Republicans claim that President Obama’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq brought about the rise of ISIS. This is simplistic thinking, and I suspect it’s disingenuous—part of their effort to shift the conflict in Iraq and Syria from Bush’s making to “Obama’s War.”
It ignores two developments in recent history. First, Barack Obama opposed the war before it started. He campaigned for president—from the primaries through the general election—with the promise to end the war and bring home the troops. He was elected, then re-elected. That he now continues the thankless task of cleaning up the mess made by Bush, Cheney, and the neocons does not make the war his.
Second, ISIS did not rise suddenly out of a vacuum. The seeds of ISIS sprouted in the bloody craters of Shock and Awe; they were watered in the subsequent maelstrom of sectarian violence that seized Iraq and spilled into Syria. They then grew into the poisonous scourge that is ISIS. But the seeds were there well before Bush attacked Iraq in March of 2003. They were germinated on September 11, 2001.
When Al Qaeda struck, the Bush Administration had a choice: Treat the murderous attack as the heinous crime that it was, track the killers down and bring them to justice. Or declare a “War on Terror,” then fabricate intelligence to blame Iraq for 9/11 and attack Iraq. Bush chose the latter, which created more terrorists.
Tracing the stem of ISIS back nine months before 9/11, we come to the seminal act—the planting of the seeds—in December 2000. On the ninth of that month, the United States Supreme Court overturned the Florida Supreme Court’s order of a state-wide recount of votes in the Bush-Gore presidential race. In five previous cases involving state supreme-court cases, the U.S. Court had deferred to the states, exercising normal judicial restraint. Not this time. Three days later, by a 5-4 vote—the majority all Republicans—the Supreme Court put into the White House a little man who pumped himself up by going to war. The attack of 9/11 and Iraq were cynically used to satisfy the wet dreams of a coterie of chicken hawks. Unable to see beyond their beaks, they imagined a “cake walk.” What they and everyone else got was chaos and ISIS.
Note: Had Al Gore taken office, it’s plausible that 9/11—and almost certain that the Iraq War—would not have happened. Gore, in the early 1990s, had urged that cockpit doors on passenger jets be sealed. If his idea had been realized in time—and publicized so that terrorists were aware—9/11 might have been avoided. Even if it had happened, it’s exceedingly doubtful that a Gore Administration would have succumbed to neoconservative war mongering, especially against the wrong target.