The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick joined me today to discuss his new best-seller: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS:
HH: A special Christmas Eve eve show that I’m devoting to a really dark subject. It’s the rise of ISIS. As we speak, Iraqi troops are battling ISIS in and around Ramadi in what is the latest front line of a battlefield that has shifted, really, from five different countries over three different decades. And no one knows the story better than Joby Warrick. He is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Triple Agent, been a guest on this program before. Of course, he’s with the Washington Post. He’s also author of a fascinating new book, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, which I recommended on this program Monday to Speaker Paul Ryan, and which I hope every would-be presidential nominee of both parties would read. Joby Warrick, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, it’s great to have you.
JW: It’s great to be back, Hugh.
HH: I begin with a saying from the Hadith. The black flags will come from the east led by mighty men with long hair and beards, their surnames taken from their hometowns. Now I think I’ve read every major book on al Qaeda and ISIS that have come out in the last 15 years. I never knew that that was a Hadith saying.
JW: Yeah, and it’s interesting how these guys, the guys who are ISIS now and in this sort of starting generation seized on these religious symbols, because they’re so powerful and so evocative to the extreme as to understand the Koran, or think they do. And it’s kind of part of their calling card, and it makes them not just sort of powerful militarily, but they have this mystique about them that’s so attractive to many of their followers.
HH: And it will be explained at great length, because I’m going to keep Joby this hour and next. And Black Flags is linked over at Hughhewitt.com. A beginning question, how is the book being received? Do people want to know about ISIS? Or are they afraid to learn about ISIS?
JW: Yeah, this is part of our dilemma in putting this book out, because I think people want to know the information, but whether or not they’re willing to invest the time and the $20 bucks or whatever it is to get a copy of a book about ISIS is another question. And my whole thing on this was that you know, I was fascinated myself, and the more I dug into this, and the more I understood who these people were and where they came from, and how much of our own policy was interconnected with their rise, I just felt this was something that had to be explained at length, and I was just glad to have the opportunity to do it.
HH: Joby, the book begins and it ends with executions. But it’s interesting, one of those executions of Sajida al-Rashawi is, let me put it this way, civilized. The other of a young Jordanian pilot is barbaric. There is a certain symmetry there, but also an asymmetry that sums up the entire difference between those who are with ISIS and those who are fighting ISIS.
JW: Yeah, nobody’s pointed that out before, but that was part of my intention, actually, the way I began and ended the book is that two very different takes on execution. But yeah, the first one, Rashawi, was a, you know, convicted terrorist, somebody who had tried to blow up hotels, actually tried to blow up a wedding inside a hotel in Jordan in 2005, and didn’t succeed, or a bomb didn’t go off for whatever reason, and had been a prisoner of the state of Jordan for all these years, and she was finally put to death in this fairly dramatic moment that we maybe can recount later. But the kind of, the book ended that on the opposite side, is ISIS at its most barbaric, taking the life of a Jordanian pilot they captured, and doing it in the most, you know, brutal way, burning the man alive, which is not just horrific to contemplate, but also against the Koran. The Koran says you’re not supposed to burn a human being, and they did it anyway.
HH: I also would say that Lina and Riham, two victims of the woman who you just mentioned’s suicide bombing gone awry, her partner succeeded in killing many people at a wedding. Lina and Riham would be 19 and 24 today. They died at the ages of 9 and 14, so we’re talking about very obscure events in America that have enormous implications in America, most recently not far from where I am broadcasting in San Bernardino, California.
JW: Yeah, I think that just emphasizes or underscores the fact that this is a fight that has been going on for a long time, and we’re kind of late in tuning into it. But these guys, and you know, their founders, have been fighting this very brutal war for a long time. And countries like Jordan have borne the brunt of it. This attack in 2005 was the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history. And it’s just another example of the kinds of just absolute indiscriminate attacks on the most innocent people, including young children at a wedding party.
HH: And I want to make sure that we spend time talking about the implications for Jordan that comes out of that. But we lost six American soldiers two days ago. Their names have been released today, including a New York police veteran and National Guardsman whose name was Joseph Lemm and five others. That was by Taliban suicide mission. And to a certain extent, this is all about twisting Islamic theology from the moment that Zawahiri got a hold of, or even Qutb, of the Takfiri approach and turning it into a weapon that it had never not really been before, right? Suicide bombings, it’s new to Islam.
JW: Yeah, it is. In fact, it’s, you, you know, this is kind of a problem for some of these early jihadists, and early meaning a decade or two ago, because it, the Koran says you’re not supposed to take your own life, much less the life of innocents. And so they’ve had to construct these exceptions in that in certain battlefield circumstances, it may be necessary. And Zarqawi, who’s really the godfather of ISIS, took it to another level and said it was not just necessary, but something that Allah somehow countenanced, that you could, you know, use your own life to take a large number of the enemy, and the enemy can be as broadly-written as you want to make it. And it was part of the reason they could do this, because they didn’t really understand the Koran very well. And guys like Zarqawi was essentially uneducated, high school dropout, never studied theology, and yet sort of assumed that he knew everybody better than anyone. And you know, by being the loudest voice in the room, he’s able to get followers and people that kind of go along with him.
HH: I want to memorialize as well Air Force Major Adrianna Vorderbruggen, I want to say their names, as well as Sgt. Lemm, but also the other service people throughout this. Chester McBride is another one who was killed on Monday. Michael Anthony Cinco was a service member from Texas. Sgt. Peter Taub was another one of the deceased, and I believe Air Force Sgt. Jeffrey, excuse me, Louis Bonacasa. I hope I get those right. I’m reading from scattered reports. Joby, let’s start with this. I had on Lawrence Wright back in the day when The Looming Tower came out. And a lot of people had never heard of Qutb. And they didn’t, it goes from, in my sort of shorthand, Qutb to Zawahiri to bin Laden to Zarqawi now to al-Baghdadi with a little offshoot of al-Nusra in there. Is that generally how you see it as well? Is that the tree?
JW: That is exactly right. I mean, these guys hearken back to the heroes they had in the ages past, but it really started with Qutb, who your readers might remember was this Egyptian radical who actually came to America and spent time here, and decided that he despised our culture and everything that we stood for, and kind of was the mastermind or the originator of this really kind of hateful ideology that thought using violence to destroy the enemies of Allah, and sort of claiming to know exactly what God intended for mankind on Earth. In that way, it really started with him, and then twisted further by Zawahiri. You’re exactly right. And then these additional perversions by these people that get further and further from actual texts and just still claim that they know what God wills, and God has, apparently, some horrific vision for absolute brutality against civilians and other innocents on Earth.
