Bush Created ISIS: Another False Narrative

From a political perspective, there now appears to be a consensus among Republicans: The Iraq War was a mistake. After Jeb Bush fumbled the question for a week, his presidential challengers -- Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and Chris Christie among them -- all disavowed the war and said they wouldn’t have invaded, given the benefit of hindsight.

Jeb Bush finally said so, but he continued to hold onto the view that deposing Saddam Hussein made the world a better place. Whether that is the right answer from a political standpoint remains to be seen. The Iraq War is so unpopular now -- with even a plurality of Republicans viewing it as a mistake -- that of course every candidate will disavow it. With ISIS having taken over half of the country, it sure seems that way. “Your brother created ISIS,” a sanctimonious college student told Bush in a supposed question and answer session at the University of Nevada. Beyond the girl’s smug tone (“You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir,” she said when Bush asked if her declarative statement was a question), she did express the conventional wisdom amongst a large amount of the public. Ironic, as President Obama, himself a Democrat, with no love for the Iraq war, finally conceded in his latest foreign policy interview for The Atlantic, that despite what might be termed as a mistake going in Iraq at the first place, those sacrifices made by American armed forces, allowed Iraqis to “take back their country.”

Like many narratives from Ferguson to the Charlottesville, Va., the “Bush created ISIS” narrative is not entirely or even mostly true. There has been and will be a constant post-modernist argument tying everything that is wrong with Middle East now to Iraq invasion in 2003. In fact, despite mistakes in its prosecution, the Iraq War did much good, and the chaos on the ground now is mostly due to existing factors that would be exacerbated without the war.

Even the much heralded failure to find WMD isn’t all that it seems. The question of Iraqi WMD, the fabled unicorn, is still of course, very muddled. Coalition forces led by US and UK didn’t find any significant WMD, the primary pretext of launching the invasion. Humanitarian intervention and saving the Kurds narrative came later during the course of the war. However that doesn’t disclose the full story. Recently, the Islamic State (ISIS) whose leaders comprise mostly generals from Saddam’s Baathist revolutionary guards, were shown in a propaganda video with stockpiles of Sarin and Mustard gas-filled rockets at the Al Muthanna complex, less than 60 miles from Baghdad. The State Department dismissed the threat, saying they stockpiles are too old, but the threat of proliferation remained, as did the questions, how come there are still rockets filled with gasses in Iraq.

This is not the first time questions about the whereabouts of Iraqi WMD have been raised. The well-documented use of Sarin on Syrian revolutionaries by the forces of Bashar Al Assad points to proliferation of Iraqi WMD across the border. The modes of use, as well as the deliverable weapons used, all point out to a trail that stops dead in Iraq. Over 5000 shells of chemical weapons were discovered in Iraq as late as in 2013, raising questions as to why would someone take the effort of making shells when there were no weapons allegedly, as stated by Saddam Hussein’s administration.

The Iraq-Syria proliferation theory has solid support from different prominent people, including ground officers of the US, UK and Ukrainian intelligence, tracking the movement and even alleging hitherto uncorroborated Russian hand. Sources ranging from former Romanian intelligence officer Ion Pacepa, to Syrian journalist Nizar Nayouf, to Late Israeli premier Ariel Sharon, to Director of the Intelligence Summit John Loftus, to former Iraqi defected Air Force General Georges Sada and Army general Ali Al Tikriti, all support this Iraq-Syria conjecture.

Beyond WMD, let us consider some other questions: Can you imagine what would happen if Islamists got a hold of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s WMD in the wake of the Arab Spring? Gaddafi surrendered his WMD program immediately after the US led invasion in Iraq in 2003, and he didn’t do it to the UN or Kofi Annan, but to US supervisors.

Another important development that occurred as a direct result of the Iraq war was the freedom and autonomy of the Kurds, an ever-persecuted bunch, who were gassed by the thousands by Saddam. It doesn’t take long, even for a whiny twenty-something college liberal, to Google “Halabja chemical attack photos.” However, we are on the verge of a historical anomaly: the wrongful oppression of Kurds and the denial for their autonomy to be righted. Kurds are now almost completely autonomous, thanks to the war in Iraq, and have a successful economy based on oil production and even tourism. There are even motions and bills in the US arguing Kurds to be given full statehood, and subsequently financial aid and weapons.

What could be considered a terrible mistake in Iraq was mismanagement of the war, having too much trust in Iraqi armed forces, and the failure to get the insurgency under control. The nation-building campaign left much to be desired. That is all true, but does it detract from the decision to invade in the first place? Those were mistakes made after the invasion. If the U.S. didn’t invade Iraq, there would have been a whole new set of hypothetical questions.

Is the world a better place without Saddam? Clearly so. Are the events in Middle East including the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State tied to the Iraq war of 2003? No, and any such ridiculous argument is a careful and deliberate disregard of the last four thousand years of history of the region, not to mention the geo-political and economic realities. To claim ISIS was created by George Bush would be comparable to saying Nixon made China an economic superpower, Kennedy gave rise to Vietnamese communist guerrillas, or going back even further, that Assyrians from the city of Nimrud angering Islamists extremists created ISIS.

Was it wrong to invade Iraq? Perhaps yes, although in a hypothetical situation in an alternate universe, if US went in, deposed Saddam, and went out without trying to fix or occupy Iraq, the war would be considered a victory. For good or for bad, which time will judge. One question can be asked about Obama’s handling of Libya: Was it a mistake for him to leave the country on its own after overthrowing the government?

George W. Bush, didn’t leave Iraq after bombing, he tried to rebuild it with American money and manpower, and tried to give the place a semblance of modern life and modern infrastructure and institutions. His biggest mistake was not the invasion, but the misjudgment of the character of the region, the sectarian quicksand, in which he was leading America into for a long stay. Bush was also limited by the technology of his time, the drone program was still nascent, and thus it is bizarre to judge his response to a national crisis 12 years from the event, without the benefit of hindsight. Finally, to judge George Bush’s foreign policy legacy solely by Iraq, without mentioning the nuclear deal with India, and aid to Africa, is not just intellectually dishonest, but also unworthy of journalistic ethics.

Sumantra Maitra is a foreign affairs columnist and research scholar on Neo-Realism and Russian foreign policy. He is also a prospective doctoral scholar at Nottingham University. He tweets at @MrMaitra.