On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that journalist James Wright Foley, whom ISIS beheaded last week, was also waterboarded by the terrorist groups “several times.” The Post wrote, “James Foley was among the four [hostages] who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.” One witness told the Post, “They knew exactly how it was done.”
This, of course, provided headline fodder over at The Huffington Post, where George W. Bush’s anti-terror policies are seen as the cause of every evil befalling mankind. The Post explained, “Waterboarding became perhaps the most notorious method of torture practiced by American interrogators in the years after September 11th.” The rest of the media have fallen into line as well, suggesting that if America had not waterboarded terrorists, James Foley would have been spared waterboarding.
This may be correct. But focusing in on the waterboarding of James Foley seems mildly disproportionate given that ISIS cut off his head. And ISIS routinely engages in activities far worse for its victims than waterboarding, including systematic rape of women. Nonetheless, the leftist tendency to blame America’s war on terror – rather than its abandonment of Iraq – for the rise of ISIS seems to be growing in volume.
Speaking to the American Legion, President Obama stated, “The crisis in Iraq underscores how we have to meet today’s evolving terrorist threat. The answer is not to send in large scale military deployments that overstretch our military and lead for us occupying countries for a long period of time, and end up feeding extremism.”
The notion that America’s occupation of Iraq led to the rise of ISIS, rather than President Obama’s intervention in Syria, his vacating of Iraq, and his refusal to take military measures against ISIS in its initial run through Iraq, is ridiculous. But for Obama, American strength is always to blame for terrorists’ increase.
Obama isn’t alone in this notion.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) made similar sounds with regard to Iraq in June. He stated, “What’s going on now I don’t blame on President Obama. Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution. But I do blame the Iraq war on the chaos that is in the Middle East.”
Two weeks ago, Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek suggested that the rise of ISIS came thanks to the Bush administration’s failure to negotiate a new status of forces agreement – not Obama’s withdrawal of troops in 2011. And why couldn’t Bush negotiate a new status of forces agreement? According to Eichenwald:
The Iraqis steadfastly refused to continue granting immunity to American troops (it didn’t help that memories still lingered of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the Haditha incident, in which 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by American Marines).
Of course, that ignores reports from The New Yorker that Obama deeply wanted to withdraw all forces from Iraq:
President Obama, too, was ambivalent about retaining even a small force in Iraq. For several months, American officials told me, they were unable to answer basic questions in meetings with Iraqis—like how many troops they wanted to leave behind—because the Administration had not decided. “We got no guidance from the White House,” Jeffrey told me. “We didn’t know where the President was. Maliki kept saying, ‘I don’t know what I have to sell.’” At one meeting, Maliki said that he was willing to sign an executive agreement granting the soldiers permission to stay, if he didn’t have to persuade the parliament to accept immunity. The Obama Administration quickly rejected the idea. “The American attitude was: Let’s get out of here as quickly as possible,” Sami al-Askari, the Iraqi member of parliament, said.
The left has long argued that American intransigence in the war on terror – and the existence of Guantanamo Bay, the utilization of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, the pictures from Abu Ghraib – have led to a rise in terror. But that’s a convenient argument rather than a correct one, given the fact that all of those preconditions existed long before the rise of ISIS. ISIS’ rise is a direct result of American fecklessness in the Middle East – a fecklessness that began under President Bush and has multiplied exponentially under President Obama. And to suggest that the CIA’s waterboarding of terrorists is somehow the cause of James Foley’s suffering is to ignore the nature of America’s enemies.