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The Rise of ISIS. Who’s to Blame?

Sorting out the finger-pointing

"If we had 10,000 troops left in Iraq there would be no ISIL, and I
hate what Obama did. He gave away everything we fought for. I hate what he did". That was Lindsey Graham in the most recent Republican debate before he bowed out of the race. "I blame Obama for ISIL, not Bush. I miss George W. Bush. I wish he were president right now", he added. He seemed close to tears.

Blaming President Obama for the rise of ISIL has been adopted as doctrine for those on the right, with truth being the casualty. It's a seriously ugly lie emblematic of how craven our politics have become. Rather than mature evaluation that acknowledges mistakes, it's been simpler to divide ourselves into opposing camps which invent whatever is needed to blame the opposition.

ISIL, or ISIS, surged because "one of the biggest mistakes of the Obama presidency was to draw down the troops too fast", said conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks. "In my view we left Iraq too early and destabilized the region". Those quotes are a year apart, and in between we sent Brooks the more complex back story of how the troops came to be withdrawn, but to no effect — an example of how closed-minded our "opinion makers" choose to be.

The conservative magazine, The Weekly Standard says, "ISIL's forerunner fought on but failed to regain the momentum it once enjoyed — until, that is, President Obama oversaw a complete withdrawal from Iraq".

Neither Brooks, the magazine, nor others on the right, mention that the departure was in compliance with a "status of forces agreement" (SOFA) signed by George W. Bush in his last year in office at the insistence of the Iraqi government. That's what called for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011 — all 40,000 of our troops — and not some Obama caprice.

In a remarkable example of the willful amnesia deployed to shift blame to the current President, Andrew Card, no less than Chief of Staff for George W. Bush, re-wrote history on Fox's "America's Newsroom" saying that "not having a status of forces agreement in Iraq is a horrible problem that President Obama is facing, and he created that problem".

Lindsey Graham was not alone among the Republican candidates. They all say much the same, quite possibly because, like Donald Trump who gets his foreign policy from "the shows", they get theirs from Fox News, where blaming Obama for ISIS for withdrawing our troops from Iraq is a mantra.

"His policies in the Middle East created ISIS", said Rick Santorum in the December debate. Carly Fiorina says, "Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are responsible for the growth of ISIS because they precipitously withdrew from Iraq in 2011 against the advice of every single general". Ms. Fiorina gets her generals confused, however, so that needs fact-checking ).

Of all people, Jeb Bush, in his foreign policy speech, attacked President Obama for his “premature” decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq — a "fatal error...a case of blind haste to get out, and to call the tragic consequences somebody else’s problem”.

the actual history

Our invasion of Iraq had left a minimum of 150,000 dead, with some estimates far higher, and two million displaced from their homes. Iraqis wanted us out of their country. Acting as the sovereign democracy that the neoconservatives had wanted it to become, the Iraqi government sent us packing in accordance with the SOFA Bush signed. Efforts to leave behind 10,000 troops or even as few as 3,000 — not combat troops, but military advisers, special operations forces, etc. — were rebuffed by a government that had set a condition that the United States, under any president, could not accept: they refused to grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution.

Iraq's demand that our military be subject to their laws was beyond considering. Imagine a soldier accused of a crime, whether real or fabricated by vengeful Iraqi elements, that leads to incarceration in an Iraqi prison, trial in an Iraqi court, and a conceivable death sentence. Our troops could not be left vulnerable to that.

Even if Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki were to waive the demand, prime ministers come and go, so we therefore needed such a waiver to be ratified by the Iraqi parliament. But Al-Maliki was unwilling to risk a confrontation with Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who controlled the largest bloc of parliament. To allow to remain on Iraqi soil the U.S. troops that al-Sadr's own army had battled was anathema to him.