HH: So people can read The Looming Tower, and then I often recommended Michael Morell’s book, A Great War Of Our Time. But what Joby Warrick does in Black Flags is it gives you a good understanding of who Zarqawi is and who al-Baghdadi is, as well as al-Nusra’s Julani. And you know, I once asked Donald Trump about these guys, and he said they all get killed, so the names don’t matter.
HH: But the personalities really do matter, don’t they, Joby?
JW: Absolutely, because in each case, these are innovators. These are people that kind of broke with the mainstream. And that doesn’t just happen randomly. It takes the forces of personality. And in the case of Zarqawi, what was different about him, he was someone who was not just a theologian, not someone who kind of had different ideas. But it was the whole mystique that he brought to it. He had charisma. He had, he dressed like a ninja and more, you know, Nike sneakers and carried a machine gun over his shoulder. So he’s sort of radicalized, or just had this appealing image that a lot of people wanted to emulate. And so it is a force of personality sometimes that makes a difference, and I think it’s definitely the case with these individuals.
HH: We’ll talk a lot about Zarqawi in the next two hours, but he comes across as an absolute sadist. He’s a rapist of boys and teenage boys. He’s as sexually confused as Qutb, if you ask me, when I read this thing. And he’s just riven with guilt and with narcissism. He’s a psychopath.
JW: Yeah, and psychological studies were done on him by our agency, the CIA, and also by the Jordanians and others that looked at him. And the ones that know him best, yeah, they do see this very conflicted guy – someone who came from the streets, he’s kind of a thug as a young man, gets in trouble, drops out of school, drinks heavily, has tattoos, and yes, is sexually violent as well as criminally violent. And he appears to be conflicted and confused about that part of his life as well. And all of that gets wrapped up in this, I don’t know if you can call it self-hatred or guilt or whatever it is, but it becomes very extreme in Zarqawi. And then yet he manages to channel it into this religious extremism. And you see that, other instances of that throughout history. But in Zarqawi, it’s a really powerful combination of kind of a guy who’s gone down the road in every possible way, and then yet channels this sort of violent imagery or violent energy into this brutal theology. And it’s really quite extreme.
HH: We come back with Joby Warrick. His book, Black Flags: The Rise Of ISIS, a bestseller. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com.
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HH: What I learned a great deal about here, Joby, was the history of Jordan. I’m the first to confess Jordan is one of those oversights in my education. I’ve always kind of known about King Hussein when he was around, and then King Adbullah took over. And when Chris Christie got the name wrong at the debate, I kind of smiled, because almost everybody calls King Abdullah King Hussein, because they get so confused about it. Nevertheless, you spend considerable time teaching people about Jordan. Give some, the audience why they need to know this mini-state on the edge of Israel and the edge of Egypt, on the edge of Syria and Iraq?
JW: Yeah, strategically where it’s located makes it important just on its own merits, because here it is right now on the front line of the fight against ISIS on two of its borders. He’s got Iraq on one side, and Syria on the other, and of course, Israel on another side. But here’s a country that is actually, has emerged as one of our best friends in the Middle East. They’ve got a terrific intelligence service that gets a lot of money from our government. They’re actually quite good at what they do. And they’re trying to be a moderate, you know, Islamic or Muslim state, secular state in the middle of a pretty turbulent region. And you know, throughout their history, they’ve had to fight all kinds of bad guys on all sides, but they’ve managed to be quite helpful to us. And I think right now, they feel a bit betrayed, and you know, just misled, because we’ve kind of left them sometimes with a bag to hold when it comes to fighting some of these terrorist groups.
HH: And King Abdullah is a Sandhurst-trained, thoroughly Westernized monarch who did not expect the monarchy. He was a genuine warrior. And you might want to give people a little background here, because they may not know that Abdullah, along with Sisi and now King Salman, are our big three in the Middle East, along with, of course, Netanyahu and whoever is the Israeli prime minister. We really rely on him. We have got to be supportive of him.
JW: Absolutely, and because it’s, they’re really a bulwark against all these forces that we worry about, everything from Iran, they’ve been helpful on Iran and some of the groups allied with Iran like Hezbollah and Hamas, but very much involved in the fight against ISIS from the earliest times. And the book lays out how Abdullah in particular was really agitated about what he saw happening in Syria with the creation of a security vacuum there, and saw these bad guys coming into that vacuum and taking advantage of it, and knew what they were all about, because Zarqawi, the founder, actually came from Jordan. And so he was the one kind of, you know, crying like Cassandra, saying you have to do something about this. We have to unite as a world and try to stop them. And he wasn’t really listened to, and so that country’s paid a price. Now, they’ve got the biggest refugee population is right there in Northern Jordan. They’re the fourth biggest country in Jordan right now, is the refugee camp on the border with Syria. So they’ve really paid a price.
HH: Talk a little bit about the history of it, because I did not know about the Ikhwan army, that it had once marches on Amman. I’ve never been to Amman. I’ve been to Israel, but I haven’t been to Jordan. And that was all news to me, as well as how the Hashemite kingdom had originally been the guardians of Mecca, and they end up with this sort of created state out of nothing with borders that are just marked on a line here.
JW: Yeah, it really, a lot of this goes back to, you know, World War I and before when actually, there was no country called Jordan. It was part of what was in the Ottoman Empire. The family that now rules Jordan, this family, was the rulers of Mecca, as you said, for centuries. And after the Allies won the First World War, they divided, really, literally, a map of the Middle East, and redrew it. And they created a country called Jordan, or Trans-Jordan at the time, and it’s, to some of the Islamists, it’s anathema. They feel like these countries shouldn’t exist, they should be a caliphate that existed centuries ago, and these are all creations of the West. But what emerged from this carving up in the Middle East were some states that exist today, and are trying to preserve some sense of modernity and trying to fight back against some of the forces that want to take the whole region back these centuries. And I guess Jordan really is at the center of that fight right now.
HH: Now there’s a large middle class in Jordan, and Zarqawi, who American Special Operators killed under the guidance of General Stanley McChrystal, who sat in this studio with me talking about this, what an amazing task force he operated, 6-26, I guess it is, and we’ll talk about that as we go along here. But Zarqawi comes from Zarq, and that goes back to that Hadith saying, the black flags will come from the east, led by might men with long hair and beards, their surnames taken from their hometowns. But describe his family. It’s a large family, it’s sprawling, but it’s not by any means grinding poverty. He’s not a product of an orphanage where he was beaten. He comes from the middle class.
JW: Exactly. This is not someone who became a terrorist because of depravation. This is someone who rose in a family that was middle class. His father was a bureaucrat. He had brothers and sisters that turned out to be fairly normal. But he was a bad seed. He was a kid who ended up getting in trouble really early, and stabbed a friend, and was involved in knife fights, and then worse crimes later on, but didn’t come from poverty at all, but came from actually a pretty middle class background, went into military service, had a fairly normal upbringing, and wasn’t a dumb kid, but just ended up being kind of a bad seed who got in trouble early on.
