Rudy Giuliani is half right about America's role in the rise of the Islamic State

By Bonnie Kristian, April 4, 2016

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton ““helped create ISIS. Hillary Clinton could be considered a founding member of ISIS,” said Rudy Giuliani while speaking with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly last week.

Asked by O’Reilly to explain his reasoning, Giuliani gave a laundry list of reasons. The first and most significant: “being part of an administration that withdrew from Iraq.”

In taking this line, Giuliani is hardly treading new ground. Indeed, the charge that ISIS arose because of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq has made regular appearances since the spring of 2014.

“The situation in Iraq at our departure was very good,” former Vice President Dick Cheney argued this past fall in a broader iteration of Giuliani’s claim. But, he said, “There was no stay-behind agreement, no advisers left in Iraq, and the vacuum that was created is what led, ultimately, to the rise in ISIS.” Similarly, former presidential candidate Jeb Bush made the case that “had we kept the 10,000 troop commitment that was there [in Iraq], we probably wouldn’t have ISIS right now.”

In this contention that American withdrawal was the crucial ingredient for ISIS’ ascension, Giuliani, Cheney, Bush, and their ilk are perhaps half right—but only half.

It is true that U.S. departure left a power vacuum in Iraq which ISIS has handily filled. But it is equally true—and far more important for the development of prudent, effective American foreign policy going forward—that no withdrawal or subsequent power vacuum would have existed had we never launched an ill-conceived invasion in the first place.

This prior contributing factor to ISIS’ rise is a reason the architects of the 2003 intervention (like Cheney) and their friends and family (like Giuliani and Bush) are all too happy to forget. But it is a very real connection, as even former President George W. Bush himself recognized when he named ISIS as his big regret about his decision to invade.

And Bush is hardly the only one to see the connection his fellow hawks studiously ignore. “As the murderous, terrorist Islamic State continues to threaten Iraq, the region and potentially the United States, it is vitally important that we examine how this problem arose,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has said, alluding to the 2003 intervention. “Shooting first and asking questions later has never been a good foreign policy,” he continued, and the rise of ISIS “has been a perfect example” of how such recklessness fails to keep us safe.

Writing at National Interest, Doug Bandow, a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, argued along similar lines. Without the 2003 “decision to blow up Iraq there would have been no Islamic State rampaging through a chaotic Mesopotamia,” he said. “The invasion was the critical mistake. The botched occupation compounded that initial error.” The withdrawal may have been the icing on the cake, but there was a heck of a lot of cake.

And while it is undoubtedly appealing for irresponsible intervention apologists like Giuliani, Cheney, and Jeb Bush to suggest that lengthening that same occupation could have prevented ISIS, this counterfactual is unconvincing. After all, as Bandow points out, the U.S. failed to transform Iraq into a stable, democratic state even when it had tens upon tens of thousands of American troops on the ground and billions upon billions of tax dollars thrown in with them.

David Kilcullen, who served as Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the Bush Administration from 2005 to 2006, agrees. “There would be no ISIS if we hadn’t invaded Iraq in the first place,” he said in a speech this past summer, laying blame on local Iraqi government, his former boss, and the Obama Administration alike.

In fact, Kilcullen added, “This is something that hasn’t really been heavily noted in the media, but there’s a huge amount of Baathist structural and military DNA if you like, within ISIS”—in other words, there are a lot of former Saddam Hussein loyalists.

This means that the 2003 invasion—far more than the 2011 withdrawal—is the overwhelming determining factor in ISIS’ rise.

Consider: Before 2003, there was no al Qaeda organization in Iraq. Following the American intervention, ISIS’ insidious parent organization was able to take root, and ISIS’ future leader, Abu Bakr Al-Bagdhadi, found a following in its ranks. From there his trajectory directly shaped by U.S. occupation, and today, Bagdhadi’s vicious fighting force is organized by remnants of the regime that same occupation took down. Many of his foot soldiers, too, come from the ranks of the Hussein-led Iraqi army which the U.S. disbanded in 2003.

With hindsight like this, half-truths like Giuliani’s are simply inexcusable.

Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at the Defense Priorities, contributing writer at The Week, and a columnist at Rare.

This piece was originally published by The Washington Examiner on April 4, 2016. Read more HERE

Photo courtesy of Wiki Images.