World leaders are alarmed by the growing influence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and the sectarian violence now sweeping the country, scrambling to react to the group’s sudden gains in the region.
On Monday morning, Fox News reported that at least one man warned about the threat all along: President George W. Bush. The network spent 5-minutes explaining how the president who first invaded the country was also the region’s most clairvoyant analyst.
“In 2007, President George W. Bush pretty much laid this out as it is happening,” Fox anchor Martha MacCallum said, playing videos of Bush warning that violence could resurface should American troops withdraw. After the clips, Andy Card, Bush’s former chief-of-staff, popped up to reinforce narrative.
But a closer examination of Bush’s comments from his July 12, 2007 press conference reveals that Fox News cut the clips to omit a key piece of context. In July of 2007, Bush did predict higher levels of violence if America left Iraq too quickly, but he couched his comments in the advise he was receiving from U.S. military commanders on the ground, saying that U.S. would not “begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we’re ready.” Fox News did not play those remarks — which appeared just two sentences before his predictions of greater violence — even though by the time Obama came into office, the opinion of U.S. commanders had shifted. The Bush administration had agreed to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, in order to obtain a status of forces agreement in 2008. President Obama later urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to accept American troops in Iraq after 2011, but after the Iraqis would not grant a status of forces agreement that would grant certain immunities to American soldiers, the U.S. military advised Obama to completely pull out of Iraq.
“Conditions continue to improve (in Iraq), and specifically, I mean we continue to withdraw forces,” Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in November of 2008. “[We are] clearly moving forward in a measured way,” he said. In 2011, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — who also served under President George W. Bush — conceded that Iraq will face security “problems” in the face of U.S. withdrawal — but stressed that “it’s their country. It’s a sovereign country. And we will abide by the agreement, unless the Iraqis ask us to have additional people there.”
Middle East analysts have also attributed the current violence to the failures of the Bush-backed al-Maliki government, which has systematically excluded the Sunnis from power and repressed its political opponents. Maliki’s rise to power “was the product of a series of momentous decisions made by the Bush administration,” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria argued. “It quickly decided to destroy Iraq’s Sunni ruling establishment and empower the hard-line Shiite religious parties that had opposed Saddam Hussein…These moves — to disband the army, dismantle the bureaucracy and purge Sunnis in general — might have been more consequential than the invasion itself.”