HH: Not a dumb kid, but in fact a brilliant strategist. You can hate the evil and the cruelty and the brutality, and understand as, because of your wonderfully filled out portrait, that he’s a psychopath. But McChrystal had great respect for him, because he had a plan, and he executed that plan until he was himself killed.
JW: This is the surprising thing about him, because you’re right. He’s sort of like the least likely person to be able to become what he became. But he managed to, you know, in the case of the Iraq insurgency, kind of understand where things were going, get ahead of it to bring together these Baathists who were out of a job, and in these Iraqi military commanders who were out of work, and sort of unite them with his cause, and also, showing exactly how to proceed in creating an insurgency that would divide Shiia against Sunni, which is what he absolutely wanted to do, and to just create hell for the Americans. And for a guy who didn’t really have any education, and really hadn’t run any kind of real organization before, it was quite a feat, and really speaks to his strategic genius.
HH: You know what is the most frustrating thing, Joby Warrick, is that I recall from Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower that our Agency folk had our eyes on bin Laden in Sudan for a long time. We saw him leave and escape and get to Afghanistan. This was all before 9/11, even before the embassy bombings. And we also had our eyes on, and Sam Faddis wanted to attack Zarqawi when he was holed up in Northern Iraq, and we let him get away as well. It’s, we did the same thing twice with the same result both times.
JW: Exactly. We knew exactly where he was. We had plenty of opportunities and good reasons to take him out, because at this point, even though he hadn’t become the huge terrorist that he would become later, he had been involved in the killing of an American diplomat, and we had every reason to want him gone. He was also involved in this kind of splinter terrorist group that was dabbling with poisons, with kind of crude chemical weapons. But rather than taking him out, we decided to just wait until after the invasion of Iraq, because we were afraid of getting ahead of the schedule on that invasion, and maybe alienating some of our allies. And so we essentially gave him a pass and didn’t go after him until it was too late. We missed at least three opportunities to kill him before the war started.
HH: There’s an implication in Black Flags that General Powell was the man holding back the attack. We’ll talk about that with Joby Warrick when we come back, when he was secretary of State before the U.N. presentation that led up to the invasion of Iraq.
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HH: Joby has a brand new book out called Black Flags: The Rise Of ISIS, and it’s divided into three books. And the first is the rise of Zarqawi, the second is the Iraq war and what Zarqawi did, and the third is the successor organization. But as you could not understand yourself without knowing who your father and your grandfather was, your mother and your grandmother was, you can’t understand ISIS today without understanding Zarqawi and before them, al Qaeda. And that’s why this is such a crucial book, along with The Looming Tower, to figure it out, why I’m spending so much time on it. Joby, I went to break, and I was talking about the fact that we knew where Zarqawi was, and before I walk up to Colin Powell’s reluctance to strike him, let’s give the quick overview of his life. He grows up in Jordan, he becomes radicalized by 1994. In fact, there’s something I didn’t know about the attack by Jewish extremists on the West Bank that killed 29 Arab men and boys, radicalized and sort of set Zarqawi’s fuse off. He goes to jail, he gets out, he goes to Afghanistan. We invade after 9/11. He goes to Iraq, and then he wages war there. Is that the rough overview? Am I forgetting a key portion? He spent a lot of time in Jordanian prison.
JW: Yeah, he did. And that was part of it. So he gets radicalized first by the experience of fighting the Russians or their Afghan allies in Afghanistan. And there’s, if we want to think of how the moderate jihadist movement began, you can point to that conflict as where this, this kind of home-grown Arab army goes into Afghanistan, armed by, in some cases, us and some of our allies – the Saudis, the Pakistanis and others. And they succeeded. They defeated a superpower, at least in their eyes. They chased the Russians out of Afghanistan and then began to believe in their own invincibility, and that they had a destiny to just sort of win the world for Allah.
HH: Did he spend two years there, ’90-91, ’91-92, something like that?
JW: Yeah, so he was there in, you know, right on ’91-92, and it does, he misses a chance to right the Russians, because they had left by the time he had got there. But he also felt that his destiny was to fight a superpower. So the next on his target list was the United States. Interestingly, during this time, he tried to ally himself with al Qaeda. And bin Laden didn’t like him. He was too hard-headed, too extreme, too unwilling to work with others for bin Laden. bin Laden essentially rejected him and sent him off to another corner of Afghanistan by himself and said you know, we’ll maybe collaborate on certain things, but you’re not part of al Qaeda, so never was able to join.
HH: But that was on his second trip to Afghanistan, right?
HH: His first trip was early on when he was just a mujahedeen. The second trip is when he wanted, he had much greater aspirations. And that’s why I was confused until I read Black Flags. He went twice.
JW: Yes, he did. So he went first as a fighter, and then he went back, you know, after he got out of prison. This whole prison stint is important, too, because here, the mistake the Jordanians made was to warehouse all these radicals together. They were viewed as being too dangerous to keep with the normal prison population, so they put them off by themselves where they became essentially a military cadre, trained, disciplined, you know, total allegiance to Zarqawi, who emerges as the leader of this group. And so out of, you know, they ended up getting released way ahead of schedule because of an amnesty in 1999, and suddenly they’re all free. And Zarqawi heads back to Afghanistan to unite with his hero, which is bin Laden, and gets rejected, interestingly.
HH: So let’s stop there at ’99, because I want to focus on Maqdisi and the Red Devil. And how do you say their intelligence agency? I’m bad at the pronunciation of that.
JW: Yeah, it’s a mouthful. It’s called the Mukhabarat.
HH: The Mukhabarat.
JW: The full name is General Intelligence Directorate.
HH: Okay, so the Muhhabarat is full of professionals, and they are like the CIA or MI5 and MI6 combined for Jordan. And they know that Maqdisi, who is this theologian who’s teamed up with Zarqawi is trouble, but they don’t really give Zarqawi his due. They think of him as kind of the tough, right, the guy who would razor off a tattoo, and sort of the muscle, but not the brains.
JW: Right, and so when they had this gang in prison, they were then, and then finally had to release them because of this amnesty, they were really worried about this spiritual leader, the guy, the big thinker, Maqdisi. But here is Zarqawi, who’s the thug, he’s the enforcer. He’s a pain in the butt, but he’s not considered that dangerous. And so when he wanders off to Afghanistan, they’re a little bit concerned, but they don’t try to stop him.
HH: So he goes to Afghanistan, bin Laden won’t talk to him, but he gives him his own training camp. Now talk to us about what happens to Zarqawi when we invade Afghanistan, because that gets him back to Iraq.
