Day: August 11, 2016

Who founded ISIS?

Donald Trump says it was President Obama, along with Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State:

This is bullshit (as is his claim to have opposed the invasion of Iraq before it occurred).

But it is well worth recalling some of the history of the Islamic State, whose origins are to be found in Al Qaeda in Iraq, founded to resist the American forces there after the 2003 invasion (though there was a precursor organization under Saddam Hussein led by the real founder of the Islamic State: Abu Musab al Zarqawi). I would not call President Bush the founder of ISIS, but it is nevertheless fair to say that without the American invasion it is difficult to picture how the group would have gained the traction it did. That said, by the time of the American withdrawal in 2011, the Islamic State in Iraq had been largely defeated.

Trump will no doubt claim that it was the American withdrawal, conducted under President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, that enabled the ISIS revival. But that simplistic and fallacious allegation, post hoc ergo propter hoc, ignores several wrinkles:

  1. The agreement for the 2011 American withdrawal was negotiated and signed under President Bush, prior to President Obama taking office.
  2. The revival of the Islamic State in Iraq was due primarily to the exclusionary governing methods of then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who tried to repress peaceful Sunni demonstrations with force.
  3. The even more repressive methods of Syrian President Bashar al Assad from 2011 on created chaotic conditions that enabled the Islamic State to expand into Syria.

If you want to distribute blame, I’d put it more or less in this order: Maliki>Assad>Bush>Obama. Obama’s culpability is for failure to do as much as he should have to limit Assad’s depredations against Syria’s population.

I don’t expect Trump to accept any of this. He is obviously thrilled with the reaction of his supporters to his blaming Obama and Clinton. That will be enough for him to continue repeating his allegations.

What he won’t mention is the vigorous effort of the current administration for the past two years to kill Islamic State cadres and deny it control over territory, relying on local forces and without the loss of more than a handful of Americans. I am among the first to criticize the Obama Administration for taking an overly militarized approach to defeating ISIS. But give credit where it is due. ISIS has lost thousands of fighters, about 50% of its territory in Iraq and more than a quarter of its territory in Syria over the past year. It has also lost ground in Libya, where its capital at Sirte has reportedly fallen. Obama’s military effort against the Islamic State is a strikingly successful one.

So too is the effort to prevent Islamic State fighters from entering the US. The recent ISIS attacks (San Bernardino, Tampa) have been ISIS-inspired rather than directed. Only a handful of immigrants have been arrested for affiliation with the Islamic State, which suggests that the screening procedures are working remarkably well.

The truth is that the Islamic State does not, as Trump claims, “honor” President Obama. But it likes Trump and his ilk a lot. His effort to exclude Muslims from the US feeds the ISIS propaganda machine, which claims Muslims will never get a fair shake in the West. Trump did not found the Islamic State any more than Obama did, but he is aiding and abetting its efforts. I trust Americans will know what to do about that at the polls.

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