As I documented Sunday in exhaustive detail, the development of the Islamic State was well underway while George W. Bush was still warming the seat in the Oval Office. Evaluating the claim of Nevada student Ivy Ziedrich regarding the paternity for ISIS, I explained:
For her to be right, ISIS--the dangerous movement combining Saddam loyalists, former Al Qaeda members and disgruntled Sunni fighters--would have to have emerged as a direct result of the war Bush launched in 2003. The disbanding of Saddam's 400,000-man army would have to be laid at the feet of "The Decider." Foreign fighters must have flocked to Al Qaeda--a non-factor in Iraq before the U.S. invasion--specifically to target American troops. And while those unlikely allies forged ties in U.S and Iraqi prisons, Sunni tribesmen once paid by American forces would have to have become alienated by a sectarian Shiite strongman in Baghdad beholden to Iran. The inevitable outcome of such U.S. mismanagement of post-Saddam Iraq, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld privately warned his boss on October 15, 2002, would be that "Iraq could experience ethnic strife among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds" with the result that "it could fracture into two or three pieces, to the detriment of the Middle East and the benefit of Iran."
Sadly for Jeb Bush, Ms. Ziedrich is right on every point. But you don't have to take my word for it. As Liz Sly
("The hidden hand behind the Islamic State militants? Saddam Hussein's") revealed in the Washington Post
on April 4:
Some of those Baathists became early recruits to the al-Qaeda affiliate established by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Palestinian Jordanian fighter who is regarded as the progenitor of the current Islamic State, said Hisham al Hashemi, an Iraqi analyst who advises the Iraqi government and has relatives who served in the Iraqi military under Hussein. Other Iraqis were radicalized at Camp Bucca, the American prison in southern Iraq where thousands of ordinary citizens were detained and intermingled with jihadists.
Zarqawi kept the former Baathists at a distance, because he distrusted their secular outlook, according to Hashim, the professor.
It was under the watch of the current Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, that the recruitment of former Baathist officers became a deliberate strategy, according to analysts and former officers.
As Der Spiegel
explained, it was President Bush's "de-Ba'athification" and disbanding of Saddam's military that meant that "thousands of well-trained Sunni officers were robbed of their livelihood with the stroke of a pen."
Among those who subsequently partnered with self-proclaimed ISIS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were Haji Bakr (a colonel in Saddam's air force intelligence service), Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (another former Iraqi officer) and "King of Clubs" Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.
The origin tale (or, at least some of it) of the Islamic State isn't recent. In November 2007, Greg Bruno of the Council on Foreign Relations penned "Profile: Al-Qaeda in Iraq (a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia)" for the Washington Post:
In 2006 AQI was believed to have helped establish the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an umbrella organization of Sunni insurgent groups with similar aims as AQI. Experts believe ISI was formed to strengthen AQI's credentials as a domestic movement. But Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the reported new head of ISI, was soon declared fictitious by the U.S. military. Analysts say al-Baghdadi was a persona actually created by al-Masri to give foreign-led AQI activities the illusion of Iraq-born legitimacy. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner said in July 2007 that al-Masri "was essentially swearing allegiance to himself since he knew that Baghdadi was fictitious and a creation of his own." Further complicating AQI's status were reports in October 2006 and again in May 2007 that al-Masri himself had been killed, claims jihadi groups have denied. Al-Masri appears to have survived.
As it turned out, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi wasn't fictitious at all; he was killed in a U.S. air strike in 2010.
That's the civil war in Syria during President Obama's tenure provided fertile ground and a geographic base for the Islamic State is clear. But all the elements for ISIS's expansion—leadership from Saddam loyalists, foreign fighters who flocked to Iraq to target U.S. forces and disgruntled Sunni "sons of Iraq" alienated by the Shiite Maliki regime in Baghdad—were in place before Dubya ambled out of the White House for the last time. President Bush admitted as much during a December 2008 interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News:
BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take -
RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.
BUSH: Yeah, that's right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they're going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.
Some of those same fighters are still at it, this time under the Banner of the Islamic State. And many of their leaders in military operations, logistics and economic affairs are some of the same men who survived what President Bush in August 2004 called
his "catastrophic success" in Iraq:
"Had we had to do it [the invasion of Iraq] over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success - being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day."
Alas, among those consequences was the creation of ISIS.
As Alex Trebek might say to Jeb Bush today, "Thank you for playing."
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