JW: Right, and so we invaded Afghanistan, and al Qaeda is scattered. So bin Laden goes off on the run, he heads off to Pakistan. The rest of al Qaeda’s core leadership goes into hiding. Zarqawi looks at it as this is an opportunity. He always wanted to start his own campaign. He sees, foresees the United States coming into Iraq, tells his friends it’s going to happen, and so he prepares to await the Americans. So he moves his operation into Iraq. He’s along the border with Iraq and Iran to begin with, and then when the Americans invade, he sets up shop in Baghdad, and is ready for them.
HH: Now what’s interesting about this, and so many people need to listen very carefully to the next segment, because the fact that Zarqawi was in Iraq has been a source of contention for years, a decade and a half, what he was doing there. Finally, the story is told in great detail, riveting detail by Joby Warrick, whose new book, Black Flags, is over at Hughhewitt.com. Stay tuned, America.
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HH: I’m willing to make this claim, Joby, that if we had attacked the Zarqawi camp prior to the invasion of Iraq, before he scattered and began, we might have avoided all of this. There might not be a caliphate today. There might be an al-Baghdadi. Do you agree with me?
JW: I totally do, because I don’t think ISIS would exist today without Zarqawi, because once again, it’s his personality that’s important. And he was the sort of molding personality that created this movement. And yeah, we had our sights on him, and we actually had the authorization, too, because after the 9/11 attacks, sort of the policy of the time was that any place that we see terrorists in existence plotting attacks against the outside world, we had the authority to go and stop them. We knew this guy was there. We knew this really dangerous organization was there. And we had the means and even a plan with people in place to be able to take him out, but we didn’t do it.
HH: Now I always look very closely at who talks to you and who doesn’t, and you’re very thorough in your notes, et cetera. Richard Armitage didn’t talk to you, did he?
JW: No, it’s, some of the ones that were closely involved in some decisions at the time, I think, feel, don’t see any gain in talking to people like me.
HH: Well, there isn’t, and you’re very gentile, but very fair to former Secretary of State Powell. Armitage is not mentioned in the book, but it’s clear that they stopped the attack on Zarqawi’s headquarters, because Powell wanted to make it part of his U.N. presentation, and leave the impression that al Qaeda was cooperating with Saddam. And we’re not even sure. Zarqawi did go get medical treatment for, he got bombed when he was in Afghanistan, broke all of his ribs. He needed medical treatment. But you make the point Saddam was watching him like we were watching him.
JW: Yeah, and I get this from guys like Sam Faddis, who were the intelligence folks we had in place. And they were in Northern Iraq partly, or on the border, partly to figure out what Zarqawi’s gang was up to, and they had this, they were looking to see if there was any kind of collusion between the Iraqis and these terrorists. And they kept seeing the Iraqi intelligence folks in the area, and they found out they were doing exactly what they were doing. They were trying to assess these guys out, figure out what they were up to, and maybe try to foil their plans. But they weren’t collaborating with them in any sense. They just were mostly more afraid of them than anything else.
HH: Well, when they do scatter after the invasion of Iraq, he sets upon a diabolical path, which is to set Sunni against Shiia, and to pervert the teaching of Islam. I had not read about the Amman message until I got to Pages 172 and 173 of Black Flags. So the effort, which I thought really began with Sisi last year, January 1 of last year when he went to the Cairo University, there’s actually a precedent. They’ve been trying to gather sort of mainstream Islam against the radicals for more than a decade. And it begins in Amman with Adbullah.
JW: Yeah, Abdullah is seeing this horrible distortion that’s taking place, and he’s a victim of it. His people are getting hit as well as others, and so he realizes how dangerous it is. So he tries to get the imams and the muftis and other religious leaders together back in, you know, 2005, to create a message universally to say what Islam is and what it isn’t. And one thing it’s not is, it’s not supposed to be this murderous force that’s attacking civilians. It’s not supposed to be one group of Muslims condemning another to death. And he tried to make this point way back then. The problem is that he wasn’t really listened to. And even as recently as 2011-2012, we see that a lot of the other sort of Gulf Arab states were busy arming some of these radical groups in Syria, and not paying attention to ideology and where the movements were going. And that really didn’t start to change until al-Sisi began to get involved just a year ago.
HH: I do want to stress for the audience, though, ten years ago, 200 Islamic scholars representing more than 50 countries, I’m reading from Joby Warrick’s new book on Page 175, from Saudi Arabia and Egypt to Iran and Lebanon, gathered in the Jordanian capital to craft an expansive statement that carried the same blanket rejection of religion-inspired violence. Over the following year, a total of 500 Islamic scholars and seven international Islamic assemblies would formally endorse what came to be called the Amman Message. And I’m amazed I had never heard of that, Joby.
HH: I salute you for doing this. I think every Muslim in the world is going to salute you for trying to at least set the record straight. There have been major efforts for many years now to marginalize ISIS. They haven’t worked, but they’ve been trying.
JW: They’ve been trying, and it’s been a frustrating experience, because some of the political leaders have not gotten in line the way they should of, and so you see this pretty important effort really get unnoticed in the West, and not really making much of a difference in the Middle East. And that’s really a crime, and I’ve spoken to King Abdullah many times about this. His great personal frustration, because there are good moderate Muslim voices out there that see the need to just sort of take back the message, take back Islam from these crazies. And you know, King Abdullah’s term for them is, they’re renegades. That’s the word he uses. And he sees them as really the enemy of his own country and his own religion as much as to the West.
HH: I’m talking with Joby Warrick, author of Black Flags. Zarqawi’s nemesis arrives in the person of Stanley McChrystal in Iraq in the early part of the war. And by the fall of 2005, McChrystal’s team are slowly eviscerating Zarqawi. They’re catching up with him. And Zarqawi makes a strategic mistake. Would you tell people what his error was? And McChrystal immediately recognized it, by the way.
JW: Oh, this is an attack on, outside of Iraq. So you’ve got this war going on inside of Iraq, all kinds of atrocities taking place. But Zarqawi had this vision of trying to import terror to other countries, so he attacks his own homeland, Jordan, in 2005, and blows up three hotels on a single night. This was through coordinated suicide bombings, kills, you know, more than 60 people, and is just the worst terrorist attack in the history of Jordan. And right away, you know, you get moderate Muslims around the world seeing Sunnis being attacked by other Sunnis, and they see this as an outrage, and maybe a miscalculation by Zarqawi. Has he finally gone too far? Has he done the one mistake that’s going to lead to his undoing?
