Who created ISIS? Was it Jeb Bush’s brother? (Shout out to Rob Lowe- Thank you!).
Can it be traced back to CIA overthrow in 1953 of Mossadeq?
Jimmy Carter’s lack of leadership support for the Shah in 1979?
Is it due to our support of the Saudi royals and other secular Muslim dictators? Or our abandonment of them in wake of the Arab Spring?
Did it all start with Reagan and the CIA (war in Afghanistan and CIA support for the Mujahadeen against the Soviets)? Was OBL a CIA creation?
Did the U.S. create Saddam? After all, there’s that famous photo of Rumsfeld shaking hands with the Butcher of Baghdad.
Can ISIS origin be traced back to Bush Sr. and the First Gulf War?
Is the U.S. responsible for giving chemical weapons/material to Saddam?
Was 9/11 an inside job? The Jews? What of Building 7?
Did Bush Jr. want to invade Iraq from day one in office? Was he hell-bent to do so no matter what? Did he “fix” the intelligence? Was it all about wmd? Did he attack the wrong country? Was there no relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda?
Would ISIS not exist if it weren’t for all of these events that have transpired before them (regardless of whether the perception itself is distorted and false)? Have we created more terrorists, because of OIF? Did we play into OBL’s hands by being drawn into engagement on the GWoT?
Can the birth of ISIS be directly traced to the (factual) invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the direct decisions made under Bush #43? Or how about Cheney and DeBa’athification?
Who is responsible for ISIS?
Last week, Jeb Bush’s feet were held to the fire after Megyn Kelly asked him a question:
Megyn Kelly: Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?
Regardless of how Jeb Bush heard or misheard the question, it’s baffling that he did not rehearse a ready-made, concise response for either “Knowing what we know now…” or “If you were president in 2001-2004, would you have invaded Iraq, given the same information your brother looked at?”
The intelligent answer would be, “I don’t know”. Then a short explanation of why (no one can accurately predict with honestly and in the absence of 20/20 hindsight knowledge how they would have responded to the reality of being president in wake of 9/11). The political answer is the one that’s easy to offer up- the construct of which is being followed by the other GOP presidential candidates for 2016. Essentially, their answers are to dodge the political bullet and give the safe answer, which is to concede that if they knew then what they know now, they would not have authorized the war in Iraq.
“I would not attach a lot of weight to anybody’s answer to this question, particularly to a candidate’s answer,” Perle told The Huffington Post in an interview. “You give the answer that you think is going to offend the fewest number of people whose votes you want and please the largest number of people whose votes you want, and you’ve got to do it in a sentence or two. I think the conventional wisdom is that Iraq was a mistake. So the easiest answer is going to be: I wouldn’t have done it.”
His point is that presidential campaigns don’t lend themselves to nuanced discussions. Perle’s not unapologetic about Iraq. Like those Republican candidates, he recognizes mistakes were made. But if he regrets anything, it’s decisions made post-invasion, rather than the choice to invade itself.
The case Perle makes is one that, up until this week, was the standard fallback for pro-war lawmakers. The intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs was “not entirely but substantially wrong,” he concedes. Responsibility for that lies with the intelligence community, he says, which “fell into a trap of their own making” — relying on bad sources and assumptions that proved sickeningly false. Hussein, meanwhile, didn’t help matters by refusing to give a more transparent accounting of his weapons inventory. War crept closer and closer as he resisted until, eventually, it was all but inevitable.
“At some point you have to make a decision,” Perle said. “The decision was a tentative one. It was not to invade. It was to be prepared. And then when Saddam failed to provide the information, you could have asked yourself: ‘Well, do you want to stand down? He hasn’t given us the information. It is not 100 percent. Do we want to stand down?’ And I think the answer at that time clearly was ‘No, we don’t want to stand down.’ The evidence is strong enough and the cost of standing down would be not delaying for a week or two, but essentially abandoning the capacity.”
“We were, in part, pushed by our own momentum,” he said.
