The Absurd ‘Bush Caused ISIS’ Narrative, Summed Up In Two Vastly Different News Leads

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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The media narrative that George W. Bush’s foreign policy caused the rise of the Islamic State is popping up again, spurred by the presence of his brother Jeb in the 2016 presidential race and the bleak outlook for President Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

The Huffington Post honed in Tuesday on former defense chief Michael Flynn’s recent criticism of the Iraq War in an attempt to link George W. to the rise of ISIS, in a piece headlined: “Former Military Chief: Iraq War Was A ‘Failure’ That Helped Create ISIS.”

“Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who came up through intelligence positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, says that the George W. Bush administration’s Iraq war was a tremendous blunder that helped to create the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS,” reads the HuffPo lede.

The narrative is convenient as Jeb continues to grapple with his brother’s foreign policy legacy on the campaign trail and as Obama responds to the continued successes of ISIS, but it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The HuffPo story largely ignores Flynn’s equally harsh criticism of Obama’s foreign policy and the role his White House played in the rise of ISIS by withdrawing prematurely from Iraq.

CNN ran an interview with Flynn the very next day in which he said Obama’s White House disregarded the ISIS potential for the sake of his re-election narrative, with the lede: “President Barack Obama’s former top military intelligence official said Tuesday that the White House ignored reports prefacing the rise of ISIS in 2011 and 2012 because they did not fit its re-election ‘narrative.'”

The side by side ledes show how the “Bush caused ISIS” narrative lacks true historical comprehension, by ignoring the success in Iraq he experienced in the end of his term and the results of Obama’s arbitrary policy of withdrawal from the region. Even sympathizers with Obama concede his policy of disengagement from the Middle East contributed to the rise of ISIS.

“I think the narrative was that al Qaeda was on the run, and (Osama) bin Laden was dead,” Flynn told CNN, referring to the years leading up to the 2012 election and adding: “They’re dead and these guys [with ISIS] are, we’ve beaten them.” The White House needed that narrative, Flynn said, but reports on ISIS at the time “just didn’t” fit, so the administration simply ignored them.

British Middle East expert Emma Sky slammed Obama’s policies of withdrawal and disengagement in a recent New York Times opinion piece, although she praised him for understanding the “sins of colonialism” and how the Iraq war created fertile ground for jihadi groups.

“But what he fails to acknowledge is that after the colossal mistakes at the beginning of the Iraq war, the United States midwifed the emergence, from 2007 to 2009, of an inclusive political order and gained Sunni support to defeat Al Qaeda,” Sky wrote. “The tragedy was that U.S. disengagement, and the overtly sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, led it all to unravel. This was not inevitable, nor pre-ordained.”

Foreign Policy CEO and Editor David Rothkopf, who also shows sympathy for Obama’s policies, skewered him in a recent piece for similar reasons, criticizing his stubborn policy of disengagement.

“The problem is that in seeking to sidestep the pitfalls that plagued Bush, Obama has inadvertently created his own,” Rothkopf wrote. “Yet unlike Bush, whose flaw-riddled first-term foreign policy was followed by important and not fully appreciated second-term course corrections, Obama seems steadfast in his resistance both to learning from his past errors and to managing his team so that future errors are prevented.”

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