Speaking with Vice News, President Barack Obama said that the origins of ISIS can be traced back to the presidency of George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
He said that the growth of the Islamic State was an “unintended consequence” of that war.
In an interview with Vice News, President Obama said the rise of Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL) can be directly linked to America’s excursion into Iraq under Bush.
“Two things: One is, ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion,” Obama said in an interview with VICE News. “Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.”
Obama stated that he is “confident” a coalition consisting of 60 nations “will slowly push back ISIL out of Iraq,” but added that the challenge of stopping extremism won’t stop unless there is a political solution to the internal strife affecting so many countries in the Middle East.
“What I’m worried about” he said, “is even if ISIL is defeated, the underlying problem of disaffected Sunnis around the world – but particularly in some of these areas including Libya, including Yemen – where a young man who’s growing up has no education, has no prospects for the future, is looking around and the one way he can get validation, power, respect, is if he’s a fighter.”
“That’s a problem we’re going to have, generally. And we can’t keep on thinking about counterterrorism and security as entirely separate from diplomacy, development, education.”
The president dismissed concerns that the US spends too much on foreign aid, noting that just over one percent of the federal budget goes to other nations. He argued that “we should be thinking about making investments” overseas that will prevent America from sending troops to engage in military operations.
Obama’s comments regarding ISIS mark the first time he has framed the extremist group’s existence as a consequence of American foreign policy decisions. The president’s opponents have often argued that his withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011 left space for groups like ISIS to grow. At the same time, the Shia-dominated central government of Iraq failed to effectively bring the country’s Sunni minority into the governing process, leaving ISIS with a disaffected ethnic group more willing to join its cause.
When reports of Al-Qaeda-linked militants causing violence in Iraq first burst onto the scene, Obama also characterized the group as a “JV team,” or a small-time operation.
“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama told the New Yorker in early 2014. “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”