Did George W. Bush created ISIS? George Not that smart. But Satan Cheney and his team
Did George W. Bush created ISIS? George Not that smart. But Satan Cheney and his team
Jeb Bush replied by repeating his earlier criticism of President Obama: that Iraq had been stable until American troops had departed.
“When we left Iraq, security had been arranged,” Bush said. The removal of American troops had created a security vacuum that ISIS exploited. “The result was the opposite occurred. Immediately, that void was filled.”
“Your brother created ISIS” is the kind of sound bite that grabs our attention, because it’s obviously false yet oddly rings true.
Bush didn’t like it: he offered a retort and then left the stage. Meanwhile, Ziedrich had started a conversation that rippled across Twitter, Facebook, and any number of American dinner tables. Who is actually right?
Here is what happened:
In 2003, the U.S. military, on orders of President Bush, invaded Iraq, and nineteen days later threw out Hussein’s government.
A few days after that, President Bush or someone in his Administration decreed the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. (Israel was extremely relieved: Iraqi army was the best trained and equipped in the Arab World).
This decision didn’t throw “thirty thousand individuals” out of a job, as Ziedrich said—the number was closer to ten times that. Overnight, at least 250,000 Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.
This was probably the single most catastrophic decision of the American venture in Iraq.
In a stroke, the Administration helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency. Bush Administration officials involved in the decision—like Paul Bremer and Walter Slocombe—argued that they were effectively ratifying the reality that the Iraqi Army had already disintegrated. (A silly argument that many could fall in)
This was manifestly not true.
I talked to American military commanders who told me that leaders of entire Iraqi divisions (a division has roughly ten thousand troops) had come to them for instructions and expressed a willingness to cooperate.
In fact, many American commanders argued vehemently at the time that the Iraqi military should be kept intact—that disbanding it would turn too many angry young men against the United States. But the Bush White House went ahead.
Many of those suddenly unemployed Iraqi soldiers took up arms against the United States. We’ll never know for sure how many Iraqis would have stayed in the Iraqi Army—and stayed peaceful—had it remained intact. But the evidence is overwhelming that former Iraqi soldiers formed the foundation of the insurgency.
On this point, although she understated the numbers, Ziedrich was exactly right. But how did the dissolution of the Iraqi Army lead to the creation of ISIS?
During the course of the war, Al Qaeda in Iraq grew to be the most powerful wing of the insurgency, as well as the most violent and the most psychotic. They drove truck bombs into mosques and weddings and beheaded their prisoners. But, by the time the last American soldiers had departed, in 2011, the Islamic State of Iraq, as it was then calling itself, was in a state of near-total defeat. The combination of the Iraqi-led “awakening,” along with persistent American pressure, had decimated the group and pushed them into a handful of enclaves.
Indeed, by 2011 the situation in Iraq—as former Governor Bush said—was relatively stable. “Relatively” is the key word here. Iraq was still a violent place, but nowhere near as violent as it had been. The Iraqi government was being run by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a fervent Al Qaeda foe and ostensible American ally.
In this sense, Ziedrich is right again, at least notionally: some of the men fighting in ISIS were put out of work by the American occupiers in 2003. Still, it’s not clear—and it will never be clear—how many of these Iraqis might have remained peaceful had the Americans kept the Iraqi Army intact. One of the Iraqis closest to Baghdadi was Ibrahim Izzat al-Douri, a senior official in Saddam’s government until 2003. (Douri was reported killed last month—it’s still not clear if he was or not.)
It’s hard to imagine that Douri—or any other hardcore member of Saddam’s Baath Party—would have ever willingly taken part in an American occupation, whether he had a job or not. So, in this sense, Ziedrich is overstating the case. While it’s true that George W. Bush took actions that helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency, and that some leaders of the insurgency formed ISIS, it’s not true that he “created” ISIS. And there’s a good argument to be made that an insurgency would have formed following the invasion of Iraq even if President Bush had kept the Iraqi Army together. He just helped to make the insurgency bigger.
But let’s get to Governor Bush’s assertion—that Iraq went down the tubes because of President Obama’s decision to pull out all American forces, and that Obama could easily have left behind a residual force that would have kept the peace.