HH: And Jordan unites against him, as do a lot of people in Anbar Province. More tips start to come in. McChrystal starts to decimate him. They find out that he’s got a spiritual advisor. They track him. I’m wrapping up our first hour. They kill Zarqawi, because he overreached in 2005. But they did not kill ISIS. In the second hour of my interview with Joby Warrick, we’ll talk about the aftermath of Zarqawi. He built an enduring legacy that got even more poisoned after his passing. Stay tuned. It’s the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: I pick up, Joby Warrick, with you. Zarqawi is dead. He lives to look at a couple of Americans after he’s been bombed by McChrystal’s people. The Anbar Awakening happens. Iraq settles into a sort of peace, and the Americans enforce a settlement between Shiia, Sunni and Kurd, and then we leave. Pick up ISIS’ story from that point.
JW: Yeah, so when we leave, ISIS, which is then called the Islamic State of Iraq, which is they still are already calling it a state, even though it’s really an underground movement, they’re totally on their heels. And they’ve got, you know, they’re in hiding, they have no infrastructure, they have limited funds, limited membership, and you know, pretty much defeated. In fact, I remember talking to the CIA, you know, commanders, leaders back around that period, and as far as they were concerned, al Qaeda in Iraq had been strategically defeated. And then we go away. Then, the Arab Spring starts, and they begin looking around thinking this is our opportunity. And they actually expected, you know, a spontaneous uprising that people would want to become an Islamic caliphate just like them, but nobody wanted to be. Nobody wanted to be a caliphate. Nobody was carrying pictures of Osama bin Laden around. But they did see an opportunity in the chaos of these Arab Spring revolutions to restart themselves, to resurrect, and that’s exactly what happened in Syria in 2011-2012.
HH: So it really is the, the Zarqawi seed lies dormant for a while, and into the Syrian Civil War, it steps, assisted by people who had learned at Zarqawi’s feet, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And tell us a little bit about him. I don’t think there’ll be a book about Baghdadi as thorough as the one you have done about Zarqawi and Baghdadi for many years, yet, because his story is only imperfectly known. But what do we know about his story?
JW: Yeah, he’s quite different from Zarqawi, because here in Zarqawi, we have a very charismatic figure who’s a guy of the street, has this sort of tough guy swagger and charisma that draws people to him. Baghdadi, on the other hand, was kind of a religious scholar. If he had not become a terrorist, he might have been a college professor teaching theology, because that was the track he was on. But he is a kind of conservative Muslim in Iraq at the time of the invasion. He saw it as his religious duty to fight the invaders, fight the Americans, so he got involved in terrorist movements or insurgency movements. And that morphed over time to being part of this al Qaeda in Iraq, learning under the tutelage of Zarqawi. And like a lot of his brethren, he ends up going to a prison. He sees, he’s kind of put in this place called Camp Bucca, which the Americans ran in Iraq, and that again becomes kind of a jihadist university where these guys are corralled together, where they learn from each other, and they are released almost arbitrarily by the Americans because of overcrowding. And you have even more radicalized, even more heavily-trained and motivated terrorists when they come out.
HH: Joby, has anyone given you an alternative, because we’ve done the same thing. We saw the Jordanians and their police congregate the jihadis, where they harden into elite corps of terrorists. At Camp Bucca, we did the same thing, where they could gather all day long and talk to each other, and understand the Koran as they understood the Koran, and teach each other weaponry. Has an alternative theory on imprisonment developed, yet?
JW: Some of the Arab states are trying some different structures. And it’s a little too early to tell how successful they’ll be, but the Saudis, for one, are spending a lot of time and effort in trying to redirect these young men, try to get them at an early stage, certainly isolate them from other radicals, and also involve them with their families. They’re actually usually kept in much less stringent confinement. They’re allowed visitation with family members and others who can hopefully slowly bring them back. But also, the religious message is very important, and the Jordanians see this. They actually use, you know, imams and religious leaders who have a helpful message, and they make sure that these young people are exposed to that, or kind of helped along by people who have a different view of Islam, and that’s been somewhat successful, but it is early to tell how good it is long term.
HH: Now a lot of what follows depends upon people understanding Syria and the Syrian Civil War. I had Christian Sahner on, who was a first person observer, and he wrote a book called Amidst The Ruins. He’s a young Princeton scholar. And I saw you did a lot of work with the Wilson Center in D.C., which is sort of affiliated with Princeton. The Syrian Civil War gets underway, and Assad tries, rejects King Abdullah’s advice to try and deal with it, and goes brutal. And into that develops this vacuum which, what, did Baghdadi send al-Nusra in? Or did al-Nusra go in by itself?
JW: Yeah, so Baghdadi sees an opportunity, and he sends what becomes al-Nusa Front. They want to try to create a branch of this al Qaeda in Iraq movement inside Syria taking advantage of this security vacuum. And so they send in people of Syrian descent, or people who have been Syrian nationals into the country to try to start their own little branch there. But the problem quickly arises that al-Nusra isn’t really, is really more interested in the struggle against Assad, and isn’t as committed to developing a caliphate for Baghdadi and his friends. And so a rift develops fairly early on, but that was the original mission, was to essentially spread this ideology, this methodology into Syria.
HH: How did Baghdadi get the cred to be the new Zarqawi? Why was he the new caliph?
JW: It’s interesting how he arose, because he was, you know, as we said before, he was a religious scholar, and because of the way that ISIS structures itself, it has its commanders, its military commanders, operational leaders, but always very high up in the chain of command is the spiritual advisor. And this is the role that Baghdadi ends up taking in 2010 after others in the organization are killed. And through sort of the deaths of successive leaders in the organization, he ends up rising to the top. And what makes him stick, I think, is the fact that he is, does become a very brutal individual who embraces everything that Zarqawi did, and then wants to do even more. So he gives kind of religious cover, and also kind of this symbolic religious leadership to an organization that claims to be religious, but really is about murder and criminality.
HH: So people may remember the almost Saturday Night Live skit quality to they would name a new leader, and a new leader would get killed in Iraq. And that’s where at one point, I think we wiped out two or three of the top guys of al Qaeda in Iraq, AQI, and that left Baghdadi, who was number three, the spiritual guy, in charge. And he then turned out to be as ruthless as Zarqawi.
JW: Yeah, he absolutely did. And lower in the ranks are other Iraqis. In fact, it becomes pretty much an all-Iraqi organization by this time, but these are former Baathists, people who have been part of Saddam Hussein’s government, have the sort of institutional knowledge, logistical knowledge, able to run an organization, able to build bombs, you know, run an army, and so they’re kind of in the trenches making this organization work. And at the top is this guy with a vision, and the very embracing of, very much embraces brutality in its most extreme form, more even than Zarqawi and worse.
