ince the 9/11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States has launched a War on Terror. This foreign policy outlook is unlike any prior war, because the war is fought against an ideology, not a nation. During the Bush Administration, the primary enemy was Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The War on Terror continued into the Obama Administration, and a new enemy emerged: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
9/11 and the War on Terror
On September 11th, 2001, four domestic passenger airliners were hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists on a mission to kill Americans and destroy U.S. democracy. The intended targets were the U.S. Capitol Building or the White House, the Pentagon, and the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center.
During the flight intended for the Capitol or the White House, the passengers fought back and the terrorists intentionally crashed the plane into a field in Pennsylvania. The flight targeting the Pentagon hit the western side of the building, killing 189 people, both on the flight and in the Pentagon. The flights intended for the World Trade Center both were successful and killed a total of 2,606 people and injured far more.
Following these acts of terrorism, President George W. Bush announced that his administration would begin a “War on Terror”. Bush stated that “our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them”.
Bush stated that “our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them”.
The Bush Administration concluded that Afghanistan was a government that supported terrorism. His administration demanded the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan government to turn over Al-Qaeda leaders, especially Osama bin Laden or face attack. The Taliban refused and on October 7th, 2001, the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan.
The Iraq War and the Election of Obama
In 2003, President Bush expanded the War on Terror. Since the Gulf War of the early 1990s, Iraq was considered a “rogue state” by the U.S. government. Bush furthered these assertions by accusing the Iraqi government, led by Saddam Hussein, of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Therefore, Iraq posed a serious and immediate threat to the United States and its allies. In October, 2002, Congress authorized the president to initiate the Iraq invasion. The U.S., supported by its allies, commenced the invasion on March 20th, 2003.
Iraqi forces were quickly overwhelmed by the force of the U.S.-led invasion and Hussein’s government was toppled. Hussein was captured and the coalition gained control of the country. Despite Bush’s accusations, no WMDs were found in Iraq. However, an immediate problem arose for the United States and the Iraqis: who is going to lead Iraq now?
According to the Brookings Institution, “the post-invasion phase of the Iraq mission has been the least well-planned American military mission...and its consequences for the nation have been far worse than any set of military mistakes since Vietnam.” The planning of the ousting of the existing Hussein government was well-done; however, the preparation for a new Iraqi government seemed to be lacking.
According to the Brookings Institution, “the post-invasion phase of the Iraq mission has been the least well-planned American military mission...and its consequences for the nation have been far worse than any set of military mistakes since Vietnam.”
The Sunni and Shia sects of Islam began fighting for power in the nation and insurgents began attacking the coalition forces. The coalition instituted democracy in Iraq, a country used to an authoritarian regime. In 2005, the Iraqis voted on a new constitution and on May 20th, 2006, Nouri al-Maliki was elected prime minister of Iraq. Al-Malaki and his Shia allies dominated the new Iraqi government which was controlled for centuries by Sunnis.
These sectarian tensions were exploited by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian jihadist. He and his terrorist allies bombed a Shia holy site in 2006. Zarqaqis’s terrorists began gaining a foothold in the country and in response, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered additional American troops to be sent to Iraq. The military surge helped to contain the terrorists.
At home, the Iraq war was dividing Americans. According to the Pew Research Center, by March 2007, 49% of Americans opposed the initial invasion in Iraq. In contrast, 43% of Americans supported the 2003 invasion. When asked if the troops should remain in Iraq, 52% said that the armed forces should be brought home as soon as possible. 43% said that the troops should remain until Iraq is stabilized.
In the 2008 Presidential campaign, Democrat Barack Obama promised to end the war in Iraq. In a speech, he remarked “we have lost thousands of American lives, spent nearly a trillion dollars, alienated allies and neglected emerging threats – all in the cause of fighting a war for well over five years in a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks...George Bush and John McCain don’t have a strategy for success in Iraq – they have a strategy for staying in Iraq... I will give our military a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war. Let me be clear: we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 – one year after Iraqi Security Forces will be prepared to stand up; two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began.”
Obama was elected president, and he indeed eventually winded down the war in Iraq. However, just as the initial invasion had consequences, the withdrawal also had consequences.
The Withdrawal From Iraq
Just as Obama vowed in his campaign address, the new administration ordered a reduction of the troop capacity stationed in Iraq. The new president saw the Iraq War as draining U.S. resources while the resources were really needed at home to battle the recession and in Afghanistan where the “real war” was being fought. Between 2009-2011, the U.S. presence gradually left Iraq. By December 18th, 2011, the last American troops left the Middle Eastern nation.
Obama was praised for ending a war that was widely regarded as a mistake. While the war may have begun on dubious reasoning, it now became a necessary war. Just as removing Hussein from power created a power vacuum, bringing the military home made Iraq the perfect target for terrorists. The Obama Administration put too much trust in Iraq to keep its country safe.
In 2011, the Obama Administration could have pressured the Iraqi government to allow them to leave behind a residual force to at least monitor the situation in the nation. Multiple accounts including in The Endgame, an account of the Iraq War, records that Maliki was open to the idea of retaining an American presence in his country. However, Obama and his advisors decided a complete withdrawal was necessary.
