It didn’t take long for a return salvo to be fired over Rand Paul’s contention this morning that Republican hawks “created” ISIS. Bobby Jindal blasted Paul as “unsuited to be Commander in Chief,” accusing him of “taking the “weakest Democratic position” while Americans are fighting ISIS. Jindal slammed Paul as a superficial, “cocktail party” thinker, and that the real origin of ISIS is the metastasizing cancer of radical Islam:
“This is a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be Commander-in-Chief,” Jindal said in a statement. “We have men and women in the military who are in the field trying to fight ISIS right now, and Senator Paul is taking the weakest, most liberal Democrat position.”
“It’s one thing for Senator Paul to take an outlandish position as a Senator at Washington cocktail parties, but being Commander-in-Chief is an entirely different job,” he continued. “We should all be clear that evil and Radical Islam are at fault for the rise of ISIS, and people like President Obama and Hillary Clinton exacerbate it.” …
“American weakness, not American strength, emboldens our enemies,” he said. “Senator Paul’s illogical argument clouds a situation that should provide pure moral clarity. Islam has a problem. ISIS is its current manifestation. And the next President’s job is to have the discipline and strength to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth. It has become impossible to imagine a President Paul defeating radical Islam and it’s time for the rest of us to say it.”
I wonder how Jindal really feels about Rand Paul.
Without going to Jindal’s lengths here, Paul’s argument is historically and politically deficient. The group now known as ISIS began in in Afghanistan in 1999 as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, with encouragement and some resources from Osama bin Laden, long before the US invaded. Zarqawi took the organization to Iraq after the US invaded Afghanistan, but its mission was overthrowing the Jordanian monarchy and establishing a radical Islamic state there. When the US invaded Iraq, JTJ shifted its focus to the insurgency and became known as one of the most brutal and bloodthirsty groups in it, but at least initially they were more interested in fighting Shi’ite militias than the US.
Zarqawi publicly affiliated with al-Qaeda and changed JTJ’s name to al-Qaeda in Iraq, and sometimes publicly clashed with AQ over its brutality, before the US finally killed Zarqawi in a targeted bomb strike. The group had declared itself an Islamic State in western Iraq by then, but the Anbar Awakening and the alliance of Sunni tribes pushed them to the brink of destruction. Only much later did they return under a slightly different name — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS — and only after the US had pulled completely out of Iraq, thanks to the Obama administration.
None of this is classified material. All of it was well known during the war, and was especially noteworthy during the lengthy effort by the US to find Zarqawi. The US, and “Republican hawks,” had nothing to do with “creating” ISIS, AQI, or JTJ. In fact, the efforts of Republican hawks to press the “surge” strategy to its conclusion resulted in the greatest success against AQI/ISIS and had the Sunni tribes almost entirely arrayed against it, no thanks to the non-interventionists who wanted a full withdrawal in 2007. It was the pullout in 2011 that allowed a cascading series of failures that breathed life into ISIS again.
There may be good reason to regret the 2003 decision to invade and occupy Iraq. But to claim that the US, or “Republican hawks” created ISIS or even contributed to its returned strength is breathtakingly ignorant, both of ISIS and the history of the past 15 years. It also belies a mindset more interested in scoring points off of old arguments than in dealing with the reality of the situation we face now. Jindal’s correct that this blithe, blame-America approach is the kind of rhetoric that should disqualify Paul from serious contention for the Republican nomination, and makes us reminisce about his father for all the wrong reasons.