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March 29th, 2017

Insight

Bill Clinton's inadvertent truth

Glenn Reynolds

By Glenn Reynolds

Published April 4, 2016

In Spokane, Wash., former President Bill Clinton praised his wife, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, by contrasting her to what he called "the awful legacy of the last eight years” under President Obama.

Although a Clinton spokesperson has since walked back Bill's apparent gaffe, that couldn’t have gone over well at the White House — or, at any rate, at the mansion in Cuba where President Obama was staying just then — but Clinton was right. Barack Obama has left an awful legacy, and the next president, whoever it is, will have a lot to deal with. Fortunately, the next president — whether it’s Hillary, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, or even Bernie Sanders — will probably be a better president.

For one example of Obama’s “awful legacy,” we need look no further than the terror attacks this week in Brussels. These attacks, which killed dozens and injured close to 200, were perpetrated by the Islamic State, the group that Obama once disparagingly called a “jayvee team.”

Well, for a jayvee team, they’ve done a lot of damage, in the Middle East and beyond, and it’s in large part because of Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq, which fulfilled a political promise, but which had the effect of squandering a decade of blood and treasure, and costing many thousands of lives.

As late as 2010, things were going sufficiently well in Iraq that the Obama Administration was bragging about what a huge success they had going there. But in his 2008 campaign, Obama had promised to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, and so it was essential that he do so before 2012, or his antiwar supporters would complain. So Obama pulled out. And that was a mistake.


As journalist Bob Woodward observed: “Look, Obama does not like war. But as you look back on this, the argument from the military was, let's keep 10,000, 15,000 troops there as an insurance policy. And we all know insurance policies make sense. We have 30,000 troops or more in South Korea still 65 years or so after the war. When you are a superpower, you have to buy these insurance policies. And he didn't in this case.”

No, we didn’t. In fact, as The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins reported, the White House didn’t want to make a deal to stay. Filkins, an Iraq War critic, agreed with radio host Hugh Hewitt that Obama’s withdrawal may have been "the worst strategic decision of many bad strategic decisions.”

And the consequence of that mistake was the rise of ISIL after the United States pulled out, lost influence and lost the intelligence network that it had maintained in Iraq.

The White House made plain to intelligence agencies that it didn’t want to hear bad news about ISIL. From low-level analysts to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, everyone knew, so it increasingly appears, that the intelligence was being politically skewed to support the Obama Administration’s preferred view that ISIL wasn’t a threat, thus justifying the pullout and Obama’s policy of inaction. The result is a "messy ... intelligence scandal," as the Observer put it, that would be a lot messier if it didn’t implicate a Democratic president that so many in the press want to protect.

And now, despite all of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize posturing, The Washington Post reports that his administration has put a lot more of our military in Iraq than it has been saying. We may have to fight the war all over again.

Bill Clinton is right. Obama’s is an awful legacy, one that has borne ugly fruit in the Middle East, in Europe and — as Islamic-State-inspired attacks strike here, too, from San Bernadino to Garland, Texas — in the United States.

Writer Roger Simon asks, "Are we ready for reality after the Brussels terror attacks?” Nope. But with luck, we will be after November.

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Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself and is a columnist at USA TODAY.

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