This is going to be the first of several posts concerning ISIS and the Middle East. It seems that this issue just will not go away. This blog is about one of the biggest questions that seems to be going around social media right now, and that is who is responsible for the rise of ISIS. Like most issues, there really is no clear cut answer. But to see if we can figure it out, we have to know how they came to power.
Here is what we do know. For ISIS to be able to rise, there had be a power vacuum for them to occupy. When we invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein we created that vacuum. Now if we would have just taken down Saddam and called it a day, Iraq may not have been the hotbed it became. But that’s not what we did. Instead, we completely disbanded the government and the army, and decided that we were going to start from scratch. We began, in essence, to transition into nation building. While we were there, we helped to organize a new government, ruled by the minority Sunnis, it almost immediately set up a situation that was doomed to fail. The country essentially crumbled into a civil war between Sunni and Shi’a.
As Iraq became more and more unstable, the only thing that was completely stopping it from becoming a failed state was the U.S. military presence. When President Obama took office, he wanted to end the war immediately, but knew that if that happened, it would completely collapse. It was during this time that ISIS, an extreme Sunni militant group began fighting in Iraq…made up primarily of ex-members of the Saddam Iraqi army that the U.S. had disbanded. President Obama called for another surge of troops to put the coalition on the offensive and later withdrew U.S. troops. While the surge worked initially, after leaving, Iraq essentially collapsed.
With Iraq a virtual failed state, and the United States no longer present, ISIS began gaining more and more territory. As they were growing, the country next door to them was going through a crisis of its own. Syrian rebels were rising up trying to overthrow Bashir al-Assad. ISIS saw an opportunity to expand and ran with it. They began marching into Syria, as as they did, many of the rebel groups who had been fighting Assad, began fighting ISIS. Assad, who is an Alawite Muslim (small branch of Shi’a), saw ISIS as a threat in the long term, but knew that if they were fighting the rebel forces, he and his army could better manage to regain strength again the rebels they were fighting. So in essence, ISIS (a Sunni group) and Assad (an Alawite Shi’a leader) were fighting against a common enemy – the moderate rebels.
While this fighting is going on, the U.S. and President Obama had to decide whether or not to arm the Syrian rebels to fight Assad. The president and many members of Congress were calling for the removal of Assad publicly. There were just a few issues. The rebels are fighting Assad on one side and ISIS on the other…they aren’t going to win. Second, if the rebels lose, Assad is going to turn around and fight ISIS to regain control of Syria. After all, he simply sees ISIS as another militant rebel group of Sunnis. Assad would be much more equipped to fight ISIS than the rebels. So again, we have stayed out of Syria.
So in conclusion, President Bush is partially to blame for the rise of ISIS for creating a power vacuum in Iraq with the war and removal of Saddam. He’s further to blame for disbanding the Iraqi army, who would essentially later regroup and begin fighting for ISIS. However, President Obama is also to blame for leaving Iraq after the second surge, which did work temporarily. He knew that leaving Iraq would cause its collapse. He is also to blame for not intervening in Syria (however, I will strongly argue that he made the right call and we should not have). But at the same time…Assad is to blame for not allocating resources to fight ISIS when they began invading Syria. But other Arab countries are to blame for not forming a united coalition to fight ISIS. And…well, quite frankly a lot of people are to blame. How do we fix it? That’s what I will look at with my next blog.