State Department spokesperson John Kirby on Thursday contradicted President Obama's account of how the Islamic State (IS, also ISIL or ISIS) rose to prominence, saying the Syrian Civil War and Bashar al-Assad created the conditions necessary for IS's rise.
Kirby was pressed on this point by Fox News correspondent James Rosen, who pointed out that President Obama has implicitly placed the blame for IS at the feet of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
"You just told us it was Bashar al-Assad who created the conditions that allowed ISIS to occupy the space it now does," Rosen said. "That seems to place you at odds with President Obama, who says that ISIS’s current prominence is a byproduct of the Iraq War.
"So I just want to give you an opportunity to clarify what you’re saying and whether you believe it was Bashar al-Assad that nurtured the growth of ISIS or whether you think it was George W. Bush and Dick Cheney?" Rosen asked.
Kirby said that the State Department blames Assad for creating the conditions necessary for IS to flourish in Syria and expand into Iraq.
"We’ve long said that ISIL’s growth is a function, at least in Syria—and I’ve said this, and Secretary Kerry has said this many times—of the conditions Bashar al-Assad has established in his country," Kirby said.
Kirby said that blame for IS's spread in Iraq could also be apportioned to former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who hollowed out the Iraqi security forces through nepotism and corruption. The security forces collapsed during IS's northern Iraq offensive in 2014.
"One thing that did not help the situation in Iraq was the degree to which Prime Minister Maliki let his military go," Kirby said. "It was not properly resourced, not properly led. So when ISIL stormed across that border into Mosul the door was partially open because Iraq had not invested in the capabilities we had left them with in 2011."
In March, Obama blamed his predecessor's policies for IS, saying the group was an "unintended consequence" of the Iraq invasion in 2003. Former Vice President Dick Cheney fired back, saying that Obama's decision to withdraw from Iraq in 2011 created the vacuum of power necessary for IS's rise.
This blame game dates back to IS's establishment of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria last year. It has only intensified as IS has telegraphed its atrocities to the world and resisted tepid Western efforts to uproot it from the Middle East.