Former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell, interviewed by Hugh Hewitt:
HH: Now there’s a very invaluable section of the book on when we went to war in Iraq. And given the headlines of the last week, Jeb Bush is caught on tenterhooks on this question. I want to read on Page 99, you write about the decision to go into Iraq. “I understand why the President felt it necessary, and it is hard to say that anyone presented with the same facts and burdens would have come to a different conclusion. After all, most of the Congress saw the war as necessary for the same reason that the President did.” All the other stuff is hypothetical, right, Mike Morell? This is the way it was in 2003.
MM: Yeah, I think it’s a totally unfair question, right, for somebody to say knowing what we know now, would you do something. That makes no sense, right? You never know what you know how when you’re making a decision. You only know what you knew then. So I think it’s a much more reasonable question to say if you knew then what President Bush knew, what you would do, and then it gets really tough, right? Because again, it’s all about the context, Hugh, and the context was, again, 3,000 people had just been killed, the CIA telling you that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, including restarting a nuclear weapons program that he had once and had stopped, the CIA telling you that he supports Palestinian terrorist groups, and not al Qaeda, but Palestinian terrorist groups, and the President sitting there thinking you know, I can’t afford to take the risk of this guy use those weapons of mass destruction against me directly, or I can’t take the risk of him giving those weapons to a terrorist group. So when you put the context around anything, right, you look at it in a different light. So I think people have been completely unfair to Governor Bush here. The question is not given what you know now. The question really is given what you know then, that’s the question I think he thought he was answering. And given all the members of Congress at the time who voted to go to war in Iraq and given what the President thought, I think the Governor is on solid footing.
HH: A couple of pages later, you write that the CIA’s judgment about Saddam and WMD was nothing new, nor was it unique. The perception that the Bush administration pushed the intelligence community toward believing that Saddam had WMD is just wrong. No one pushed us. We were already there. The notion that we were telling the White House wanted to hear can easily be debunked. Look at the question of Saddam’s connections to al Qaeda. We held our ground, the Agency held its ground, and refused to go where the intelligence did not take us. On WMD, if we’d believed it was likely Saddam had none, it would have been an act of madness to take the position we did. Following an invasion, a stockpile would either turn up or not. To go to war knowing you’re going to be proving wrong would be insane. That’s the kind of airtight analysis that has been missing from a lot of this hyper-politicized debate.
MM: So for years, for years, there’s been the view out there, Hugh, that CIA, the U.S. intelligence community, was pushed into this judgment by the Bush White House or hardliners in the Bush administration. It’s complete nonsense, as I walk through in the book. You know, I’ll tell you, the only thing you really need to know is that the CIA believed this about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction before George Bush ever came to office. We were telling the same story to President Clinton.
The reality of the current outcome did not have to happen the way it’s happened. The decision to remove Saddam in and of itself did not directly lead to ISIS. OIF did not make its rise inevitable.
The invasion itself with a streamlined force was a brilliant military success. The post-war operations, on the other hand, had its fair-share of disastrous, costly mistakes.
The decision to disband the Iraq police force and military in 2003 was a fatal nail in the coffin to Iraq’s security and the spiraling route things took, post major combat operations. Although I think details are not absolutely clear-cut regarding the state of the Iraq military (i.e., some claims that the army and police forces had all but dissolved itself. That might have been true to some degree, initially; but eventually those soldiers who abandoned their stations and uniforms sought work).
I do think that Bremer’s decision to officially disband it and the policy of “de-Ba’athification” which placed many thousands of military-trained Iraqis out of work directly contributed to the insurgency and sectarian Civil War that followed.
Liberation not occupation was the original goal. Situation on the ground changed that. The Iraq infrastructure was in much worse shape than we had known, and not due to American bombing. Saddam had used Iraq’s wealth (including oil-for-food scandal) not for the betterment of his people but to enrich his own coffers.
