Donald Trump has apparently found an unlikely espouser of his allegation President Obama was the “founder” of the Islamic State (ISIS).
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the militant Hezbollah group, said at a rally in southern Lebanon Saturday that Mr. Trump's statement, which the Republican presidential nominee has since backed away from, was was factual, reported Al-Manar, a Lebanese TV outlet.
"This is an American presidential candidate who is saying this. What he says is based on facts and documents," said Mr. Nasrallah, adding that Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were responsible for the destabilization of the region that created ISIS.
Although Trump has since said his remarks were sarcastic, Nasrallah isn’t the only Shiite leader to blame unrest in the Middle East on the Obama administration.
Trump twice alleged last week that the Obama administration created the Islamic State. He first said Obama was the “founder” of ISIS at a rally in Florida on Wednesday, and repeated the claim Thursday on CNBC.
“The way he removed our troops…he shouldn’t have got out the way he got out. It was a disaster what he did,” Trump said.
When later asked by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt if he meant Obama’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq left a vacuum for ISIS to grow, Trump replied, “No, I meant that he’s the founder of ISIS, I do,” using another acronym for the militant group.
The next day, Trump started to distance himself from these claims. He told rallies in Altoona and Erie, Pa., that he was being sarcastic.
"I have been saying because it's true, but somewhat sarcastically, that he's the founder of ISIS and she's [Hillary Clinton] a close second," he said.
Nasrallah seems to agree, minus the sarcasm. And this isn’t the first time Nasrallah or other leaders of Hezbollah, who the United States and Arab League classify as a terrorist organization, have claimed the US created and aided Islamic extremists to destabilize the region. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has promoted similar conspiracy theories about the United States. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin said last year that Al Qaeda and ISIS were “actually a US invention.” Mr. Putin said that rebels the US have armed have sometimes switched to join ISIS in Syria.
Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to support President Bashar Assad.
ISIS, in fact, was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the Al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq (AQI). Mr. Zarqawi was killed in a US airstrike in 2008, and, before the US left Iraq, military officials thought they had virtually squashed the Sunni AQI. Yet, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al Maliki favored his fellow Shiites over Sunni Iraqis, the Islamic State followers gained more strength in the region. The civil war in neighboring Syria and ISIS’s social media savvy to recruit fighters and followers allowed it to further grow.
Republicans frequently trace the rise of ISIS to the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw US forced from Iraq by 2012. But many analysts trace ISIS back to former President George W. Bush’s decision to invade in Iraq in 2003 without a plan to replace Saddam Hussein. It was also the Bush administration that negotiated the 2009 agreement to withdraw US forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Since the US began leading a coalition in 2014 to fight ISIS, the coalition has cut the number of ISIs core fighters in half, to about 15,000, and reduced by 45 percent the territory held by the group in the Middle East.
Trump is scheduled to speak Monday about his own plan to confront ISIS.
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.