In an interview with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show on Monday night, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blamed the instability in the Middle East on the Shia-Sunni conflict — rather than the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
During the interview, Colbert asked Rumsfeld if the current instability in the region, and the rise of ISIS, was ever predicted as “a worst-case scenario, or a beyond-worse-case scenario” when the George W. Bush administration was planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003. After pausing to think, Rumsfeld said, “I think the disorder in the entire region, and the conflict between the Sunnis and the Shia, is something that, generally, people had not anticipated.”
But experts say the instability in Iraq today, as well as the rise of ISIS, can be traced directly back to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and U.S. policies afterwards — not a Sunni-Shia conflict. The U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority’s decision to disband the Iraqi army and remove all members of the ruling Ba’ath Party from the government shortly after the invasion of Iraq are two key factors that created instability, and fueled sectarianism, in the country. The revelation of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and other U.S. prisons also had a radicalizing effect on many Iraqis, and many senior officials in ISIS were formerly held in U.S. prisons in Iraq, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group.
Of course, Rumsfeld himself was also a key part of many of the U.S. policies that fueled the instability in Iraq. As Colbert pointed out, Rumsfeld knew that it was not clear whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq. On September 9, 2002, more than six months before the invasion of the country, Rumsfeld received a report from the Joint Chiefs of Staff making it clear that the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was unreliable. “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely — perhaps 90 percent — on analysis of imprecise intelligence,” read the report, discrediting the Bush administration’s main argument for invading Iraq.
But Rumsfeld did not share the report, now declassified, with other members of the Bush administration, like then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, or top officials at the CIA, according to multiple sources at the State Department, White House, and CIA who spoke to Politico on condition of anonymity. Instead the report disappeared, and with it, a case for not invading Iraq.
The tendency among U.S. politicians to blame the region’s instability on religion, culture, and identity, without mention of U.S. policies that clearly played a key role, is nothing new. Earlier this month, President Obama received criticism for saying that the Middle East is going through changes “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.”
Rumsfeld appeared on The Late Show to advertise a new mobile app he helped design called “Churchill Solitaire,” a specific version of solitaire played by Winston Churchill, who like Rumsfeld, was responsible for disastrous policies in the Middle East.