Yet conservatives in Congress and the media were frequently heard to say of Obama that "he should have tried harder", as if the President could have made a stirring speech in the Iraqi parliament and won them over. The media has forgotten all of this as well as al-Maliki himself saying, "When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible". Nor do they mention the headlines at the time, such as "Immunity issue scuttled U.S. troop deal" in which even the well-to-the right Washington Times acknowledged Obama's inability to keep troops in Iraq.

how isis actually began

ISIS didn't begin because we couldn't leave troops behind. Joby Warrick is a Washington Post reporter whose new book, “Black Flags”, traces the beginnings of ISIS and makes it clear that its roots were planted much earlier than the U.S. troop withdrawal.

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was an obscure Jordanian street thug who had waged jihad in Afghanistan and, having found religion, was running a small training camp he had started in northeast Iraq when, as Warrick puts it, “in the most improbable of events, America intervened”.

As justification for their invasion, the Bush administration, Vice President Cheney in particular, claimed there was a connection in the plotting of the 9/11 attacks between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, and named Zarqawi as the go-between they had in mind. The CIA knew this to be nonsense but Warrick's research found that this made Zarqawi something of a celebrity. He had become "the toast of the Islamist movement".

After the U.S. invaded, Zarqawi allied with al Qaeda. The Bush administration gave al Qaeda in Iraq a boost when it appointed J. Paul Bremer as proconsul to run the country while the U.S. figured out how to set up a democratic government. Like Bush, Bremer was an Andover/Yale product, plus a Harvard MBA with stints at Stanford and Paris' Institute of Political Studies — a heady layering of credentials that may have persuaded him of his own infallibility.

In a dreadful misstep he promptly decided to banish several layers of Hussein's Baathist government — the technicians who knew how to operate the country — which led to the chaos of water shortages, intermittent electricity and a crippled oil industry. He topped that blunder by far with the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army — conscripts who had no great love for Saddam and posed little threat, but sent home jobless and angry (and with their weapons). Thousands flocked to Zarqawi's growing army. What might have been a shorter war became a raging insurgency.

continuum

Zarqawi had adopted tactics so bloodthirsty — the suicide bombings and beheadings that would become standard procedure for ISIS — that al Qaeda disavowed him. He was killed in a U.S. air strike in 2006, but his movement was kept alive by the U.S. military. Instead of its role as savior, rescuing the Iraqi people from the brutality of Saddam Hussein, the insurgency caused our troops to begin treating Iraqis as the enemy, particularly in the hands of Gen. Ray Odierno's 4th Army, which fanned the insurgency instead of destroying it by breaking down doors to Iraqi homes, sweeping up Iraqi husbands and fathers by the thousands, and sending them indiscriminatingly into indefinite detention at Abu Ghraib prison.

The next bad choice was our advancement of Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister. His government doled out all power and positions to fellow Shiites, shutting out the Sunnis as vengeful payback for decades of harsh Sunni rule, only to add those Sunnis to al Qaeda in Iraq's ranks and causing their alienation from the Baghdad government that continues to this day.

So when another vicious beheader named Abu al-Baghdadi came along, clever and bold enough to take his leadership one step beyond Zarqawi's by grandly declaring himself the new Caliph and promising the new Caliphate, the Sunnis of the old al Qaeda in Iraq were already in place and ready to follow him in the creation of the Islamic State.

Beginning three years ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his contribution to the ISIS cause. When he began to kill his own people and turn most of his country to rubble, he handed ISIS the land that Caliphates by definition need to occupy. ISIS now moved into Syria, taking Raqqa as its capital.

So, who is to blame for the rise of Islamic State? Warrick's research shows the litany of mistakes external to ISIS that helped it grow, and he shows that internally there was no break in the continuum of Zarqawi's founding of al Qaeda in Iraq and its becoming the Islamic State.

Where in this does one find that Obama is the cause of ISIS? Yet the right wing lie will persist.

1 Comment for “The Rise of ISIS. Who’s to Blame?”

  1. Seem that I recall general C. Powell warned Bush & congress etc. (ignored by Hillary and many if not most Democrats)) that if we go into Iraq, we break it we will own it so to speak.

    Seems to be one major blunder after another that cost all the smart & educated politicians virtually zero, but 1,000’s of dead and wounded soldiers with wrecked lives!.

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