President Obama pinned the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on former President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq while calling for more investment in diplomacy and education to stop terrorism.
“Two things: one is, ISIL is a direct outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion,” Obama said in an interview with VICE News. “Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.”
Obama’s direct shot at Bush comes despite the fulfillment of his own campaign promises to pull troops out of Iraq. Obama completed the troop draw down in 2011 — an achievement the administration touted as a major victory but which left a power vacuum which ISIS is attempting to fill.
Obama also appeared to not have taken ISIS seriously when it first began conquering land in Syria and western Iraq. He famously compared the terrorist group to a “JV” basketball team in an interview last January. Since then, ISIS has taken over more territory in those two nations while establishing branches in Libya and reportedly forming alliances with other terrorist groups, such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram.
Obama did say that he is confident that the U.S. and its 60 nation coalition will “slowly push back ISIL out of Iraq.” But he said he is worried about “the underlying problem of disaffected Sunnis around the world.”
He said that in places like Libya and Yemen, young men with no education and no prospects are gravitating towards groups like ISIS.
“And now you’re giving me a religious rationale for doing this — that’s a problem we’re going to have generally,” said Obama.
He said that to combat terrorism, the U.S. will have to take a more comprehensive approach.
“And we can’t keep on thinking about counter-terrorism and security as entirely separate from diplomacy, development, education — all these things that are considered soft, but in fact are vital to our national security,” Obama said, adding “and we do not fund those.”
The U.S. currently spends just over 1 percent of its budget on those diplomatic measures, Obama said.
“We should be thinking about making investments there that ultimately save us from having to send our young men and women to fight or having folks come here and doing great harm.”