Is there a statute of limitations for blaming George W. Bush for the world’s ills? This weekend, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Huffington Post ran yet another piece repeating leftist conventional wisdom that Bush created ISIS with his disastrous Iraq invasion, that Obama’s missteps were minor by comparison, and oh, by the way, those who supported the Iraq invasion should just shut up.
As with many great lies, they begin with kernels of truth. Yes, there were key American missteps early in the war that gave al-Qaeda in Iraq (the precursor to ISIS) room to grow. We should not have disbanded the Iraqi Army and civil service. We should not have conducted a “light footprint” early invasion and occupation. We should not have allowed our detention facilities to be used for radical recruitment and training. In other words — just as with every American war ever fought — we made multiple, serious mistakes, and those mistakes had deadly consequences.
But this is only part of the story, a small part of the story. In Iraq, America ultimately righted the military ship, dealing al-Qaeda a comprehensive military defeat, leaving it with only 700 scattered members, a rag-tag and ineffective rump of a once-deadly insurgency. I watched the transformation with my own eyes. My deployment was at ground zero of al-Qaeda’s first attempt at a caliphate, where it declared itself the Islamic State of Iraq and established its “capital” in Baqubah, not far from our own forward operating base.
After more than a year of hard fighting (and bitter losses), the nascent Islamic State was thoroughly defeated. A neighboring brigade retook Baqubah, our armored cavalry squadron cleared the countryside, and the rate of attacks on American convoys went from 25 percent to less than 1 percent. Islamic State insurgents began surrendering without a fight. They were beaten, demoralized, and dispirited. As one captured fighter told me — in perfect English — he surrendered because he was “tired,” tired of running and fighting without hope.
#share#But that leads us to the big picture, the true reason it’s absurd to blame George Bush for ISIS. There was jihad before the Iraq war, there was jihad outside of Iraq during the Iraq war, and there is still jihad years after the Iraq war. The global jihadist movement — in both its Sunni and Shia incarnations — has been growing for generations. Iran is a jihadist nation. Israel is has been beset by jihadist violence for generations. There was jihad in Afghanistan before 9/11, jihad in the Balkans during the Clinton administration, jihad again in Afghanistan after 9/11, and jihad again in Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, and many other locales since the Obama administration entered the White House.
There was jihad before the Iraq war, there was jihad outside Iraq during the Iraq war, and there is still jihad years after the Iraq war.
Jihadists were dealt a serious tactical and strategic defeat in Iraq — a victory that the Obama administration squandered through its pathological and ideological commitment to American weakness — but the larger international jihadist movement was still intact. Jihadist Islam is not the work of a “few extremists” but rather the careful cultivation of an entire religious awakening, a spiritual transformation that has touched the lives of millions of Muslims across the globe. One does not defeat that movement in Iraq alone, and Bush certainly didn’t create that movement with his invasion.
There are two jihadist constants of the last two generations of radical Islamic violence. First, jihadists flock to conflict. If there is fighting between jihadists and any opponent — American, Russian, Israeli, or Muslim — deemed insufficiently faithful to the jihadist creed, then expect jihadists to reinforce their brothers and fight to the bitter end.
#related#Second, if there is no conflict, jihadists will plot to strike their enemies and expand their influence. For years before 9/11 we left al-Qaeda relatively unmolested. The result was an escalating terror campaign that destroyed American embassies, nearly sank an American warship, and delivered the most devastating attack on American soil since the British put Washington, D.C., to the torch in the War of 1812.
The Iraq War represented but one theater of operations in a much larger, multi-generational conflict. It represented, for a brief time, a victory against a deadly foe. Now it highlights the high cost of American weakness. But it is not the root of all evil in the Middle East, and those leftists who continue to blame George W. Bush for the jihad that struck Paris are willfully blind to the depth of the danger we face.
— David French is an attorney, a staff writer at National Review, and a veteran of the Iraq War