Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, blasted both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel Sunday, saying the Iraq war was a mistake that led to the creation of the Islamic State terror group.
“It was a huge error,” Gen. Flynn said about the Iraq war. The retired general served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years and was the former commander of special forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
When asked by Der Spiegel if the Islamic State wouldn’t be where it was today without the fall of Baghdad, Gen. Flynn responded, without hesitation, “yes, absolutely.”
Gen. Flynn said the U.S. strong emotional response following the 9/11 terrorist attacks was not well thought out and led to strategic failures.
“When 9/11 occurred, all the emotions took over, and our response was, ‘Where did those bastards come from? Let’s go kill them. Let’s go get them,” he told Der Spiegel.
Instead of determining why the U.S. was targeted by terrorists, Gen. Flynn said, the Bush administration focused military efforts based on where the terrorists came from.
“Then we strategically marched in the wrong direction,” he said.
Gen. Flynn criticized President Bush and later President Obama’s strategies to topple dictators in unstable regions.
“As brutal as Saddam Hussein was, it was a mistake to just eliminate him,” Gen. Flynn said. “The same is true for Moammar Gadhafi and for Libya, which is now a failed state. The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq. History will not be and should not be kind with that decision.”
He added that fallacies of the U.S. approach in the Middle East conflict over the years was made evident by the country’s release of current Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2004. He had been captured near Fallujah earlier that year but was released in December as he was deemed a “low-level” threat.
“We were too dumb,” Gen. Flynn said. “We didn’t understand who we had there at that moment.”
However, Gen. Flynn said an Iraq-style boots on the ground operation and the same type of coalition Mr. Bush assembled for Iraq is needed to defeat the Islamic State. He stressed the importance of giving Arab nations a leading role in the conflict, but he said Western troops would have to do much of the heavy lifting.
“Our message must be that we want to help and that we will leave once the problems have been solved,” he said. “The Arab nations must be on our side. And if we catch them financing, if they funnel money to IS, that’s when sanctions and other actions have to kick in.”
Gen. Flynn added that Russia would have to take a leading role in the fight against the Islamic State and said the U.S. would have to work constructively with the Kremlin, “whether we like it or not.”