The next few years were painful, with an attempt at securing a peaceful and democratic Iraq amidst an insurgency, sectarian civil war, and the influx of foreign fighters and Iran, Jihadis and al Qaeda. The abu Ghraib scandal gave new life to al Qaeda recruitment after their decimation in Afghanistan.
By the time President Obama had come into office, he had inherited from his predecessor a fragile but stabilized Iraq. When so many advisers and political opponents were against it in 2007 (and now with a Democratic Party-controlled Congress), George W. Bush near-unilaterally made the presidential decision to support a troop surge instead of a troop evacuation. That and the Sunni Awakening drove al Qaeda in Iraq to defeat, steering Iraq back onto a stabilized path.
Maliki was a flawed leader who needed Washington to flex its influence and guidance toward the path of democratization- a process that will take generations; but a process that had begun.
But unlike President Bush, the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time won the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
President Obama had a campaign promise to fulfill: Bring troops home and end in the war in Iraq. He essentially did neither, as the war in Iraq and the insurgency both essentially ended by January 2009; and SoFA was signed under Bush, even though President Obama throughout 2011-2014 claimed credit for both.
With the rise of the JV squad- ISIS- President Obama began changing his tune. It’s Bush’s fault for invasion. It’s Maliki’s fault and Bush’s fault for signing the SOFA with the Maliki government. In other words, President Obama was for claiming credit before he was against accepting blame and responsibility:
President Obama had no problem claiming credit for “ending the war in Iraq” (forgetting that he opposed the Bush Troop Surge that made conditions on the ground possible for withdrawal along with the Awakening) and for “bringing the troops home”. After all, it was a campaign promise. But then he disowned it as soon as it became politically unsuitable for him, thanks to the rise of the JV squad known as the Islamic State, the successor to al Qaeda in Iraq.
A few things that are directly responsible for the rise of ISIS and for its takeover gains in Iraq more than any conditions created by the Bush decisions:
-Failure to renegotiate a Status of Forces Agreement that would have seen American forces remain in Iraq that could continue training and protecting Iraq for mutual security interests.
-Failure of the current administration to flex strong-arm pressure and a muscular diplomatic policy in dealing with Maliki to keep him on the straight and narrow. It’s what the Bush Administration had done. President Obama, however, did very little in the way of exercising influence or interest in Iraq until the SoFA deadline was drawing near.
-Failure in understanding the threat posed by jihadism and Islamic terror. Even one of his Democratic allies, an Iraqi war vet Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) understands that whether it be under the black banner of al Qaeda, ISIS, al Nusra Front, Boko Haram, or any countless number of Islamic militant groups including end-of-time Shia Islamists, they are all offsprings from the same poisonous tree. It matters not if they are rivals or allies. They are all enemies of modernity, the West, other Muslims who they deem insufficiently pure, and everything else on God’s green earth that does not conform to being Islamic.
-Failure to show decisive leadership in Syria- the direct result of which saw secular and Islamic & Islamist rebel groups ally themselves with the bad players like al Nusra Front (al Qaeda affiliate) and ISIS (al Qaeda rival for evil).
Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker:
as the last Americans left Iraq, there came the great uprising in Syria that pitted the country’s vast Sunni majority against the ruthless regime of Bashar al-Assad. Syria quickly dissolved into anarchy. Desperate and seeing an opportunity, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, dispatched a handful of soldiers to Syria, where, in a matter of months, they had gathered an army of followers and had begun attacking the Assad regime. Suddenly, Baghdadi’s group—which had been staggering toward the grave only months before—was regaining strength. In 2013, the I.S.I. became the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria. ISIS was born.
Finally, in June, 2014, legions of ISIS fighters swept out of Syria and grabbed huge swathes of northern and western Iraq.
The next post will cover SoFA (You’re welcome, Greg!) and why it wasn’t Bush’s signage of it, nor the belief that Iraqis actually wanted us out that paved the way for ISIS; but rather Obama’s failure in achieving a successful renegotiating of it that would have kept a fragile Iraq secure.