Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.
Like Birkenstocks and ironic t-shirts, blaming Bush has never gone out of style on the left. When Al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq became so obvious that even the media, which had been pretending that Obama’s claims about a successful withdrawal were true, could no longer ignore them, their talking points were all lined up and ready.
It was all Bush’s fault.
Defenses of the war by pivotal figures like Dick Cheney and Tony Blair only enraged them further. “Why wouldn’t they admit it was all their fault?”
But the left’s lazy talking points about Iraq, like their talking points about the economy, ignore everything that has happened since 2008.
The leading factor behind the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq didn’t come from Iraq. It came from Syria.
From the “Islamic State of Iraq” under Bush to the ”Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” under Obama, it’s all in the name. The variations of ISIS and ISIL show a regional shift toward Syria. Al Qaeda in Iraq was a vicious terrorist organization before the Arab Spring, but it was not capable of menacing Baghdad with a sizable army while crushing numerically superior forces along the way.
That didn’t happen in Iraq. It happened in Syria.
If you believe liberal supporters of Obama and opponents of the Iraq War, regime change in Iraq disastrously destabilized the region, but regime change in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria didn’t.
But the theory that turned Al Qaeda into a regional monster didn’t come from Dick Cheney. It came from Obama’s Presidential Study Directive 11 which helped pave the way for the Arab Spring. The definitive speech that opened the gates of hell wasn’t Bush’s speech on Iraq, but Obama’s Cairo speech.
That speech and the policy implemented with it led to the fall of allied governments and the rise of Islamist militias aligned with Al Qaeda. The Arab Spring was a regime change operation on a much larger scale than the Iraq War. Unlike the Iraq War, it was completely unsupervised and uncontrolled.
And it favored America’s enemies from the very outset.
ISIS picked up its weapons and manpower as a consequence of the conflicts in Libya and Syria. Obama chose to fight on the side of Al Qaeda in Libya. That led to the murder of four Americans in Benghazi after Islamic militias took over major cities.
Obama chose to facilitate the smuggling of weapons to Islamic militias by Qatar and other Gulf states. The White House endorsed the weapons smuggling, but then claimed to be surprised that the weapons were going to “more antidemocratic, more hard-line, closer to an extreme version of Islam” fighters.
The White House didn’t shut down the smuggling operation. Instead a senior official claimed not to be able to control the Qataris; not to mention the Saudis, Kuwaitis and the rest of the state-sponsored terrorism gang.
After Libya many of the fighters and weapons went to Syria where different factions of Al Qaeda were battling it out with the Syrian government and each other. And some of those weapons didn’t just end up in Syria.
A US chopper was shot down in Afghanistan using Qatari weapons supplied to the Libyan Jihadists that ended up in the hands of the Taliban.
Despite supposedly learning a lesson from Libya, Kerry announced last yearthat he supported efforts by the same bad actors to arm the Syrian rebels. Occasional noises were made about seeing to it that the weapons ended up in the hands of the “moderates”, but there was an extensive track record showing that such distinctions meant nothing and that the Gulf states would go on arming terrorists.
Even when the weapons didn’t go directly to Al Qaeda, its various affiliates were able to capture them anyway through defections, deals or outright attacks.
Obama failed to crack down on the weapons smuggling that armed ISIS because it was being carried out by “allies” like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda would be in no position to menace Baghdad if its flow of weapons and recruits had been aggressively cut off.
There were two paths that led to this current crisis. One was from the Gulf and the other from Iran.
Obama failed to check Iranian power which emboldened Maliki to crack down on Sunnis. The Gulf Sunni states were busy financing the armed and political Jihads of everyone from the Muslim Brotherhood to Al Qaeda. The intersection of these two paths led to the current civil war.
The “Blame Bush” crowd insists that if Saddam had not been overthrown, none of this would be happening. Except that Assad, Saddam’s fellow Baathist dictator, wasn’t overthrown by Bush and he’s still having trouble holding his own against Al Qaeda.
Saddam Hussein might have been less threatened by a Sunni insurgency, but that’s because Al Qaeda in Iraq is allied to and fighting alongside the current head of the Baath Party.
Saddam had supported a number of terrorist groups. Al Qaeda had operated under Saddam Hussein as Ansar Al-Islam and had a Saddam man in its ranks. Today Saddam’s Baathist successors have their own man in ISIS who chose its current leader.
Saddam and Al Qaeda being on the same team is not some new phenomenon. Saddam helped fund and plan operations with Egyptian Islamic Jihad which eventually merged into Al Qaeda and took over its leadership. They both had a common interest when it came to the United States and to Shiites.
If Saddam had not been overthrown, he would probably have become a much more active state sponsor of Al Qaeda once the Arab Spring rolled around.
Obama could have kept Iran and its Shiite allies from pushing the Sunnis into the Baath/Al Qaeda corner by standing up to Iran. Instead he disengaged and pretended that everything was going to be fine. He didn’t believe that, but he didn’t care either. Democrats had been vocal critics of Maliki. Obama repeatedly told Maliki to govern more inclusively as if mere words would somehow change anything.
Power in the Middle East is based on strength, not on teleprompters.
Obama’s withdrawal only meant that everyone would choose a stronger horse. The Shiites chose Iran. The Sunnis chose Al Qaeda. Obama’s failure to do anything about Iran led the Gulf states to require a Salafist horde to keep it at bay. Al Qaeda is their response to the military gap between them and Iran.
Iraq would not have fallen apart nearly as badly without the Arab Spring. Al Qaeda would have gone on killing dozens of people in car bombings, but it wouldn’t have been moving on Baghdad. It wasn’t the Iraq War that turned Al Qaeda in Iraq into a monster that could menace two nations.
It was the Arab Spring.
Obama chose to execute regime change on a much larger scale than Iraq. Al Qaeda’s dominance in Syria and Iraq is only one of the consequences of that disaster.
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