Another day, another stupid Donald Trump comment that distracts from the substance of the issues. On Wednesday night, Trump said Barack Obama was the "founder of ISIS," and today he appeared on the radio show of Hugh Hewitt, a Trump supporter, to insist he meant what he said. Hewitt tried to suggest to Trump that what he meant was that the "vacuum" created by Barack Obama and the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, but Trump rejected the suggestion. "I meant he's the founder of ISIS," Trump responded, saying Obama, and Hillary Clinton, deserve a "most valuable player award."
Clinton took to Twitter to respond, saying it could be "difficult to muster outrage as frequently as Donald Trump should cause it, but his smear against President Obama requires it." It can be difficult, too, to muster outrage at Clinton, who in 40 years didn't meet a U.S. war she didn't support, who voted for the Iraq war but later tried to absolve herself of responsibility for it, and who advised Obama in favor of the 2011 U.S. intervention in Libya, which has led directly to the chaos in Libya and the rise there of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, against whom U.S. ground forces have now been deployed.
Obama, of course, is not the "founder" of ISIS. More importantly, while he took credit for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq when running for re-election in 2012, the agreement to withdraw was struck in 2008 under President George W. Bush. Obama eventually stopped taking credit after the rise of ISIS, and even expressed disbelief anyone would assume the decision to withdraw from Iraq was his.
The Trump team is equal opportunity on assigning blame for the "founding" of ISIS. Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who spoke at the Republican National Convention last month, in December blamed George W. Bush and the Iraq War, including the 2004 U.S. release of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—who is now the caliph of ISIS—for the creation of the terror group.
That's not a new idea. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also blamed hawks in his party for the creation of ISIS. And when Donald Trump was focused on defeating Jeb Bush in South Carolina, he too, criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policies. Now he uses the kind of language that make it easy for his opponents to dismiss the underlying claims. The U.S. played a crucial role in the founding of ISIS, from creating the space in which ISIS and its antecedents metastasized to sending weapons to the region (whether to U.S.-backed rebels or with U.S. forces) that ended up in the hands of ISIS.
Democratic hand-wringing over Trump's comments are particularly hypocritical, given Democrats' hyperbole over the Bush administration and Iraq as well as the role U.S. foreign policy during the Obama administration played in contributing to the rise of ISIS—be it flooding the region with weapons or destabilizing countries like Libya and Yemen. Unfortunately, the important discussion of the costs, benefits, and unintended consequences of interventionism is not something Trump or Clinton are interested in, and unless libertarian presidential nominee and self-described "skeptic of interventionism" Gary Johnson ends up in the debates, it doesn't seem like a discussion that will take place this presidential election cycle.