Blaming Obama and Clinton for ISIS simplifies a complicated problem

Donald Trump is sticking with his claims President Barack Obama founded ISIS. AP has a pretty detailed look at Trump’s comments (and the hypocrisy of it), but the biggest issue is Trump’s simplifying a complicated problem. Obama and Hillary Clinton certainly helped bring about ISIS with their reckless war in Libya, quasi-supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and their moves in Iraq and Syria. But if Trump is going to link Obama to ISIS, then he’ll have to link every U.S. president dating back to World War II to the group too.

The U.S. has been involved in the Middle East and Africa for over seven decades, starting with the North African Campaign of World War II. The cleansing of the Axis powers from the area (plus Britain and the Soviet Union’s brief war with Iran) left a massive power vacuum in the region which the Allies had to fill or enhance their presence. The Middle East was already in flux due to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, but Britain’s decision to almost completely leave the area made things difficult (note: I’m not saying they shouldn’t have left, just pointing out the problem). The region became even more chaotic when the U.S. and United Kingdom decided to overthrow the Iranian government in 1953 to make sure the Shah stayed in power. It may have ensured Iran’s support during most of the Cold War, but helped foment anti-American sentiment in Iran.

It’s also important to remember the Baghdad Pact of 1955 (otherwise known as the Central Treaty Organization) which was an agreement between Britain and most of the Middle East (with U.S. support) to keep the Soviet Union away from area. Iraq got out of the agreement following the establishment of the republican government in 1958 (and also became allied with USSR), while Egypt was considered pro-Russia and anti-U.S. CENTO eventually fell apart in 1979 when the Shah was deposed in Iran, which also pretty much destroyed Iran’s relationship with the West. CENTO may have been a good idea, but its execution didn’t work because of the Cold War. It’s possible things could have gone differently if neither the West or the USSR decided to exert influence in the region, but that’s only more speculation.

The proxy war between USSR and America kept things tense in the region when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The country was already in revolt, but Russians leaders were apparently unsure of the stability of the pro-Soviet government, so they tried to take over, which led to the U.S. funding of the Mujahedin. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said in 1997 just how expansive the operation was.

” And the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible; and we engaged in that effort in a collaborative sense with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the British, the Chinese, and we started providing weapons to the Mujaheddin, from various sources again – for example, some Soviet arms from the Egyptians and the Chinese. We even got Soviet arms from the Czechoslovak communist government, since it was obviously susceptible to material incentives; and at some point we started buying arms for the Mujaheddin from the Soviet army in Afghanistan, because that army was increasingly corrupt.”

The U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is pretty important because of its role in helping establish Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. It’s possible bin Laden wouldn’t have become a threat if the U.S. hadn’t decided to fund anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan. There’s a cause and effect here, which U.S. diplomats didn’t see because of the real worry about the Soviets. I’m not saying the U.S. should have let Russia run roughshod over Afghanistan, but there’s no guarantee it would have succeeded because of the 1978 revolt against the pro-Soviet government.

Then there’s Iraq, and the U.S. involvement there. It’s possible the massive chaos of the last four decades could have been avoided if the U.S. didn’t support Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran War (which led to a massive debt Hussein couldn’t pay back to the West, which could have led to the Kuwait invasion). It’s also possible Iraq and the West should have stayed at the negotiation table following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait or that Hussein should have been completely removed from power in 1991 (there’s no reason to start a war if you don’t plan on winning and destroying your enemy). Maybe the U.S. should have declared war on Iraq during Bill Clinton’s administration because of Hussein’s antics with UN inspectors and the worry of weapons of mass destruction. Or maybe the U.S. should have avoided doing sanctions in Iraq after the First Gulf War and tried to show how free trade can benefit everyone. It’s completely possible small businesses would have set up shop in Iraq (if they’d wanted) to sell items like fruit or other goods, and U.S. businesses could have expanded their own footprint. This would mean more people would have had jobs, tax revenue would have grown, and Hussein could have payed off the debt. It also could mean the 2003 Iraqi War could have been avoided, which means the humongous power vacuum left by Hussein’s downfall (and the Shia/Sunni tensions afterward) wouldn’t have happened. But hindsight is 20/20.

The point of all this is it’s way too simple to just lay the creation of ISIS at the feet of Obama and Hillary Clinton. The U.S. has had a long history of involvement in the region, meaning there are various opinions on how America is viewed. The U.S.’ foreign policy decisions have more than likely helped create the chaos inside the “cradle of civilization,” and have done nothing to stabilize it. This doesn’t mean apology tours should happen, but the solution is letting U.S. companies trade with foreign companies and individuals (without tariffs) to encourage free markets all over. It’s not going to be 100% successful (because we’re all human), but if fully baked and half-baked military action isn’t working, why not try something different?