Reports surfacing in the press are beginning to ask disturbing questions about the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and just how much the Obama administration knew prior to that syndicate’s rapid ascension. The grim conclusion with which these reports leave the reader is that the Obama administration prioritized political considerations over the geostrategic necessity of preempting ISIS’s advance.
The Weekly Standard’s Stephen F. Hayes concisely frames the Obama administration’s political calculation – and it was always ever political – when issues relating to Iraqi security arose.
In Iraq, the president was willing to sacrifice the hard-won gains of U.S. military and diplomatic personnel in the pursuit of his overriding objective—getting out. The United States hadn’t created a stable and peaceful Iraq when the president was sworn in on January 20, 2009. But we had largely defeated our enemies there, and even opponents of the war acknowledged the very real prospect of a relatively secure, democratic Iraq. We lost Iraq by choice.
By the beginning of 2012, the administration had settled on the narrative that the Iraq War had been concluded if not won outright. Any inconvenient developments which contradicted this contrived plotline were never acknowledged by the administration and rarely by the press, which took many of its cues in that pivotal election year from the White House.
But the Arab Spring had lit a fuse in the region. The Syrian civil war, a ghoulish conflict which featured the use of chemical weapons on civilian populations for the first time in more than 20 years, raged. The regional aspirations of some of the most unsavory parties in that conflict were clear even then.
A report in out of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau levels a damning accusation at the Obama White House and the political media:
In congressional testimony as far back as November, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials made clear that the United States had been closely tracking the al Qaida spinoff since 2012, when it enlarged its operations from Iraq to civil war-torn Syria, seized an oil-rich province there and signed up thousands of foreign fighters who’d infiltrated Syria through NATO ally Turkey.
The testimony, which received little news media attention at the time, also showed that Obama administration officials were well aware of the group’s declared intention to turn its Syrian sanctuary into a springboard from which it would send men and materiel back into Iraq and unleash waves of suicide bombings there. And they knew that the Iraqi security forces couldn’t handle it.
The latest McClatchy report indicates that the rise of ISIS was the direct result of the administration’s refusal to address the escalating situation in Syria. Rather than embracing and arming moderate anti-Assad rebel forces, it fell to regional powers – Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey – to support the insurgents of their choosing. The result was the rise of the nightmarish, medieval fundamentalist army which is currently carrying out an ethno-religious purge in the Iraqi territories they control.
Even as ISIS began its rapid advance across Iraq, the administration refused to acknowledge it. According testimony from Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran, the White House knew Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, would fall to advancing ISIS fighters three days before it did. They did nothing about it. Today, unspeakable crimes against human dignity and the common heritage of mankind are committed in that ancient city on a near daily basis.
An administration which ran in 2012, in part, on its tough prosecution of the War on Terror (evidenced by an increase in drone strikes in theaters like Pakistan and Yemen, as well as the successful operation which resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden) has now presided over the creation of an Islamic caliphate which harbors terrorist actors who have a stated willingness to attack the United States.
“This miscalculation essentially has helped realize the worst nightmare for this administration, an administration that prided itself on its counterterrorism strategy,” Vali Nasr, dean of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, told McClatchy reporters. “It is now presiding over the resurgence of a nightmare of extremism and terrorism.”
Reporters are only just beginning to put the pieces of this puzzle together, and are discovering that the Obama administration was complicit in the rise of a major threat to the security of Western powers. Historians will finish the work that journalists have started, and their verdict will not be kind.