Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made several statements during their latest debate about America’s Middle East policy.
Is their path forward really just a repeat of the past?
This is a Reality Check you won’t see anywhere else.
“I think the vacuum was created by the disastrous war in Iraq, which I vigorously opposed,” Sanders said during the debate. “Not only did I vote against it, I helped lead the opposition. And what happened there is yes, it’s easy to get rid of a two-bit dictator like Saddam Hussein, but there wasn’t the kind of thought as to what happens the day after you get him and what kind of political vacuum occurs. And who rises up? Groups like ISIS.”
Sanders explained why, unlike Clinton, he voted against the Iraq war in the first place and how that war left behind a power vacuum that ultimately allowed the rise of ISIS.
Sanders is actually correct. If we are talking specifically about the country of Iraq, the biggest contributor to the rise of ISIS there is place called Camp Bucca. Camp Bucca was a U.S. military detention facility where some of Iraq’s most dangerous insurgents were sent.
But here’s the thing: an ISIS commander has told The Guardian that Camp Bucca actually brought together the leadership of ISIS in a way that never could have happened without it.
“It made us all, it built our ideology,” he told The Guardian last December. “We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else.”
“It would have been impossibly dangerous. Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaida leadership.”
As for Clinton, she continues to defend her Iraq war vote and claims that power vacuum in the region was created by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—not by the U.S. war in Iraq.
She said, “It is amplified by Assad, who has waged one of the bloodiest, most terrible attacks on his own people: 250,000-plus dead, millions fleeing; Causing this vacuum that has been filled unfortunately, by terrorist groups, including ISIS.”
But that statement is false. Clinton is making the same argument many Republican candidates have been making—one which we have disproven repeatedly here on Reality Check—that a major reason for the rise of ISIS is Assad.
As we have shown you, including in leaked government DIA documents, the United States, the Saudis, Israel, Jordan and Qatar actually created ISIS by funding groups in Syria in order to overthrow Assad.
But what was surprising during Sunday’s debate is that Senator Sanders actually said he supports removing Assad as well.
“I think in terms of our priorities in the region, our first priority must be the destruction of ISIS,” he said. “Our second priority must be getting rid of Assad, through some political settlement, working with Iran, working with Russia.”
So what you need to know is that this path forward advocated by Sanders and Clinton is actually the path backward.
If Assad is removed first, ISIS takes Syria. No question.
But even if ISIS is destroyed and then Assad is removed, ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, al Nusra—the same ideology under a different name—takes control. We have seen it happen time and time again.
Remember the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over while hoping for a different result.