HH: If we go back to the Zarqawi camp in Northern Iraq before the invasion, Sam Faddis, the CIA guy, tells you their abilities are crude, but their aspirations are huge. I think forward to 2015. It’s been 12 years, Joby Warrick. They have Mosul. They have a city like Detroit, right, with all the technical ability and precursor chemicals and all that other stuff. Do you assume that they’re trying to do on a large scale with more engineering base what Zarqawi was trying to do in Northern Iraq in a little village with goat herds?
JW: Yeah, I think it would be crazy to assume that they’re not doing that, because they do have, certainly they have the infrastructure now, and they also have professionals. They made an appeal in 2014 moving into Iraq, you know, we need scientists, we need doctors, we need people who are experts, technical experts, come help us. And some people responded to that call. Others who were already there are kind of involuntarily enlisted in this service. You know, this is the first time in really modern times, certainly, that you have a terrorist organization in charge of the infrastructure of a state. They have the second largest city in Iraq at their disposal with everything in a city, everything from universities to military bases to banks, to hospitals. They certainly have the facilities and the wherewithal to do something pretty significant.
HH: I think of precision drilling equipment and manufacturing ability. They can hardwire, they can micro-design that which they need to transport, and I go back to the Hadith. Their black flags will come from the east led by mighty men with long hair and beards, their surnames taken from their hometowns. They have a place, these young men with these visions, you know, Christians will understand from the Old Testament, your young men shall dream dreams. There’s very much a parallel here. All around the world, they’re being summoned by this radical ideology, this breakaway side of Islam, to come to Raqqa or to Ramadi or Mosul to be in this. And I’ll talk with Joby Warrick what that means as the battle rages in Ramadi. Don’t go anywhere, except over to Hughhewitt.com, Pick up the book Black Flags.
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HH: In the book, Black Flags, Joby, you include this brief history of the Syrian Civil War. It’s also a history of American paralysis. Now this has got nothing to do with W. and the people I need to defend. It’s just that Team Obama can never figure out what to do. And I marked Pages 278-279 when you quote Ben Rhodes as saying I think candidly, what a lot of people have used this debate is to position themselves for posterity as being for doing something in Syria, when in fact it wouldn’t have made much difference. He’s basically resigned to whatever happens. He has a very nihilistic view of this.
JW: Yeah, and he also kind of wants to make sure that other folks are not, you’re kind of getting away with decisions that they made or decisions they stood by at the time, which is interesting to me. It’s a real mouthful, because there were, you know, the decisions about whether or not to get more heavily involved in the fight against ISIS, or to help moderates in Syria, this is something that was discussed endlessly within the White House within inner circles. And ultimately, the President’s view prevailed that we didn’t want to get involved. We want to let this thing run its course, and with the assumption that we’re going to be, you know, dealing with this for years to come, and there’s not much Americans can do about it.
HH: You quote Leon Panetta. You obviously interviewed him and Petraeus. And then there is this paragraph. President Obama listened thoughtfully, and then proceeded to pick at the holes in the CIA’s plan, according to officials present at the meeting. There had been many instances in U.S. history where a well-intentioned decision to arm a guerrilla movement had horribly backfired, the President noted, according to Clinton’s account. Why would this time be different? Basically, the decision, American policy rests on President Obama. He just did not think anything good could come of an intervention in Syria.
JW: Yeah, against the advice of some of his own people. And I do think that some folks in his inner circle would say this would be the one do over he’d like to have done given the way things have turned out there. But he was, you know, he and a fairly small group of very close advisors were adamantly against really doing anything, any American involvement that would be more than humanitarian aid, because I think there was just this sense that we don’t want to get dragged into another Iraq, that there’s no good can come from this, and I think there was also just a lack of foresight into what would happen in this security vacuum that emerged in Syria if we didn’t do anything.
HH: Now Joby, I don’t know if you watched the last Republican presidential debate, but one of my opportunities to ask a question, and I took it, and said to Trump, Mr. Trump, you believe in winning, but right now, Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah are winning. And if they’re winning, we can’t be winning. But there’s a counterargument to that presumption, isn’t it, or assumption, that in fact maybe we are winning if they win?
JW: (laughing) That’s really, I did see that question, and I think you were absolutely right on target. And I’m still waiting for some good answers to that.
HH: There aren’t any. Nobody quite knows what to do, because Graham and McCain, who argued vigorously for trying to arm Syrian, who’s our Congressional staffer, I can’t remember his name, that would repeatedly go into Syria and set up these meetings? That guy needs a medal of some sort.
JW: Yeah, no kidding, and it’s, and I guess it’s the kind of thing that we’ll never know for sure. I mean, the people in the White House who were opposed to this kept saying that you know, look, there are plenty of guns in Syria already, that no matter what we do for the moderates, they’re not going to be able to defeat Assad as long as Russia is backing him. So this is just an exercise in futility. It is really, was then and still now is really the problem from hell, because it’s because of the way that various forces have allied or are aligned on Syria, it’s just been an impossible problem to solve. You know, I’m starting to see little glimmers of hope with the process underway now, but it’ll still take a miracle, I think, to get a political solution in there where all sides can agree on who the next leader of Syria is going to be.
HH: Well, there is for every action a reaction on the Islamist side. Would you talk a little bit about the split within the Islamist ranks between al-Nusra and the caliphate?
JW: Yeah, there was a difference, really, on what the objectives should be, and also on how to go about, you know, bringing about the caliphate. The Nusra folks go in, they’re Syrians, they want to get Assad out of Syria more than anything else. And they also see a responsibility toward the local population. They become a kind of an al Qaeda lite. They ally themselves with Zawahiri, with the core al Qaeda leadership, and they do things like trash removal and you know, food and aid to civilians and that kind of thing. And they’re not talking about a caliphate. They’re talking about trying to end the Assad regime. And the difference with the ISIS folks is they didn’t really care about Syria. They don’t care who runs Syria. They want to have this caliphate. They want to do it right now. And they believe that the most extreme tactics are the most effective ones, that you don’t try to get love from the population. You make them fear you. And that’s how they carry out their mission.
HH: Now one of the counter forces is the tribal allegiances. And spread throughout Black Flags is a very nuanced description on your part of how tribe, whether in Jordan or Iraq, defines identity and how the awakening in Anbar in 2006-07-08-09 was tied to tribal. Are the tribes tried of ISIS, yet, Joby Warrick?
JW: I think they are, but it was interesting, and you’ll see this in the book, where you know, toward, after the U.S. is getting out of Iraq, as Maliki, the prime minister, is succeeding in really angering the Sunni tribes, they feel completely alienated. They feel like they don’t have a country anymore. So they’re willing to support anybody who is going to fight with them against the Maliki government. And that’s why you see some of these tribes, you know, welcoming ISIS in 2014, and thinking that they’re going to control ISIS once they come aboard. And now, I think, to a person, they regret that decision, because ISIS has turned out to be, as they always are, just horrific managers, and very cruel masters. And there’s, you know, all these folks would like to be free of the yoke of ISIS. But now, they’re in there, and it’s kind of too late to dislodge them.
