National Security & Defense

Rand Paul Has a Point about Republicans and ISIS

(Image of ISIS fighters via YouTube)

Seems like Rand Paul always goes too far.

He could have made a perfectly respectable argument that the NSA’s metadata program is illegal because it exceeds the Patriot Act’s authority. Instead he speciously insists that the Patriot Act shreds the Fourth Amendment and the program is akin to Nixon-era “domestic spying.”

He could also have made a perfectly respectable — I would say, irrefutable — argument that there was strong bipartisan support for some reckless policies that significantly contributed to the rise of the Islamic State — the jihadist organization that now controls much of Iraq and Syria. Instead, the Kentucky Republican speciously claims that “hawks” in his own party “created” ISIS.

RELATED: Rand Paul: Republican Hawks Are Arming ISIS

ISIS is a creation of Islamic-supremacist ideology, which is drawn directly from Muslim scripture. Part of the reason that Senator Paul is no improvement over the Republicans he often derides is that he is just as wrong as they are about the threat we face.

In their infatuation with Muslim engagement, Beltway Republicans imagine a monolithic, smiley-face Islam — a “religion of peace” that seamlessly accommodates Western liberalism . . . except where it has been “hijacked” by “violent extremists.” Indeed, long before President Obama came along, it was the Bush administration that endeavored to purge terms like “jihadism” from our lexicon, even assuring us: “The fact is that Islam and secular democracy are fully compatible — in fact, they can make each other stronger.”

RELATED: What Price Are We Willing to Pay to Keep ISIS in Check?

Thankfully, Senator Paul does not seem to have gulped that Kool-Aid. Yet, his anti-government populism leads him to maintain — just as his father did in less guarded rhetoric — that it is American policy, not Islamic-supremacist ideology, that induces jihadists to attack the United States.

It’s undeniable that Republican policy contributed to the Islamist bedlam now exploding across the Middle East.

Paul appears to grasp that jihadism is evil, rooted in Islamic doctrine, and anti-American. The conclusion he draws from this premise, however, is that it should be given a wide berth rather than confronted and defeated. This is not materially different from the “blame America first” cast of mind that Jeanne Kirkpatrick diagnosed and Barack Obama instantiates. Nor is it far from the mindset that blames Pamela Geller or Charlie Hebdo when Islamists respond to mere taunts with lethal violence — as if sharia gives Muslims a special mayhem dispensation that American law must accommodate.

All that said, if Paul’s point was that Republican policy contributed to the Islamist bedlam now exploding across the Middle East and northern Africa, that ought to be undeniable.

RELATED: The Fall of Palmyra Is a Strategic, Historical, and Human Loss

Because the senator hyperbolically claimed that the GOP “created” ISIS, the indignant rebukes raining down on him from Republican leaders and sympathizers focus on Iraq. It was there that the organization was born as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), eventually rebranding as ISIS upon breaking away from the mother ship and declaring its caliphate.

82nd Airborne soldiers patrol Baghdad during the surge, April 2007 (Joe Raedle/Getty)

Selectively mining facts, the Republican establishment claims that, thanks to the 2007 troop surge, President Bush annihilated AQI before there ever was an ISIS. The latter arose, so the story goes, because Obama reversed Bush’s policies and refused to keep a residual force in Iraq after 2011. In point of fact, the GOP fingerprints on the sweeping Middle East disaster transcend Iraq. But even if we just stick to Iraq, the Republican story is woefully incomplete.

Having been created by Islamic supremacism, AQI/ISIS was nurtured by Iran. Notwithstanding the internecine bloodletting that now pits Sunnis against Shiites across the region, Shiite Iran has been the key supporter of both Shiite and Sunni jihadist groups since its revolutionary incarnation as “the Islamic Republic” in 1979. It has backed Sunni al-Qaeda and Hamas, as well as Shiite Hezbollah and a network of Shiite terror cells in Iraq. Its only requirement has been that jihadists of whatever stripe advance Iran’s interests by taking the fight to the U.S. and Israel.

