Who created the Islamic State? George W. Bush or Barack Obama?

ISIS blame game: A host of characters is being blamed for helping to create the Middle Eastern terrorist group known as Islamic State.

Militant website/AP
This photo released on Saturday, May 31, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows a flag of the Islamic State group placed on a damaged helicopter at Tadmur military airbase, which was captured by the Islamic State group in Palmyra in Homs province, Syria.

Who created the Islamic State?

Last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky famously blamed the GOP. The Wall Street Journal, in return, blamed Senator Paul. President Obama has accused President Bush of creating the Islamic State, while Hilary Clinton has pointed the finger at Mr. Obama. All the while various accounts have alternately condemned entities including a US prison camp, Dick Cheney, the Persian Gulf and Turkey, and the private military contractor formerly known as Blackwater.

Welcome to the Islamic State blame game, where a spin of the wheel finds a new perpetrator each week, finger-pointing is political point-scoring, and just about everyone, it seems, is fair game.

Last week Paul revived the debate when he told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, "ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS."

In a highly-cited piece published Tuesday, "Yes, Bush helped create ISIS – and set up the Middle East for a generation of chaos," Vox author Zack Beauchamp expanded on Paul's argument, putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the 43rd president.

His argument, in a nutshell: For decades, the US has supported authoritarian states in the Middle East. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush determined that extremist movements were gaining support as attractive alternatives to repressive governments, and so, set out to change course.

"As long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny – prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder – violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat," Mr. Bush said in his second inaugural address, the speech that encapsulated his administration's new strategy.

The result: A plan to spread democracy without abandoning allies, a key part of which was the Iraq War. But, says Mr. Beauchamp, "Iraq's collapse into chaos fostered new regional crises: the rise of even more militant jihadi groups," and "sectarian grievances that would eventually drive Iraqi Sunnis into ISIS's arms."

It's certainly not the first time Bush has been blamed for creating the Islamic State.

In an interview with Vice News, Obama said Islamic State can be directly linked to Bush's Iraq War.

“Two things: One is, ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion,” Obama said in the interview, using another acronym for the terrorist group. “Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.”

But some conservatives have pointed the finger back at Obama.

After all, the president said in August 2012, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

"Frankly we failed to enforce our own red line, and it was after that that we've never heard a real serious discussion," Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough recently.

Vox's Beauchamp also says Obama hasn't helped the situation.

"[I]nstead of developing a brand new regional strategy, the Obama administration has essentially drifted from crisis to crisis – an approach that's been effective in some cases, like securing a tentative nuclear deal with Iran, but terribly ineffective in others," he writes.

So then, who's to blame?

"Bashar al-Assad is the incubator of ISIS," Representative Kinzinger told MSNBC. "He created the environment where they're flourishing."

And so the Islamic State blame game – in which it's far easier to assign blame than to calculate constructive action – continues.

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