- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Even after the Islamic State beheaded a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, this week, its rapid rise and barbaric savagery still has many folks perplexed, including the president of the United States. When asked last week what action he might take to defeat the threat posed by the jihadi army, President Obama blurted out the truth (for once): “We don’t have a strategy yet,” he said.

Further, when asked about the beheading of Mr. Sotloff, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki stated, “I don’t want to put any labels on this.” Of course, she’s paid to put labels on this, such as “Islamic terrorism,” “jihadism,” “acts of war,” and “subhuman brutality.”

Those not dumbfounded by the arrival and nature of the Islamic State, or ISIS, are folks who have been paying even the slightest attention to several things: the long-stated intent and consistent behavior of these most committed and vicious terrorists; Mr. Obama’s decision to carry out a precipitous and total withdrawal of American forces from Iraq in 2011; Mr. Obama’s failure to intervene in Syria in 2013 when Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in defiance of Mr. Obama’s “red line” on the use of those weapons; the failure to retaliate against the jihadis who slaughtered four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, in Benghazi in 2012; and Mr. Obama’s flaccid response to the growing threat posed by ISIS, even after being briefed on the growing threat for more than a year.

There was, however, another factor that made the Islamic State’s emergence totally predictable: the warnings issued years ago by key players who knew what was likely to develop based on what the United States was — or was not — prepared to do.

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was perhaps the most notorious, dangerous and powerful leader of al Qaeda in Iraq before a U.S. F-16C fighter jet dropped two 500-pound guided bombs on his safe house, killing him.

In 2004, Al-Zarqawi wrote a letter to the al Qaeda leadership and his fellow fighters. In it, he warned that although the United States was taking heavy casualties in Iraq, America wasn’t going anywhere:

“America did not come to leave,” he wrote, “and it will not leave no matter how numerous its wounds become and how much of its blood is spilled.”

He clearly did not anticipate Barack Obama.

He thought that the United States would retreat into its garrisons after standing up the Iraqi army: “[America] is looking to the near future, when it hopes to disappear into its bases secure and at ease and put the battlefields of Iraq into the hands of the foundling government with an army and police that will bring the behavior of Saddam [Hussein] and his myrmidons back to the people.”

Then Al-Zarqawi admitted that U.S. military might was having a devastating effect on his terrorist insurgency: “There is no doubt that the space in which we can move has begun to shrink and that the grip around the throats of the mujahedeen has begun to tighten. With the deployment of soldiers and police, the future has become frightening.”

Imagine that: a U.S. commitment to defeating the enemy that did not waver, even in the face of the terrorists’ brutal counteroffensive and the daily pounding President George W. Bush took at home. The terrorist took notice. They were losing, and they knew it.

In 2007, Mr. Bush issued what would come to be a prescient warning against a precipitous U.S. withdrawal that would endanger the gains made and embolden the decimated enemy:

“To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region, and for the United States,” he said. “It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we’d allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan.

“It would mean,” he continued, “increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous … .”

He knew that the enemy was waiting for American domestic opinion to turn so sharply against the war that it would reward the most anti-war presidential candidate, who would then in turn withdraw all U.S. troops and allow Iraq to revert to their control.

That was their most deeply held wish, although Al-Zarqawi didn’t anticipate how soon it might happen. Mr. Obama put the jihadis’ dream on an accelerated schedule. The Islamic State saw its window of opportunity open wide and fast — and the jihadis moved with all deliberate speed.

In his 2004 letter, Al-Zarqawi advanced another wish: to capture some Americans to trade them for high-level detainees:

“[The Americans] are an easy quarry,” he said. “We ask God to enable us to kill and capture them to sow panic among those behind them and to trade them for our detained shaykhs and brothers.”

How right he was: Two captured Americans have been beheaded, and five top Taliban commanders have been traded for one U.S. soldier who, according to his fellow soldiers, deserted his unit.

Al-Zarqawi didn’t live to see his fondest wishes for the jihadi movement come to pass, but his successors truly cannot believe their good fortune.

Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.

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