ISIS: An Inside Job?

When Ivy Ziedrich, a nineteen-year-old college student, approached Jeb Bush on the campaign trail and zinged him with “Your brother created ISIS!” the media ate it up and the video went viral. Ms. Ziedrich, a member of the College Democrats, talks very fast, and she managed to utter the following diatribe before Jeb could get in a word edgewise:

“You stated that ISIS was created because we don’t have enough presence and we’ve been pulling out of the Middle East. However, the threat of ISIS was created by the Iraqi coalition authority, which ousted the entire government of Iraq. It was when 30,000 individuals who are part of the Iraqi military were forced out. They had no employment, they had no income, yet they were left with access to all the same arms and weapons. Your brother created ISIS!”

Poor Jeb! Being even less informed than his ambusher, he could only “respectfully disagree” and reiterate the neocon party line: if only we’d kept more troops in longer ISIS wouldn’t have coalesced. “You can rewrite history all you want,” he said, with a sigh, “but the simple fact is we’re in a much more unstable place because America pulled back.”

The media homed in on this incident because they’re still blaming Bush and the Republicans for the Iraq war, while ignoring the key role played by DemocratsHillary Clinton and her husband come to mind – in ginning up that disaster. So in that sense Jeb is correct when he says they’re rewriting history, albeit not quite in the way he imagines.

Ms. Diedrich is wrong about ISIS: the idea that its foot soldiers are mostly former members of the Iraqi military is unlikely, although there are some former officers in the higher echelons. The vast majority of its fighters have been recruited from throughout the Middle East (and Europe) from the ranks of radical Islamists. More importantly, the Islamic State metastasized in Syria, not Iraq, and this is the key in assigning responsibility.

While the Bush administration made plenty of noises about going into Syria, this turned out to be mostly bluster. It took the Obama administration to launch this folly, and they did it by creating a proxy army, the “moderate” Islamists of the Free Syrian Army, ostensibly in order to overthrow Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad. A newly revealed classified document uncovered by Judicial Watch gives us a glimpse into how this effort was inextricably intertwined with the real history and origins of the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS).

A Defense Intelligence Agency analysis of the Syrian civil war, dated August 12, 2012, starts out by drawing the battle lines, noting that the “major forces driving the insurgency” are “the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq]” and are being supported by “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.” Russia, Iran, and China are said to support the Assad regime. The war won’t unseat Assad, but will develop, predicts the memo, into a “proxy war.” In order for the West to win that war, the author recommends setting up “safe havens under international sheltering, similar to what transpired in Libya when Benghazi was chosen as the command center for the temporary government.”

Safe havens for al-Qaeda and its allies – just what the doctor ordered!

In a matter-of-fact tone, the memo projects the establishment of “an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.” While positing that this could endanger the unity of Iraq, the memo goes on to say that this project is supported by “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey,” and makes this alarmingly prescient prediction:

“… [T]here is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

Such a development would create “the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi” – which is precisely what has happened. Mosul fell last year, and Ramadi was just taken, much to Washington’s consternation.

Far from being taken by surprise, the rise of the Islamic State was anticipated – and facilitated – by this administration. Critics of our Syria policy, including this writer, have been saying this for quite some time, but this DIA memo documents and confirms it for the first time.

The policy of the Obama administration, and particularly Hillary Clinton’s State Department, was – and still is – regime change in Syria. This overrode all other considerations. We armed, trained, and “vetted” the Syrian rebels, even as we looked the other way while the Saudis and the Gulf sheikdoms funded groups like al-Nusra and al-Qaeda affiliates who wouldn’t pass muster. And our “moderates” quickly passed into the ranks of the outfront terrorists, complete with the weapons we’d provided.

This crazy policy was an extension of our regime change operation in Libya, a.k.a. “Hillary’s War,” where the US – “leading from behind” – and a coalition of our Western allies and the Gulf protectorates overthrew Muammar Qaddafi. There, too, we empowered radical Islamists with links to al-Qaeda affiliates – and then used them to ship weapons to their Syrian brothers, as another document uncovered by Judicial Watch shows.

It seems Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) wasn’t too far off the mark when he asked then Secretary of State Clinton what she knew about arms shipments from Benghazi to the Syrian rebels. Here’s the exchange:

“PAUL: My question is, is the U.S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?

CLINTON: To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record no one has ever asked me.

PAUL: It has been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and they might have weapons. What I would like to know, is the annex that was close by [in Benghazi]. Were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons, and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries – to any countries, Turkey included.

CLINTON: Senator, you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. I will see what information is available. I do not know. I do not have information on that.”

Sen. Paul was righter than he knew: not only were the arms shipments going to Turkey, and then on to the rebels, but, as Judicial Watch discovered, they were also going directly to Syria.

The divisions in the administration over what to do – or not to do – in Syria came out in a 2013 Senate hearing in which then CIA director Leon Panetta admitted to Sen. John McCain that he, the Joint Chiefs, then CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus, and Secretary Clinton had all supported a plan to arm the Syrian rebels, which was vetoed by the White House. Yet those arms shipments made it from Benghazi to Syria, leaving port in late August, 2012 – shortly before Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in an assault on what appears to have been a CIA redoubt, set up near the US consulate.

What was that spook outpost up to? Was Ambassador Stevens involved in facilitating that shipment? (One of his last meetings was with Mahmoud Mufti, the owner of a shipping company.) In short, did the Clinton-Petraeus-Panetta team do an end run around the White House, setting up a clandestine arms shipment operation that funneled Qaddafi’s arsenal to their Syrian proxies?

We don’t know the answer to these questions, of course, but one wonders: why did Secretary Clinton insist on keeping the Benghazi “consulate” – really a cover for a CIA operation – open despite repeated warnings about the lack of security?

“Your brother created ISIS!” Well, not quite. While it’s true that ISIS would never have succeeded in setting up an Islamic State in the heart of the Levant if we hadn’t gone to war in Iraq, the real parents of this mutant offspring of American policymakers are Hillary Clinton and her co-thinkers in the Obama administration. So intent were they on overthrowing Assad that they funded and armed our mortal enemies.

This whole episode dramatizes, in the most vivid way imaginable, the principle of “blowback” in the conduct of foreign affairs. US intervention in the internal politics of other nations leads, inevitably, to unforeseen consequences. The problem we sought to solve worsens – and new problems, often on a much larger scale, raise their heads.

Yet the policymakers responsible for this fiasco will never change: they believe they can centrally plan the transformation of entire nations from one social system to another and control how complex societies react to their efforts at social engineering. They really think they can run the world. Each time they fail they attribute it to a reluctant American public, or a lack of funding, or some other factor that somehow interferes with the proper application of their omniscience.

They never learn.

Yes, but the American people are learning. Slowly but surely, we anti-interventionists are turning the tide in our favor. The public is sick unto death of perpetual war, and the polls show it. The only problem is that the War Party has control of the media, and dominates the debate in Washington. We aim to change all that: but we can’t do it without your help.

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I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].