Donald Trump has hit the headlines again for yet another ridiculous comment. Only a day after seeming to encourage the assassination of Hilary Clinton, he has upped the ante on his Obama-based rhetoric, calling the outgoing President the “founder of Isis”. He went on to suggest that Clinton was its “co-founder” at a rally in Sunrise, Florida.
On first inspection, his comments appear to be part and parcel of the Trump propaganda machine, just another hiss of libelous sulphur from the business mogul. Indeed, his suggestion that Obama is a terrorist sympathiser is at best farcical, at worst heinously racist.
Yet behind the smog of dirty American election politics belies a harsh truth: America – and the rest of the West – is responsible for the creation and rise of Isis. Republicans have always held that the Obama administration is responsible for the instability in the Middle East. Donald Trump has merely gone a step further with shocking, attention-grabbing comments; nothing new, one might say.
The instability of the Middle East transcends Democrat-Republican or Labour-Tory divisions. Bush, Blair, Obama and Cameron all have blood on their hands, as the recent Chilcot inquiry showed. Indeed, while a multitude of factors contributed to the creation and rise of Isis, its roots lie in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The fall of Saddam Hussein sparked an era of instability, the optimum conditions for jihadist opportunism.
A whistle-stop tour of Iraqi history since the invasion in March 2003 is a painful reminder of the West’s responsibility. On 9th April, Saddam’s government was overthrown; George Bush declared, “Mission accomplished.” Well, darling, I don’t think it was.
A few days later, Bush decreed the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. Overnight, at least 250,000 Sunni Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.
As Saddam’s statue fell to its knees in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, one man in particular was filled with elation: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a militant Islamist, who would go on to lead AQI, the Iraqi arm of Al-Qaeda and the predecessor to Isis. When he was killed by allied airstrikes in June 2006, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the man now at the helm of Isis as we know it, took charge.
A Shia government came into power headed by Nuri Al-Maliki. Bear in mind that Iraqis had lived under a Sunni dictatorship for 24 years. The power dynamic went through a sea change: the oppressed became the oppressors.
Fast forward to 2011 and we encounter the Arab Spring. Of course, the best time for America to withdraw their troops: smack bang in the middle of a widespread revolution. Between 2011 and June 2014 – when Isis took charge of Mosul – one single US Cabinet Minister visited Iraq. To that end, Obama is to blame.
In January 2014, Isis claimed Raqqa, declaring it as the capital of their Islamic State. A symbolic moment for the caliphate, you might say. But in an interview with The New York Times in the same month, Obama downplayed the threat posed by Isis, comparing them to “junior varsities who put on a Lakers shirt” and go around thinking they’re Kobe Bryant. To that end, again, Obama is culpable.
Of course, this is a very brief account of a much more complicated issue (ISIS: The State of Terror is a highly recommended longer read.) But these events alone highlight that the West left a power vacuum in the Middle East and, in the words of Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, subsequently withdrew its “influence and its interest”.
The West was reckless, be it Republicans, Democrats, Labour in the form of Tony Blair, or the Conservatives in the form of David Cameron.
Of course, no one foresaw the emergence of Isis; that is an unintended consequence of the war. But the causal connection between invasion and the rise in Isis cannot be downplayed. 380 terrorist attacks were carried out all over Iraq in the two years after the invasion.
Jihadism and Isis gave hundreds of thousands of angry, young, futureless men a cause to fight for. In short, the invasion made an entire class of people feel like they had nothing left to lose – or, perhaps, everything left to gain. One might say that Trump has said something fair, just and reasonable for once. Almost.
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