HH: There’s a reptilian character to it, which is primordial, actually. It spreads and oozes everywhere. Has the flow of jihadis into ISIS land slowed, in your reporting, Joby Warrick? Or is it staying constant?
JW: It’s always been hard to get real good numbers on that. We’re hearing that there has been a slowdown. It’s certainly from the West, just because we’re much more aware, and we’re taking more aggressive action to stop young people from heading over there. The borders are somewhat porous, the Turkish government has become a little bit more aggressive in trying to stop the flow when it suits them. But the problem is that sort of the cat is out of the bag, and this is a problem that’s been going on for years. There’s video that ISIS has thousands of people in the country, and pretty much all the material they need to fight a war. So it’s a little bit too late.
HH: When Lindsey Graham talks about 10,000 Americans and a force of 100,000 mostly Arabs, do you think that’s a pipe dream? Or is given Abdullah and Erdogan and Salman and al-Sisi, do you think that’s a reality that could happen?
JW: It’s certainly the best case scenario, because if you want to really effectively fight this movement, the best way to do it is with other Arabs who are willing to take on the fight, because a lot of them really do see this as an existential fight for them. The Jordanians certainly do, and they’ve given a lot to this effort. And there are Kurds and others in the region, and I’ve actually been impressed the last few days just seeing the Iraqi army finally, you know, with a lot of American support, particularly air power, you know, doing something in Ramadi, and making some advances without the Shiia militias backing them up. So there is a willingness, and if they do it instead of us, it’s so much better, just because we’re not the targets. We’re not the focus of ISIS anymore. It’s a local problem.
HH: They want us back, right? If I understand Zarqawi, we’ll come back after the break. Don’t go anywhere, America.
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HH: The cruelty of this group, Joby Warrick, really doesn’t know any limits. And you described the execution of the Jordanian pilot. But whether they are in Libya, as David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times, who I’m sure you’ve crossed paths with a few time, has written about how they have set up their fallback camp in Libya. No matter where they go, they’re just, they believe in brutality.
JW: It’s, you know, it’s one of the hardest things for me in doing research for this book was, is kind of forcing myself to watch these videotapes. And you know, we, generally and the rest of us see a few of these. We see the really terrible ones. Things get passed around. There’s so much more, and there’s more every single day. And it seems like they try to outdo themselves every time with drownings, with burnings, with mass beheadings. And it’s really, so violence becomes the message, in a way. And to think that’s appealing to other human beings on some level is just hard for us to get our heads around. And yet, it’s the thing that seems to work for ISIS. It excites their base.
HH: So as they excite their base and they draw more people in, have you talked to military theorists and theologians about how you defeat a caliphate? Don’t you have to take back their territory and utterly destroy it?
JW: Absolutely, because the one thing that can’t exist is a state, because if, first of all, it makes them be able to claim to be victorious, because they have their state, the thing that really is emotionally very powerful for Muslims, regardless of their political and theological leanings. The idea of an Islamic caliphate is a pretty powerful idea, because it’s something that dates back to the earliest of Islam’s founders. But you can’t let these guys occupy territory, because they’re first, too dangerous, and it also gives them a sense of having achieved something. So this is sort of the first order of business, is deny them this sanctuary. And then you have to attack the ideology, which is a much more difficult struggle, but it’s something that all countries, and particularly Arab Muslim countries have to get behind.
HH: Now you quote at one point a former special operator in McChrystal’s task force, Joseph, you call him, about how in 2007, we took the gloves off, said Joseph, who agreed to an interview on the condition that his real name not be revealed. We were going out on mission and targeting al Qaeda as hard as we could – kill/capture missions, not capture/kill. We were handing them their ass, killing al Qaeda every night. The implication seems to be that you need a McChrystal-style relentlessness to beat these people back, and then to keep them out, and that Abdullah will be the first to agree with that, and al-Sisi, and that the region now gets it. Maybe our learning curve is complete. Are you an optimist on that regard?
JW: I think we know the formula. And it is just sort of a matter of assembling the team and then doing it, because yeah, the one thing that was effective in destroying Zarqawi’s network, especially after we got rid of him, was these high precision, but very personal, you know, targeted raids against their headquarters. It’s like for the first time, you know, al Qaeda, or Zarqawi and his folks, could not sleep safely in their beds at night. They were literally afraid of when the door was going to come crashing in. And we got so good at it that our Special Operators, it would only take a handful of them to do a raid on a safe house. And they’d go in stealthily with their gear, and they’d take care of business, and they would do this night after night. And they would get intelligence from safe house that they blew up, and they’d use it go after another one that same night. And it was that tempo and that lethality that eventually put al Qaeda in Iraq on its heels.
HH: And so what do the Israelis think? On the one hand, they have Hezbollah, which embeds among citizens. That’s why I asked Ben Carson my question in the debate about are you, you know what happens when the Israelis go to war. They end up always getting blasted for killing civilians. And you have to do it, because Hezbollah embeds. ISIS is deeply embedded in the civilian population. They’re a guerrilla army.
JW: They absolutely are, and in places like Raqqa, where they call it their headquarters, their center of operations, you know, people keep wondering why don’t we just go after, you know, Raqqa in a more aggressive way. And the ISIS folks learned very quickly not to have barracks, not to have easy targets to be hit by air strikes. So they do embed in a civilian population. They take their imported wives that come sometimes as volunteers and sometimes not, into ordinary houses, ordinary neighborhoods in Raqqa, and that’s where they are. So it’s always been kind of a dilemma for us and for others who want to take them out, is how do you do it without huge numbers of civilian casualties.
HH: We’ve had glimpses of life under ISIS from Vice and a few other reporting sources, and you have some in Black Flags as well. They are arbitrary in their ruthlessness, and it’s almost a capriciousness to their executions.
JW: Yeah, with the central idea being to intimidate everybody. It’s been interesting to see there has been no Anbar awakening in any territories that are held by ISIS, because they have the local population so afraid. And the way they do that is they roll into these towns, they have public executions, they put people on crosses, they cut people’s heads off and put them on fence posts. It’s just medieval, you know, just, they’re the worst kinds of cruelty, and yet it’s effective for them, because nobody challenges them once they’ve set up shop.
HH: I’ll be back. One more segment with Joby Warrick.
