Even when Donald Trump doubles down on his inflammatory comment du jour and insists that it is what he REALLY MEANS, members of his campaign will continue to insist that he shouldn’t be literally taken at his word. Take running mate Mike Pence at a Thursday campaign event, for example.
With the media still busy reacting to Trump’s “Second Amendment people” comments, the real estate mogul created another flap by calling Hillary Clinton and President Obama the “founders of ISIS” at a rally on Wednesday. Instead of walking it back, or saying he was speaking metaphorically, Trump repeated the point multiple times on Thursday during two interviews. While speaking with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who gave him an out by saying he knew he was speaking about Obama’s foreign policy, Trump responded, “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do.”
However, even with Trump going around saying this on Thursday, Pence said it was all the media’s fault. (Ah, that old conservative chestnut. The classics never get old.) See, they were playing semantics with Trump’s words while missing the whole point. And the point, Mike? That Obummer and Shillary ruined George W. Bush’s super-awesome, freedom-spreadin’ Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The media’s talking today about another controversy over semantics,” Pence said at a town hall here. “Let’s be very clear: It was Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who helped undo all the hard fought gains in Operation Iraqi Freedom that our soldiers won and secured that nation.”
Pence continued: “When President Obama became president, it’s important to remember, that Iraq was essentially stable and it was Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that withdrew American forces precipitously without what’s called a status of forces agreement, and they created the very vacuum in which ISIS was able to be spawned and conjured up as it were, compromising large areas of Iraq and bringing violence to that part of the world, to our allies in Europe and inspiring violence here at home.”
Where to begin? Well, first off, ISIS wouldn’t even be around if it weren’t the United States invading Iraq in the first place. So let’s not go blaming Obama for pulling troops (which was already agreed upon when he arrived in office). As Vox’s Zach Beauchamp explained, not only was ISIS founded as a different group in 1999 before joining with al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004 to take advantage of the destabilization of Iraq post-invasion, but the US withdrawal of troops from Iraq under Obama wasn’t the main cause of ISIS’s recent ascendance.
This is a pretty standard conservative narrative, one not at all unique to Trump. It is, however, quite wrong. The real sources of ISIS’s recent growth were the Syrian civil war and political sectarianism in Iraq, neither of which was within the power of United States to prevent.
By 2010, “Iraq finally had relatively good security, a generous state budget, and positive relations among the country’s various ethnic and religious communities,” Zaid al-Ali, author of The Struggle for Iraq’s Future, wrote in Foreign Policy. But that strong position was squandered. Then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stripped his political opponents of power, appointed his cronies to run the army, and killed peaceful protesters.
Most importantly, Maliki reconstructed the Iraqi state along sectarian lines, privileging the Shia majority over the Sunni minority. This exacerbated Iraq’s existing sectarian tensions: Sunni Iraqis, after all, had long and falsely believed themselves to be Iraqi’s majority (owing to Saddam-era propaganda). They saw Maliki as depriving them of their rightful control of the state — and his actions deepened their belief that the Iraqi state was fundamentally illegitimate.
Around this same time as this was happening, Syria erupted in Arab Spring protests and, eventually, descended into civil war. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current leader of ISIS who was at the time in Iraq, saw the chaos as an opportunity, sending a contingent of fighters to Syria to set up shop there in late 2011.
These two developments — Iraq’s unraveling and Syria’s civil war — created a perfect incubator for ISIS.
Second off, I thought Trump was all about hating the Iraq War? I mean, he keeps telling all of us how everyone knew he was opposed to it before we invaded. (This is a bald-faced lie.) Yet, you’re saying that Trump would have kept the war going in Iraq forever?
Third, uh, you must not have heard the Hugh Hewitt interview, huh? He literally means Obama is the founder of ISIS. Which, of course, is a very loud dogwhistle saying POTUS is a secret Muslim who has long been in cahoots with RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS.
Finally, nobody at a newspaper, news channel or magazine is making Trump say these things. He’s doing it all by himself. If the media has to constantly ask him if something is a joke, a metaphor, a bit of hyperbole or something he REALLY MEANS, then how is this man going to deal with foreign leaders? Hell, how about just members of Congress?
If we all are questioning what Trump is actually saying multiple times every single day, what happens when he’s president and goes ‘off the cuff’ and ‘politically incorrect’ with another nation? And, worse, fails to acknowledge his mistake or, at the very least, admit he may have misspoken?
But, yeah, go ahead and carry that ‘blame the media’ water, Mike.
Image via WTKR