A lack of intelligence

As the media second-guesses American and world leadership at their supposed failure to predict the dramatic rise to power of ISIS, it’s worth remembering just how far we’ve come in the last ten years.

It has mostly disappeared down the rabbit hole of history, but President Bush was allegedly unaware of the sectarian split between Sunni and Shia just two months before invading Iraq:

A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites. Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam-to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”

Regardless of whether Bush did know about Sunni and Shia or no, there is no evidence that the post-war planners paid much attention at all to the probability of sectarian resentments.

The situation in the Middle East is now much, much more complicated thanks to the massive error that was the invasion of Iraq. The situation in Syria makes it practically impossible to strike the right balance in terms of promoting security and human rights.

If some world leaders failed to predict the rise of ISIS adequately, it still represents a dramatic improvement over American leadership of the previous decade.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.