Of course George W. Bush created ISIS, just as University of Nevada student Ivy Ziedrich told Jeb Bush May 14. Forcing majority rule on Iraq all but guaranteed that the most radical Sunni elements would come to the fore in opposition to a Shi’ite majority government allied to Shi’ite Iraq.

In fact, it is so obvious to the rest of the world that George W. Bush created ISIS that many in Beijing and Moscow assume that he did so on purpose. I reported last November:

Now that the US is approaching self-sufficiency in energy resources, some senior Chinese analysts believe it wants to push the region into chaos in order to hurt China. One prominent Chinese analyst pointed out that Islamic State is led by Sunni officers trained by the United States during the 2007-2008 “surge” as well as elements of Saddam Hussein’s old army, and that this explains why IS has displayed such military and organizational competence.

The complaint is justified, to be sure: General David Petraeus helped train the 100,000-strong “Sunni Awakening” to create a balance of power against the Shi’ite majority regime that the US helped bring to power in 2006. How, the Chinese ask, could the Bush administration and Petraeus have been so stupid? To persuade the Chinese that they were indeed that stupid is a daunting task.

It is not only Beijing and Moscow, but also the professional US military, who agree with Ms. Ziedrich. “The stark facts on the ground still sat there, oozing pus and bile. With Saddam gone, any voting would install a Shiite majority. The Sunni wouldn’t run Iraq again. That, at the bottom, caused the insurgency. Absent the genocide of Sunni Arabs, it would keep it going,” Lt. Gen. (ret.) Daniel Bolger wrote in his 2014 book How We Lost.

Destroying the Iraqi Army, as you observed, was a catastrophic mistake. In most developing countries the military is the only source of social cohesion and the only institution with an element of meritocracy. The truth is a bit more complicated: to assimilate the Iraqi Army into American policy would require something like de-Nazification, as Asia Times correspondent Marc Ericson explained in January 2004:

The ex-Ba’ath Sunnis need protection against Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s Shi’ites, who are bent on retribution and exercising control in the new Iraqi state. The Americans need leverage against al-Sistani and intelligence information on unreconstructed Ba’athists and foreign fighters.

When thousands of Shi’ites took to the streets of Baghdad this week, they called for direct elections and carried signs reading, “Saddam war criminal, not prisoner of war”. It will have sent a chill down Saddam loyalists’ spines. There are scores to settle. If the Americans left, it would be civil war – and the Sunnis wouldn’t win it. The Americans won’t leave. Too much has been invested and can’t be written down. For better or worse, the Sunni Iraqis and Ba’athists at their core and the American occupiers are natural allies in the political wars ahead.

But it was not just the tactical blunder of disbanding the Iraqi Army: it was idealism gone haywire. George W. Bush and his advisors in their Field-of-Dreams miasma pushed for majority rule in Iraq (just as they did on the West Bank in Israel, allowing Hamas to win the 2006 local elections). Ms. Ziedrich complained about “wars of American exceptionalism,” but in a sense just the opposite was true: Bush and his advisors believed that American democracy was entirely unexceptional, and that other countries merely need build it, and the voters would come.

Throw out the illusion that American democracy — with its utterly unique and irreplicable history — can be exported, and we are left with the sad and sorry task of maintaining or undermining the balance of power as circumstances warrant, allying or fighting with political leaders who are to some degree unsavory, and doing things that we would prefer not to talk about in public. If it were not for America’s alliance with Israel, the region’s only democracy, there would be nothing but cynicism on an a la carte foreign policy menu.

If Ms. Ziegler has the stomach (clearly she has the brains) to take on the tough problems of managing the affairs of a superpower, she would be a welcome addition to Asia Times’ roster. As our contributor Angelo Codevilla warns, the left has its own version of foreign policy idealism even siller than that of George W. Bush. Whatever her politics, we’d love to hear from her.

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


David Paul Goldman (born September 27, 1951) is an American economist, music critic, and author, best known for his series of online essays in the Asia Times under the pseudonym Spengler. Goldman sits on the board of Asia Times Holdings.

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