply asked him whether — knowing what we know now — he would have invaded Iraq, as his brother had done.

Jeb Bush initially said yes, he would still invade.

Wrong answer!

That moment was the beginning of the end for Bush, a man with a once-golden family name and a well-funded campaign whose bid ended in ignominious collapse last month. 

GOP primary voters are instead on their way to awarding the party’s presidential nomination to a vocal and persistent critic of the Iraq war. 

Trump has called the war a “big fat mistake” and gone further than most Democrats, including Sanders and Obama, in his critique.

“We have done a tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East — we've done a tremendous disservice to humanity,” Trump told a Republican debate audience in December. 

“The people that have been killed,” he said, “the people that have been wiped away — and for what? It's not like we had victory. It's a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized, a total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart."

In February, when Trump also charged President Bush with lying about WMDs in Iraq, Bush’s vice president Dick Cheney told Fox’s Bret Baier that Trump sounded “like a liberal Democrat.”

Jeb Bush has tried to answer Trump by saying his brother “kept us safe” after 9/11. Bush even likened Trump to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, a conservative hate-figure during the second Bush presidency. 

Now Jeb Bush’s bid is over. And Trump is still getting thunderous applause from Republican audiences for saying things about Iraq that would have been heresy within the GOP just a few years ago.

There is no avoiding the conclusion that fallout from the war is the central reason behind the end of a three-decade run for the Bush family as the dominant force in Republican politics.

Neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at the 2012 GOP convention because of their ties to the politically toxic war. In fact, Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee, failed to mention Iraq, Afghanistan or the troops in his speech accepting the nomination at that convention.  

To be fair, political fall-out from the war litters the highest levels of both political parties — and has been central to elections for years.

In 2006, Democrats won control of the House and the Senate because of the unpopularity of the Iraq war as voters began to assign blame to Bush’s GOP. 

In 2008, then-first term Sen. Barack Obama defeated Clinton in the Democratic primary and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA's woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE in the general election in part by pummeling them over their support for the war. 

In 2012, President Obama was reelected by making good on his promise to wind the war down and bring most troops home. By also ordering the military assault that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, Obama gave the Democratic Party new credibility on foreign policy and national security.

On the Democratic side this year, Bernie Sanders has mounted a stronger-than-expected challenge to Clinton by reminding voters about her ties to Wall Street and also her vote for the Iraq war.

While Clinton now says that vote was a mistake, Sanders is bragging that he was one of the few Democrats in Congress to speak out against the war and then vote against it. 

If Clinton wins the nomination and runs against Trump, the war will continue to shape the landscape. Last week, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found Clinton leading Trump by 14 percentage points on ability to handle terrorism and 29 percentage points on ability to handle an international crisis.

Talk about shock and awe.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.