President Obama promised, insisted upon and obtained a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Despite ample intelligence of the growth of the Islamic State in Syria and its “connectivity” to sectarian violence in Iraq, he refused to act there, too. We now see a full-blown Islamist state in the making, bent on eradicating Christians and exporting jihad. Michael Flynn, outgoing director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, explained last week:
We said many times, “Hey, we need to get this intelligence in front of the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the National Security adviser! The White House needs to see this intelligence picture we have!” We saw all this connective tissue developing between these [proliferating] terrorist groups. So when asked if the terrorists were on the run, we couldn’t respond with any answer but ‘no.’ When asked if the terrorists were defeated, we had to say ‘no.’ Anyone who answers ‘yes’ to either of those questions either doesn’t know what they are talking about, they are misinformed, or they are flat out lying.
That would seem to include a great many people in the current administration, including Obama. In fact, under the Obama-Clinton-Kerry watch there has been an exponential increase in terrorism and terrorist groups: “I know that’s a scary thought, but in 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries. A lot of these groups have the intention to attack Western interests, to include Western embassies and in some cases Western countries. Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland,” Flynn said. “For instance, we’re doing all we can to understand the outflow of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, many of them with Western passports, because another threat I’ve warned about is Islamic terrorists in Syria acquiring chemical or biological weapons. We know they are trying to get their hands on chemical weapons and use what they already have to create a chemical weapons capability.”
Syria, as we know from Hillary Clinton’s attempt to distance herself from the failed policy of inactivity, was a critical component in this calamity (Otherwise why run from responsibility?). The head of the non-jihadi Syrian Opposition Coalition explains:
Long before the terrorist army of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham marched into the Iraqi city of Mosul, threatened to exterminate the Yazidis and Christians in Iraq, and attacked the country’s Kurds, the Syrian Opposition and the Free Syrian Army were battling ISIS and pushing back this common threat to our people. Now more than ever, there is a national-security impetus for the United States to support and arm the Syrian opposition to halt and defeat the ISIS campaign.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) should listen up. This group is not the Islamic State, and in fact is fighting against the Islamic State’s attempt to replace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian Opposition Coalition leader explains that the United States needs to get off the sidelines:
The Free Syrian Army and tribal leaders have proven to be the most effective force in fighting against ISIS and al Qaeda affiliates. On May 16, Free Syrian Army units in Aleppo province announced the launch of an anti-al Qaeda offensive titled Operation Earthquake of the North. On May 19, five powerful rebel coalitions signed a “Revolutionary Covenant” denouncing “fundamentalism and extremism.” On June 12, the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front Command released a statement reiterating the rebels’ commitment to democratic principles.
We have put forth a blueprint for stabilizing and freeing Syria from the threats that endanger both the Syrian people, regional allies and the West. We have proposed a scalable Syrian Rapid Deployment Force, which would form the nucleus of a larger stabilization force of more than 10,000 vetted and trained fighters—critical to defeating ISIS and Assad’s killing machine. We are also in the process of establishing offices and services in the liberated areas of Syria to support a political framework that will oversee and coordinate with a military chain of command.
He is grateful for even the belated and limited $500 million in aid from the United States, but warns that “this support will not be enough if it does not arrive quickly and match the pace of the ISIS advance. Opposition forces will also need to be enabled with an air-defense capability. We need man-portable air-defense systems (Manpads) to defend homes and towns and villages from the incessant air bombardment and regime military assaults.” He argues, “In partnership, we can deal a mortal blow to the terrorist threat facing both our peoples. But time is of the essence, as ISIS and Assad will exploit any delay to destroy those who stand against them. The U.S. State Department recently referred to ISIS as ‘worse than al Qaeda.’ Given the dire threat, what could be worse than complacency?”
Well, intentional blindness, I suppose. There is no other way to put this: The president ignored ample intelligence of the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and refused to act in violation of his “ending wars” dogma. As a result, we are less safe than we were in January 2009.
Hillary Clinton understandably and desperately wants to absolve herself of blame. (Which is better, I suppose, than continuing to denying the threat from the Islamic State, pretending that this was an either/or choice between Assad and the Islamic State or flatly lying that conservatives’ insistence on acting in Syria was for the benefit of the Islamic State.) In other words, at least Clinton is smart enough to know that bugging out of Iraq and doing nothing in Syria was the proximate cause of the bind we are in; some, like Obama and the isolationist right, don’t even recognize that this was a fundamental and grievous mistake.
The choice, we pray, for the next president will not come down to one between someone who doesn’t have the spine to act or someone who is hopelessly confused about what is going on. Not every pol — although some surely did — opposed robust action in Syria and was content to bug out of Iraq and watch Syria’s descent into hell. Not everyone was cowered by “war fatigue” and afraid to talk honestly to voters. Those who recognized the risks, stood up for strong U.S. action and were and are prepared to defend the United States against the re-emergence of a lethal jihadist threat deserve credit and our trust. It is from that pool of awake and steely-eyed men and women that we will find the person most capable of rescuing us from the Obama-Clinton-Kerry debacle.