Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Iraq War’s Impact On Current National Security Threats


MR. LEAHY. We have the benefit of looking through the lens of history to learn from past mistakes in the hopes of making more informed decisions for the future. No example is more relevant today than the unintended effects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and their bearing on the threats of today. I opposed that war from the beginning, and we have paid, and continue to pay, a tremendous price -- in American lives, in the unfathomable expense of taxpayer dollars, and in the escalation of strife in that region, and beyond.

There is no doubt that the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have emerged from al-Qaeda in Iraq, seizing upon instability, weak institutions, ethnic fractions, and general hostility toward Western forces that resulted from the post-9/11 Iraq invasion. Our personnel, allies and interests abroad face significant threats from this terrorist group, which have arisen out of the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq.

We can be proud of the bravery, dedication, and sacrifice of our soldiers and their families.  They are not at fault for the complex situation in which we now find ourselves. They served our Nation dutifully, and for that we are grateful. Rather, it serves as a reminder that policymakers cannot act recklessly – especially when taking military action. As we continue to address the very real threat that is ISIL, it is astounding to me how far in the past the hard lessons we learned now appear to be to some commentators and policymakers.


I ask that a perceptive and well-written analysis on this subject, written by the distinguished journalist and former foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore, that was published in The Rutland Herald and The Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus on May 24, 2015, be entered into the Congressional Record.

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The Rutland Herald and The Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday May 24, 2015


Short Memories

By Barrie Dunsmore

“I am running because I think the world is falling apart,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said this past week. Senator Graham is not alone among the many aspiring Republican presidential candidates. Not only do they want us to believe the world is falling apart. They also want us to believe it’s not their fault.

As Robert Costa wrote in the Washington Post, “One by one, nearly a dozen GOP hopefuls took the stage (in Des Moines Iowa) for a Lincoln dinner, each different in style and stature but all joining a rising Republican chorus that lays blame for the Islamic State terrorist group squarely at the feet of President Barack Obama.” Senator Lindsey Graham said to cheers, “If you fought in Iraq, it worked. It’s not your fault it’s going to hell. It’s Obama’s fault.”

The Islamic State is but one of the Middle East’s problems of recent years. The hopes for a more democratic region engendered by the Arab Spring, have been dashed. Egypt is now more of a military dictatorship than it was under President Hosni Mubarak. Without dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is now awash with weapons, without a functioning government and ruled by tribes. Syria is still in the throes of a three year unresolved civil war, with an estimated 150,000, dead. As Iran and Saudi Arabia violently vie for dominance in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, indisputably the Middle East is more unstable than it was seven years ago. 

Yet just as the world economy was in a deep depression after the market crash of ’08, when Obama took office so too was the Middle East in turmoil- mostly because of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.

As they seek to shift the blame of Iraq, which just last year conservative pundit George Will wrote was “the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history,” Republicans are asking us to forget the past. I don’t doubt that some already have. In the era of Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, seven years may seem like an eternity. But not everyone will forget. 

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush found this out on a recent campaign stop, when Ivy Ziedrich, a Nevada college student confronted him with the charge, “Your brother created ISIS.” Bush’s response was, “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president.”

It is accurate that the name Islamic State was not in use during the George W. Bush presidency. But the movement that later became ISIS was a direct result of the American invasion. That group called itself ”al Qaida in Iraq.” It was led by the fanatic Abu Musab al- Zarkawi, and was responsible for hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings- yes beheadings- in a reign of terror which made Zarqawi the most wanted man in Iraq. His goal was to rid Iraq of foreign forces, and to provoke sectarian conflict between Iraq’s Shiite majority and his own Sunni Muslim sect.

 Zarqawi was killed in an American bombing raid in 2006. But nine years ago, the Washington Post reported, “Analysts warned that his death may not stem the tide of the insurgency and violence. …Zarqawi set up numerous semi-autonomous terrorist cells across Iraq, many of which could continue after his death.”

Indeed they did. And joined by numerous bitter Sunni officers from Saddam Hussein’s army, al-Qaida in Iraq eventually morphed into the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS.) Its current leader is an Iraqi named Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who claims to be the caliph (supreme leader) of the new Islamic State.

But ISIS is by no means the only bi-product of the American invasion of Iraq. When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his Sunni dominated regime were overthrown by American military might, there were no happier people than the Shiite mullahs of Iran. Saddam had initiated the bloody eight year Iran-Iraq war. Without Saddam on its border to worry about, Iran was now free to encourage the Iraqi Shiite majority to assume power over their Sunni and Kurdish minorities. Thus a Shiite led Iraq became a major ally of Iran in its power struggle with Sunni Saudi Arabia. And that Sunni-Shiite battle for regional domination is at the root of most of the current sectarian violence in the Middle East.

(This reminds me of the credibly sourced story that surfaced years ago. Evidently after meeting with the president on the eve of the Iraq invasion, one of the Iraqi exiles who strongly encouraged American intervention was nevertheless shocked that Mr. Bush did not seem to understand the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.)

But let’s set aside all this troublesome history. What is it that Republicans want to do - in the future - to resolve the problem of the Islamic State?

Most of them apparently feel that in 2016, American voters will want their president to get really tough with ISIS. So far, the rhetoric has been overblown and viable alternatives seem in short supply.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FLA), when speaking to the Freedom Forum of South Carolina, used a line from the movie “Taken”, in explaining what he would do with the terrorists. “We will look for you. We will find you. And we will kill you.” 

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said at a recent meeting in Iowa. “They want to bring back the 7th century of jihad. So here’s my suggestion: We load up our bombers, and we bomb them back to the 7th century.”

Senator Graham and most of the other candidates, seem once again to be under the sway of the same neo-conservative, tough-guy thinking that gave us the Iraq War. Presidential wannabes might want to take a closer look at that war - eight years of fighting, at one point with 162,000 U.S. troops on the ground and substantial air and naval support nearby. The cost was at least $2 trillion, nearly 4500 Americans killed and hundreds of thousands seriously wounded. Yet with all that military might and its enormous costs, the United States did not prevail.

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