RELATED: Iraq’s Decline into Chaos Traces Back to 2011, Not 2003

In that vein, Iran harbored al-Qaeda operatives after the 9/11 attacks and facilitated the anti-American insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. This involved collaboration with Abu Musab Zarqawi, the formative figure of AQI who was eventually killed by U.S. forces in Iraq after he had fomented civil war there.

Iran helped Zarqawi even though AQI’s strategy involved killing Shiites. Of course, the regime in Tehran kills plenty of Iranians, so it has no qualms about killing Shiites. It helped Zarqawi kill them in Iraq because its interests were advanced by chaos in Iraq, which enabled the mullahs to spread their influence and their Shiite terror network.

Although this was obvious, as was the fact that Iran was behind the killing of thousands of American troops, the Bush administration treated Iran as if it had an interest in Iraqi stability. The Republican administration ignored Iran’s fueling of the jihad; negotiated with Iran (ostensibly through intermediaries) on its nuclear-weapons program; and disaggregated the nuke negotiations from Iran’s terror promotion — just as Obama has done — despite the fact that the United States was Iran’s top terror target. Bush even backed as Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a pro-Iranian Shiite Islamist who, predictably, drew Baghdad ever closer to Tehran while exacerbating the rift with Iraqi Sunnis. This increased an already teeming recruiting pool for AQI and, later, ISIS.

It is a gross exaggeration to claim, as Republicans do, that the surge “won” the war in Iraq.

The surge did indeed tamp down on the violence and inflict withering losses on AQI. Still, it is a gross exaggeration to claim, as Republicans do, that the surge “won” the war in Iraq. If we judge matters by Bush’s stated objective — a stable, democratic Iraq that would be a reliable American counterterrorism ally — Iraq was already a failure by 2007. The surge killed many jihadists and gave the warring Iraqi factions yet another opportunity to reconcile. But it was always known that (a) our jihadist enemies backed by Iran were a regional (in fact, a global) threat, so the war could not be won in Iraq alone; and (b) the surge was a temporary measure, not a permanent solution.

The latter problem was exacerbated by the status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) to which Bush reluctantly agreed. In lashing out against Paul, Republicans and their apologists emphasize that Obama changed Bush’s policies. This is true, but it conveniently omits mentioning that Bush’s policies were first changed by . . . Bush.

RELATED: The Iraq Question Conservatives Need to Do a Better Job of Answering

For years, President Bush envisioned that all our sacrifice on Iraq’s behalf would yield a permanent working alliance with a sizable post-war American presence that would help us project power and protect our interests in the region. But, despite the administration’s smiley-face-Islam depiction of the Iraqis, they in fact despise infidel Americans and wanted our forces out of their country — to the point that the free Iraqi elections our government liked to brag about became contests over which candidate could spew the most venom about the United States. With the clock running out on the U.N. use-of-force mandate, Bush agreed with the Iranian-controlled Maliki to a SOFA that called for all American troops to leave the country by the end of 2011.

By that point, it was already clear that Barack Obama would be the next president. There is no doubt that, in driving a hard bargain with Bush, Maliki leveraged Obama’s strident opposition to the Iraq war and his vow to pull Americans out. Bush may have hoped that Obama would grow into the job, be guided by America’s interests instead of his ideological leanings, and strike a new deal with the Iraqis before the 2011 deadline based on whatever conditions on the ground were at the time. But hope is not a strategy.

Republicans are now claiming that it was blindingly obvious in 2011 that pulling out troops was a blunder that guaranteed the resurgence of jihadists in Iraq. If that is the case — and it surely is the case — then it was also blindingly obvious in late 2008 that the terms of the SOFA to which Bush agreed would, if complied with, guarantee the resurgence of jihadists in Iraq.

