It brings me no pleasure to make the assertion in the headline, because I like much of what Paul says about domestic policy and he’s correct in his view that the George W. Bush vision of the Middle East as a collection of millions of would-be Americans was dangerously naive. There is some truth in Paul’s assessment that the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams of the world, who couldn’t love Hillary Clinton’s plan to bomb Muammar Qaddafi out of existence enough while finding just the right bunch of Syrian jihadist rebels to slather with weapons, were wrong.
There are points to be made in those arguments. The GOP needs to present a different view of what an engaged foreign policy looks like from that of McCain and Graham – who perfectly represent The Stupid Party in all its glory. For example, sending in troops to rout ISIS out of Iraq and Syria and then coming home, even if the aftermath results in turning the areas retaken from them over to local warlords, is a perfectly acceptable use of American troops. It’s time to start thinking along those lines.
But had Paul articulated that and gone no further, he might have made a case for himself as a potential president. That isn’t what he said, though.
What Paul said was that the neocons and the hawks created ISIS.
Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul is blaming his own party for the rise of the Islamic State group.
The freshman senator from Kentucky said Wednesday that the GOP’s foreign policy hawks “created these people.” That assertion led potential 2016 rival Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s governor, to say Paul was unqualified to be president.
“ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately,” Paul said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He continued: “They created these people. ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved – they loved Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya. They just wanted more of it.”
There is a great deal wrong with such a statement, and when Jindal attacked it as “taking the most liberal Democrat position” on the question of jihadist Islam in the Middle East he’s correct. He just violated the Louisiana constitution in saying so on his official Louisiana government letterhead and with his official, rather than proto-campaign, staff issuing the release.
First of all, ISIS and Al Qaeda spring from the same ideological source, but they are not the same. In fact, they are rivals. And it’s Al Qaeda who’s all over Libya; ISIS has a presence there but they’re not running anything. And it wasn’t ISIS who massacred our people in Benghazi, it was Al Qaeda.
Second of all, ISIS is what became of the former Al Qaeda in Iraq. That group, which was kicked out of Al Qaeda because of the way it treated Sunni Muslims in that country, was also kicked out of the Sunni areas of Iraq during the surge in 2007 and 2008. The surge – which was an idea brought forth from George W. Bush and his neocons (along with our military on the ground) and supported by the McCains and Grahams of the world – created an opening for the Sunni Awakening, in which the regular people in Anbar Province who were being abused by AQI (in a similar manner to the way ISIS abuses people living in areas they control now) rose up against them and, in concert with the American military presence there, drove AQI out of Anbar.
AQI was thus forced into exile in Syria, where they ultimately wrested territory away from the Assad regime as part of the civil war there.
The flow of weapons to AQI as a result of what the U.S. government did after the fall of Libya helped it grow into ISIS. But it is naive in the extreme to believe that ISIS couldn’t have gotten its hands on weaponry any other way. ISIS was supported from the beginning by oil sheikhs in the Arab gulf states and in Saudi Arabia; they could easily have bought weapons elsewhere. Understand that most of ISIS’ army is made up of “technicals” – pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on them – and infantry with small arms. What heavy weaponry they have they looted from vanquished enemies. Machine guns and small arms are readily available on the world market.
Even if you agree that U.S. government policy aided the rise of ISIS, which is a tenuous case but one with valid arguments to support it, it’s not John McCain and Lindsey Graham who set that policy. It was the Obama administration who set it, not Republicans. It was Obama who pulled American troops out of Iraq and allowed the Shiite Maliki government to persecute Sunnis, thus creating a power vacuum ISIS could re-fill in Anbar. It was the Obama administration which started the war in Libya which led to Qaddafi’s stockpiles being transferred to Syrian rebels ultimately aligning with ISIS. It was the Obama administration which refused to directly arm the Kurds who could have routed ISIS before they took Mosul. It was the Obama administration who decided not to engage in a robust campaign of airstrikes to keep ISIS out of Ramadi and Tikrit. McCain and Graham and the other GOP hawks might have supported some of those early mistakes but the inaction creating the power vacuum ISIS has grown to fill is owned by Obama, not the party Paul belongs to.
And we should also back this analysis out to 30,000 feet and recognize, as PJ Media’s Roger L. Simon does, that events in places like Iraq and Syria do not depend on decisions made in Washington. ISIS exists because there are lots of jihadist Muslims in the world who want a caliphate and are willing to kill and die to create one as a vehicle for Islamic world supremacy as laid out in the Quran and the hadith. There is nothing we can do about that; it is a reality which has persisted for 1400 years and it will not go away. Rand Paul, like his father, refuses to recognize that this evil predates America and will threaten us regardless of what foreign aid we give or don’t give and what military actions we take or don’t take.
To understand the history of ISIS and to say it was created by the Bushies and/or John McCain and Lindsey Graham is to lie. Paul has a perfectly legitimate argument in saying that Bush was wrong to engage us in Iraq, and that McCain is wrong in wanting to bomb and invade a country like Libya where we had established normal relations with Qaddafi. He went far further, and irresponsibly so. And in doing that, he demonstrated that he’s either fundamentally ignorant of how the world works or he’s not moored to the truth.
That means Paul can’t say he’d be any different or any better than what we currently have in the White House where foreign policy is concerned, or that he’s a fundamental improvement over Hillary Clinton.
And Jindal was correct in saying Paul isn’t qualified to make American foreign policy as a result of his statements. He simply should have said so on his campaign letterhead rather than that of his current elected position.