Biden said “they’re still politicians”.
Derek Chollet, an Obama official, admits in his novel, The Long Game, that a limited American force in Iraq would have given America “an inside man” that would have seen that ISIS was more powerful than we thought. With America now unable to mediate Iraqi disputes, Maliki was free to pursue his oppression of the Sunni tribes. In 2009, Vice President Joe Biden erroneously asserted that the sectarian Iraqi politics would force leaders to expand their base. Biden said “they’re still politicians”. However with Iran (a Shia nation) supporting him, Maliki continued his revenge campaign against the Sunnis and drove many of them right into ISIS’s hands.
The Rise of ISIS in the Middle East
ISIS was formed in 1999 by al-Zarqawi. The terrorist organization emerged from the ashes of the Al-Qaeda sect in Iraq. Following Bush’s troop surge in 2007, ISIS fell into obscurity. When Obama ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, ISIS began to reemerge in the nation. In May 2010, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became ISIS’s leader.
ISIS’s ideology is rooted in the ancient traditions of Islam. However, many modern Muslims deny this and say that ISIS is “un-Islamic”. Even President Obama (a Christian) called ISIS “un-Islamic”. According to Bernard Haykel, a professor who specializes on ISIS’s ideology, “slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition.” Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.” ISIS’s adherents strictly follow the Koran and believe the apocalypse is near, in contrast to Al-Qaeda’s beliefs. By gaining its territory throughout Syria and Iraq, it established a caliphate, which is both a spiritual and political entity.
According to Bernard Haykel, a professor who specializes on ISIS’s ideology, “slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition.”
ISIS, and terrorism in general, has caused vast discrimination and Islamophobia against Muslims worldwide. It is important to note that only an extremely small population of Muslims endorse terrorism and Islam is a religion of peace.
According to the Guardian, by 2014, ISIS “controlled a taxable population of some seven or eight million, oilfields and refineries, vast grain stores, lucrative smuggling routes and vast stockpiles of arms and ammunition, as well as entire parks of powerful modern military hardware. Its economic capital was Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Isis was the most powerful, wealthiest, best-equipped jihadi force ever seen.”
President Obama’s Mistakes
By Obama deciding not to leave an American presence in Iraq, we did not have eyes and ears in the nation, and thus U.S. command had limited intelligence on ISIS’s meteoric rise. Despite this miscalculation, the 44th president had two further chances to redeem himself and preclude ISIS’s ascension to power. Instead of taking the ISIS threat seriously, he referred to the terrorist organization as Al-Qaeda’s “jay-vee” team.
First, he should have intervened early in the Syrian civil war. Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State under the Obama Administration, criticized the former president for not helping Syrian rebels overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, early in the Syrian revolution. In an interview with The Atlantic, she said "The failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled”. She further went on to criticize Obama’s foreign policy doctrine, stating “"Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle." The failure to properly aid the Syrian Democratic Forces allowed ISIS to enter the country and expand its caliphate. With the Assad regime fighting its own people, there was limited resistance to a third party entering the nation.
Second, when ISIS started gaining ground in Iraq, Obama refused to support the government that America spent years creating. Until June 13th, 2014, the president did even mention the existential threat of ISIS. Only when the terrorists took the city of Mosul, Iraq, the nation’s second largest city, did Obama concede that the jihadists were a danger to American society and interests. Even then, the former Illinois senator did not take direct action against ISIS.
On August 7th, 2014, “Obama announced that he had authorized two military operations in Iraq; strikes to protect American personnel and strikes to break ISIS's siege of and genocidal threat to civilians trapped on Mt. Sinjar.” He still refused to support a direct war against the caliphate. Finally, on September 10th, Obama announced that the American military strategy was to “degrade and destroy ISIS”. On October 15th, the U.S. named the campaign “Operation Inherent Resolve”.
The Rise of ISIS Was Preventable
ISIS did fall, but not after it committed mass acts of homicide including bombing a Russian airplane, the infamous Paris attack, and the contemptible Pulse nightclub massacre. For years, the terrorist organization controlled land bigger than the United Kingdom.
These atrocious acts and ISIS’s rise to power could have been prevented by sound policy decisions. First, the Iraq invasion during the Bush administration led to a power vacuum that the terrorists exploited. Second, President Obama should have left behind at least a residual force in Iraq. Third, the Obama Administration should have supported the Syrian rebels early in their revolution. Finally, Obama should have supported Iraq in their battle against ISIS much earlier.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), stated “When the president...he tries to blame it on the intelligence community, that they didn't tell him...General Flynn was saying months ago that ISIS was going to move to Iraq...This president did nothing. All we talked about was ending the war in Iraq. All he ended was American influence in Iraq. And that's a failure and it's on his hands."
When asked about ISIS, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), stated “When the president...he tries to blame it on the intelligence community, that they didn't tell him...General Flynn was saying months ago that ISIS was going to move to Iraq...This president did nothing. All we talked about was ending the war in Iraq. All he ended was American influence in Iraq. And that's a failure and it's on his hands." The facts speak for themselves.