“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it.”
Those were Republican Senator John McCain’s words on the Orlando, Florida, shooting, offered to the press Thursday morning, June 16, 2016.
A Florida man who pledged allegiance to ISIS, but also expressed vehement hatred for homosexuals, massacred 49 people, wounding 53, at a gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday night.
“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it,” McCain said, “because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaida went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures, utter failures, by pulling everybody out of Iraq. So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies.”
The Seattle Times described McCain as “visibly angry.”
McCain doubled down when prodded. “Directly responsible. Because he pulled everybody out of Iraq, and I predicted at the time that ISIS would go unchecked and there would be attacks on the United States of America. It’s a matter of record, so he is directly responsible.”
ISIS indeed formed after American troops left Iraq (though unquestionably the American invasion itself destabilized Iraq and widely attracted and birthed new terror groups, some of which later formed ISIS, making one wonder if George W. Bush is also “directly responsible” for the Orlando shooting, following McCain’s logic).
But the Obama administration played a slightly greater role than simply withdrawing. A classified Pentagon report from August 2012, exposed in May 2015, revealed the U.S. supported Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Muslim Brotherhood, and other extremist groups in their fight against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad (this was later acknowledged by the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency). The report predicted these extremists would combine to form something like the Islamic State, helpful in “unifying the jihad” against Assad, but warning it could “create grave danger” to the region. The U.S. decided to continue supporting the extremists despite this risk.
That is how ISIS came to be; who it targets is also determined by foreign policy. It is commonly acknowledged, by Western intelligence agencies and by ISIS itself, that primary ISIS (and other terror group) targets are nations involved militarily in “Muslim lands” — such as the U.S., currently battling ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Facing criticism for blaming the president, by early Thursday afternoon, McCain was already trying to walk back the comment — sort of — on Twitter: “To clarify, I was referring to Pres Obama’s national security decisions that have led to rise of
#ISIL, not to the President himself.”
McCain seemed to be changing his tune from “direct” to “indirect” blame of the president, making a distinction between Obama’s decisions (indirect) and the idea that Obama literally committed the shooting (direct). A simple distinction between Obama’s decisions and Obama himself makes less sense, as one would be hard-pressed to separate Obama from Obama’s decisions.