This is not to excuse the unmitigated mess Obama made of things. So determined was he to be done with Iraq, so dismissive was he of all America had sacrificed to drive our Sunni enemies from Iraq, that he was heedless of conditions on the ground as he drew our forces down. By 2011, after a steady draw-down, things were so much worse that Obama could have pressured Maliki to renegotiate the withdrawal deadline; a sizable presence of American forces would likely have prevented the advance of ISIS. Obama resisted this because he was determined to pull out at any cost, and because he calculated that abandoning Iraq would appease Iran, with which he was (and remains) desperate to negotiate a nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, the road was paved for Obama because of Bush’s withdrawal agreement. It is disingenuous for Republicans to contend that remaining in Iraq was the “Bush policy” when the president assented to a SOFA that unambiguously reads: “All United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.”

As already noted above, Iraq is not the half of the problem for the GOP. Why is it, do you suppose, that we do not know by now why our government had personnel stationed in Benghazi, Libya, one of the most dangerous places in the world for Americans, when four of them — including the U.S. ambassador — were massacred on September 11, 2012? After all, the Obama policy of empowering Islamists to overthrow the Qaddafi regime was spearheaded by Hillary Clinton, the then–secretary of state who is the Democrats’ presumptive 2016 presidential nominee. The Republicans presumably want to beat Mrs. Clinton, so why isn’t the Congress they control exploiting what, on the surface, seems like a powerful political argument against her competence?

Because influential Beltway Republicans were enthusiastic proponents of this disastrous policy from the start. On Libya, they are joined at the hip with Clinton and Obama.

Beltway Republicans were enthusiastic proponents of our disastrous Libya policy from the start.

The State Department had observed in 2009, when GOP senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were about to lead a congressional delegation to Tripoli for meetings with Qaddafi, that “Libya has acted as a critical ally in U.S. counterterrorism efforts, and Libya is considered one of our primary partners in combating the flow of foreign fighters.” Yet no one was more ardent than McCain and Graham in calling for Qaddafi’s overthrow and for accomplishing that end by arming “rebels” who were known to be rife with top al-Qaeda figures.

The policy has rendered Libya a failed state in which jihadists control swaths of territory, a situation ISIS has now exploited, building a growing presence. The policy also led to an arms windfall for Libyan jihadists. It is now clear that some of those arms made their way to jihadists in Syria. What remains murky is whether the United States government facilitated that arms traffic. The State Department, the CIA, and administration spokesmen have been cagey about what our government did, and senior Republican lawmakers have thwarted efforts to probe the issue at at least one public hearing. But at the very least, American officials knew about arms transfers from Libyan jihadists to Syrian jihadists.

Of course, back in the first Obama term, before ISIS became a juggernaut, senior Republicans were keen to arm the Syrian “rebels” in order to overthrow the Assad regime. In essence, they wanted a redux of the Libya strategy that they and Hillary Clinton were proud to take credit for . . . right up until the Benghazi massacre and the disintegration of Libya into a failed state. But you don’t hear them speak much about overthrowing Assad anymore, just like you no longer hear much bragging about Qaddafi’s ouster. That is because it is now clear that the Syrian “rebels,” like the Libyan “rebels,” prominently included jihadists from al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Muslim Brotherhood. When Republicans were calling for these anti-Assad “rebels” to be armed and trained (mainly through Islamist governments), that is where much of the arming and training were going.

It was no surprise. After all, when the rabidly anti-American Muslim Brotherhood took over the Egyptian government, Republicans supported Obama in providing arms and aid for them, too — an initiative that Senator Paul vigorously but unsuccessfully opposed.

Toward the conclusion of the 2012 presidential campaign, there was a candidate debate on foreign policy. It was Mitt Romney’s chance, in the wake of the Benghazi terrorist attack, to separate himself from the catastrophic, pro-Islamist policies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Instead, Romney permitted little or no daylight between himself and the president — to the point that it sometimes seemed he was poised to endorse Obama.

It is fair to say that Romney was simply following a flawed strategy to narrow the election to a referendum on the economy, on which he figured Obama was most vulnerable. But Romney was able to follow the strategy with ease because, on foreign policy, there really wasn’t much daylight between Beltway Republicans and a president who makes Jimmy Carter look like Winston Churchill.

If that was what Rand Paul was trying to say, he has a point.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.   

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More