Rand Paul lets Obama off the hook in the Middle East

Rand Paul said today on Meet the Press that he does not blame President Obama for the instability in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East; instead he blames President Bush. Paul told an undoubtedly delighted David Gregory:

What’s going on now I don’t blame on President Obama. Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution. But I do blame the Iraq war on the chaos that is in the Middle East.

Paul also blamed Bush for the rise of Iranian power and influence in the region.

Rand Paul is a fool. Chaos exists in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Did the Iraq invasion cause the chaos in Libya? Did it cause the chaos in Syria?

Of course not. The chaos we see in these countries and elsewhere is the result of uprisings against dictatorial regimes following the Arab Spring. The uprisings would have occurred in or around 2011 regardless of whether the U.S. had invaded Iraq in 2003.

Indeed, it’s extremely unlikely that an Iraq still controlled in the spring of 2011 by Saddam Hussein would have been immune from such an uprising. Iraq, with its multiple sectarian fault lines, was as vulnerable as any nation in the region to the type of civil wars we’ve witnessed since that time. Why would he have fared better than Assad?

As for Iran, its increase in influence is also largely independent of the Iraq invasion. Working through Hezbollah, Iran has become a key player in Lebanon and in Syria, where it played a huge role in saving the Assad regime. Iran has also increased its influence by moving ever closer to developing nuclear weapons.

None of this has anything to do with the Iraq invasion (if one believes the CIA, the invasion actually caused Iran to suspend its nuclear program for several years). As for Iranian influence in Iraq itself, again it’s difficult to imagine that, absent the 2003 invasion, Iran wouldn’t have stirred up and abetted a rebellious Shiite majority population in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

But even if one believes (1) that the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s regime would have been, on balance, desirable and (2) that his regime would have skated past the Arab Spring, it’s still ridiculous for Rand Paul to let Obama off the hook. Obama must be judged independently of Bush. Even if he made merely a bad situation worse, Obama is to blame for that.

And Obama undoubtedly has made the situation in Iraq worse. Just today, Mike Morrell, who headed the CIA under Obama, said this on Face The Nation:

Al Qaeda in Iraq was essentially defeated when the U.S. military left at the end of 2011. And the intelligence community monitored the growth of al Qaeda post-2011 in great detail, with intelligence reporting, with analysis. We made it very clear that this — that this group was becoming more and more dangerous.

Bush isn’t to blame for the fact that Obama pulled our military entirely out of Iraq. Bush isn’t to blame for the fact that, thereafter, al Qaeda reemerged. Bush isn’t to blame for the fact that, in the face of intelligence that al Qaeda was “becoming more and more dangerous,” Obama did nothing.

From my perspective as one who supported Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, it’s fine for Rand Paul, who opposed it, to continue to criticize that decision. And, it’s understandable, albeit disappointing, to hear him make exaggerated claims about the extent to which the invasion is responsible for many of the current ills in the region.

What’s unacceptable is to absolve Obama of his disastrous decisions. In doing so Rand Paul demonstrates either intellectual dishonesty or concurrence with Obama’s decisions (or maybe both).

Either explanation should disqualify Rand Paul from the presidency, just as it did his father whose over-the-top cracker barrel isolationism the son embraces deep down.

Via Eliana Johnson at NRO.

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