Donald Trump’s radical claims are irritating at best, but he stumbled upon something close to the truth with his wildly unsubstantiated claim, “Obama is the founder of ISIS.” Trump is wrong, of course. Obama did not found ISIS. George W. Bush founded ISIS.
Or at least, George W. Bush’s administration did more than just create a vacuum in which terrorist groups could thrive.
Radical groups exist globally on every end of the political spectrum. They have existed for a long time, and will continue to exist. This is no cause for concern, as they exist mostly as powerless entities, as tiny pockets of like-minded people with neither the funds nor the capabilities for radical action. Al-Qaida existed before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, but the U.S. invasion was what allowed al-Qaida to gain immense traction in Iraq.
In 1999, Jordanian-Palestinian nationalist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded Jama’at al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad (JTJ), a radical Jihadist group. Al-Zarqawi created a training camp in Afghanistan with a small amount of seed money from Osama bin Laden. JTJ’s original ideology denounced American “oppressors of Iraq,” Shiite Muslims (who al-Zarqawi believed to be heretics), the creation of Israel and what al-Zarqawi viewed as the humiliation of the Muslim nation. The main goal of JTJ was to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy.
When American forces invaded Iraq in 2003, JTJ shifted its strategy to actively fighting the U.S. invasion. In 2004, al-Zarqawi pledged allegiance to bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, and JTJ rebranded itself as al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI). When the U.S.-led coalition began its de-Ba’athification strategy to drive the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party out of Iraq, hundreds of thousands Sunnis who had been loyal to Saddam Hussein were left jobless. AQI capitalized on this anger and used it to begin an insurgency against U.S troops in Iraq.
The rest is more popularly-circulated knowledge. U.S. and Iraqi forces strove to drive out al-Qaida, only for the group to rebrand itself once again, this time as ISIS, and come back stronger than ever. In 2014, ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Mosul. Once home to over two million Iraqi citizens, the city is an essential source of tax revenue and forced labor for the Islamic State, as well as a bases for its chemical weapons program. Holding such a large city also provides ISIS with its best claim as a legitimate caliphate.
This leads us to the ongoing attempt to reclaim Mosul. It is undeniable that a series of blunders by U.S. forces—starting with the 2001 and 2003 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively—has allowed ISIS to grow exponentially. Were these truly just blunders, or was the growth of ISIS profitable for the United States? It is difficult to imagine that our highly-evolved military and intelligence strategies could have made such crucial errors.
Because of America’s military-industrial complex, it is profitable to look for war opportunities. Military-industrial complex is a buzzword that explains the relationship between a nation’s military and the corporations that profit off supplying the military. Each year private U.S.-based corporations make billions of dollars in arms sales. Corporations are incredibly powerful in U.S. politics, not only because they hold the power to sustain our capitalist economy but also because they can essentially control congress through lobbying strategies.
Questionable actions by Bush’s administration and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have fueled conspiracy theories surrounding the invasion of Iraq for over a decade, distilled today into the three-word semi-ironic meme “Bush did 9/11”. While I have neither the authority nor the proof to definitively claim to know the truth behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it is undeniable that war is good for the American economy. As a capitalist system, nothing is more important to our national well-being than our economy.
The Bush administration created more than just a power vacuum in Iraq. It created a breeding ground, an area overflowing with thousands of angry, jobless people looking for a source to direct their aggression. ISIS gained strength and traction due to U.S. invasions, and anger at the U.S. allowed what was once a tiny radical jihadist group to now lay claim to territories in multiple nations.
Whether this was purposefully done or not, it happened. ISIS is America’s fault and problem. Which brings us back to Mosul.
Obama’s current strategy is to remove as many American troops from Iraq and leave the fighting to the locals. But this does not mean that American corporations will stop profiting. They are still outfitting Iraqi soldiers and sending in airstrikes via manned airplanes and drones. A single airstrike costs half a million dollars, cash that is going straight back into the American economy.
It is extremely problematic that “leave it to the locals” is the position that the Obama administration is taking. It shows that we value American lives far more than the lives of foreigners. While you could argue that the job of a government is to protect its citizens, consider why troops are marching on Mosul. Troops are marching on Mosul to retake a city that was taken as a direct result of American action. Personally, I would advocate for no one on the ground. But if there are going to be troops, why don’t we send in executives that have been profiting off the war? Let’s give them a chance, rather than middle and lower-class Americans or Iraqi and Kurdish forces. They have been the strongest advocates for the war, no matter how silently their lobbyists have tiptoed around the media. Surely, corporate arms executives will jump at the opportunity to back up their trigger-happy principles.
It is easy to view ISIS as the bad guys and U.S. troops as apple-pie-eating, baseball-playing, good-old American boys. In fact, this is the perspective that most mass media sources will spoon-feed us. However, the war against ISIS in Iraq is not as straightforward as we might be led to believe. There are powerful actors behind each conflict on the ground. Remember the old joke of how, if you put a million monkeys on a million typewriters, eventually one of them will produce a perfect replica of War and Peace? Trump might have just accidentally spewed out something useful.