I took up this issue last year in a Profile of Maliki, the Iraqi leader we left in place. Maliki didn’t really want any Americans to stay in Iraq, and Obama didn’t, either. But—and this is a crucial point—it seems possible that, if Obama had pushed Maliki harder, the United States could have retained a small force of soldiers there in noncombat roles. More than a few Americans and Iraqis told me this. They blame Obama for not trying harder. “You just had this policy vacuum and this apathy,” Michael Barbero, the commander of American forces in Iraq in 2011, told me, describing the Obama White House.
So, on this, Governor Bush isn’t entirely accurate, but makes a good point: the Obama Administration might have been able to keep some forces in Iraq if it had really tried.
And what if the Americans had stayed? Could a small force of American soldiers have prevented Iraq from sliding back into chaos, as Governor Bush claims? Americans like Barbero—and a number of Iraqis, as well—argue that the mere presence of a small number of American troops, not in combat roles, could have made a crucial difference. The idea here is that after the American invasion, which destroyed the Iraqi state, the Iraqi political system was not stable enough to act without an honest broker to negotiate with its many factions, which is the role that the Americans had played.
This much is clear: after 2011, with no Americans on the ground, Maliki was free to indulge his worst sectarian impulses, and he rapidly and ruthlessly repressed Iraq’s Sunni minority, imprisoning thousands of young men on no charges, thereby radicalizing the Sunnis who weren’t in prison. When, in June, 2014, ISIS came rolling in, anything seemed better than Maliki to many of Iraq’s Sunnis.
Could all that have been prevented? It’s impossible to know, of course, although President Obama, by sending American forces back to Iraq, seems at least implicitly to think so. Historians—along with Governor Bush and Ivy Ziedrich—will be arguing about the question for a long time.
“At least two hundred and fifty thousand Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.”
RENO, Nev. — On Wednesday afternoon, just as she sat down to watch TV and eat a corn dog, Ivy Ziedrich’s phone rang. It was her sister in Montana.
“I am so proud of you,” her sister said, “for yelling at a politician.”
It was the first inkling that Ms. Ziedrich, a 19-year-old college student with a passion for the debate team and the finer points of Middle Eastern policy, had gone viral.
Her confrontation with Jeb Bush, in which she told the former Florida governor a few hours earlier, “Your brother created ISIS,” was suddenly everywhere online, casting an unwelcome hue on President George W. Bush’s legacy from the war in Iraq.
“My sister started freaking out,” Ms. Ziedrich recalled.
In an interview, Ms. Ziedrich described a dizzying 24 hours of social media frenzy, her upbringing in a conservative Republican family, and the circumstances that prompted her to approach Jeb Bush, who was in Reno for a town hall-style meeting on Wednesday.
She had shown up with a few college friends uncertain of whether she wanted to ask anything at all. But as Mr. Bush spoke about the rise of the Islamic State, and put blame on President Obama for removing troops from Iraq, Ms. Ziedrich found herself becoming furious. ISIS, she believed, was the product of George W. Bush’s bungled war in Iraq.
“A Bush was trying to blame ISIS on Obama’s foreign policy — it was hilarious,” said Ms. Ziedrich, who attends the University of Nevada. “It was like somebody crashing their car and blaming the passenger.”
She acknowledged she was deeply nervous about walking up to him after the meeting and asking her question. “I get nervous any time I talk to an authority figure — he wants to be president of the United States,” she said.
Her question and his reply seemed to distill deep, lingering anger of the war in Iraq and encapsulate Mr. Bush’s political challenges as the brother of George W. Bush. Much online commentary has focused on her somewhat aggressive tone, a fact that Ms. Ziedrich finds a bit baffling.
“I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful,” she said. In fact, she said she is grateful that Mr. Bush responded, even if it did not exactly satisfy her.
Ms. Ziedrich, a high school debater who specialized in the parliamentary style and still helps coach her former team, said that all the attention she is garnering from those on the right (who thought she was rude) and those on the left (who want to canonize her) is confounding given her own political journey. Growing up in Northern California, she considered herself a conservative like her mother and father, who is a loyal Fox News viewer.
Then she identified as a libertarian and, ultimately, as Democratic, influenced by her time spent debating and by books like Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”
Speaking from her apartment, Ms. Ziedrich says she is busy juggling calls from old friends and media outlets.
“I am still trying to process all of this,” she said.
So far, her mother has expressed approval of the confrontation. But she hasn’t yet spoken with her father. “I am hoping he will be proud of me,” she said.