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HH: I want to thank Joby Warrick of the Washington Post for spending last hour and this hour talking with me. I barely scratched the surface of Black Flags: The Rise Of ISIS, which is Joby’s new book. He’s been a guest before when he wrote The Triple Agent, and he’s at the Washington Post. I’ve got his tickler whenever he writes something. Joby, what do you do next? I mean, no one ever set out, I’m sure you never set out in your undergraduate years to become an expert on Islamist fanatics.
JW: You know, I absolutely didn’t, and I didn’t even intentionally set out to write a book about ISIS. I was fascinated with the Zarqawi character, because I just felt he was someone who was under-recognized in terms of his impact as a terrorist leader. But you know, I do believe that journalists have a mission to try to explain the truth as close as we can get to it. And we get a lot of crap, and some of it’s well-deserved, but at least some of us really believe that we, that as people have kind of a license to go and ask hard questions and try to dig deep and spend time in places like Jordan and Syria and the Middle East, to come back and really help people explain the sort of complicated situations that we find ourselves in. And that, to me, was a very rewarding enterprise.
HH: Well, you and Kirkpatrick and a few others, Dexter Filkins, etc., I read it all, so I try and figure out what’s going on there. What is the most hopeful, since it’s Christmas Eve eve, what is the most hopeful thing going on in the Middle East right now?
JW: I think finally seeing ISIS’ empire retreat is really great news for all of us, because their territory is finally shrinking. They’ve made some gains in some parts of Syria, but otherwise, they’re losing ground. And also, I take some joy, actually, in some of the Twitter messages and emails coming out of these territories held by ISIS, where the leaders are just haranguing ordinary Iraqis, you know, don’t desert, don’t flee, you know, we’re going to try to win this. But they’re under a huge amount of pressure. They’re losing territory. And I think if we can keep that momentum going, this could be, the coming year could be a very bad one for ISIS, and a good one for the rest of us.
HH: You know, you paid a much-deserved salute to a couple of young Syrians who photographed Raqqa surreptitiously so that people could understand how ISIS ruled. Is there any kind of a French resistance, yet? I know the Anbar awakening against al Qaeda in ’07-’08 is very well-documented, but in Syria, has anyone tried to, do we have any knowledge of them being assassinated by locals or anything like that?
JW: Well, you see ISIS will occasionally come out with some spies they found, and they’ll have some brutal execution of someone who may or may not have been spying. But I do see, you know, very brave people that are coming out and challenging ISIS in their own ways, and sometimes just as easily as maybe tweeting a picture that they’ve taken surreptitiously. And that takes a lot of courage, because just one false move, just one mistake like that can get somebody killed very quickly. And to have these people document what ISIS is doing and telling the rest of the world that these guys are really full of crap and they have nothing to do with Islam, that’s a very courageous and important message to bring out to the rest of the world.
HH: You also spend a lot of time profiling people like Nada Bakos and Cofer Black, and the heroes of the Agency who must be exhausted. It’s been 15 years, right? They’ve been fighting these people. Are we, do we have specialists now that really understand them, that know the names, know the towns, know the geography of their hatred?
JW: You know, that’s one thing about this job is getting to know some of the individuals who do this fight every way. And yeah, a lot of them are exhausted, and some of them have burned out and left to do other things. But the level professionalism and dedication and patriotism that some of these people feel as individuals has been, you know, I very much admire it, and just very glad they’re on our team.
HH: And lastly, Abdullah, who again, I tell people they ought to read the book just to figure out who King Abdullah is, how is he faring? I don’t know how old he is. Is he 50? Is that what he is?
JW: Yeah, he’s about 53, I think, and one of the most, you know, humble guys that you know, he’s a king, so you think wow, royalty, but he never set out to be a king. That was never his aspiration or even his family’s plan. So he’s kind of an accidental king in that sense, but he’s grasped that role and tried to become sort of the model of enlightened Arab leader who brings his people into the 21st Century and tries to help them steer away from sort of the more dangerous extremist movements. And he’s been somewhat effective, but he’s the kind of person that our government really needs to get behind and help out.
HH: I believe his crown prince is in college now. His son is somewhere in the United States, and I don’t want to talk about it too much, because I’m sure they don’t like a lot of attention to that. But again, trying to train up in the Western ways, in the way that he did, what do the Israelis think, Joby Warrick?
JW: Yeah, it’s been an interesting period for them, because on the one hand, it’s been somewhat comforting to see the Iranians so preoccupied by trying to keep Assad afloat, spending billions of dollars to keep his government running, and also losing a lot of their own people, and also seeing Hezbollah tied down with this Syrian conflict. So that’s been good for them in a way. And on the other hand, there’s always been this risk of really dangerous terrorists committed to the destruction of Israel being on their borders, and sometimes straying across their borders, at least with artillery shells. So they’re watching this very closely. They’re as nervous as the rest of us, and I think we’re all waiting to see what’s going to happen in the next few months.
HH: And a last question about Assad. The more I read about him, just, he’s a purely, he’s a maniac as well. He’s mirrored in Baghdadi. They are the same psychopathic, cruel killer.
JW: Yeah, and actually, they use each other, too, in order to rally their supporters. But here’s a guy who is an ophthalmologist by training, went to school in London, wanted to be an eye doctor because he was afraid of blood, and now you see him being one of the great tyrants of the age. And I think it’s, it’s no question that he’s going to go down in history as being one of the great villains of his time.
HH: Was our major error not doing anything after he used chemical weapons? You write about this, that the Congress would not support the President. In the first presidential debate, I asked Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz about this, because the President buckled. He said he had a red line, but then he asked for Congress, and Congress wouldn’t back him up. We really blew it then. Everybody blew it then.
JW: I think so, too. That was somewhat of the real moments of shame. And what’s really poignant is hearing it from some of those Syrian rebels who thought at last, you know, because of that, that chemical attack, as horrible as it was, things are going to change. And they were prepared and waiting for those bombs to fall. And even if they all got killed in it, they thought it was going to be worth it, because finally something was going to happen. And then when nothing happened, it was just the most devastating blow of all to them.
HH: And then the $10,000 dollar question, we have a minute left, Joby, have the Sunni and the Shiia in Baghdad figured out they have to get along, or this is their future forever?
JW: I think the leadership recognizes that, and they’re trying to find ways to reunite this country. But I think the reality is that the Sunnis and Shiia are going to live as separate entities within maybe a federation called Iraq, but that’s, the animosity is now too deep to be healed in the near term.
HH: So the government, it’s really a Shiia government that’s asking for Sunni help? Is that it?
JW: That’s seems to me right now, that’s exactly what’s happening. That explains that even now, there’s some Sunni militias involved in fighting ISIS, but it’s just hard to bring these sides together.
HH: We’ll keep following the battle of Ramadi. I’ll keep asking Joby Warrick to come back. You ought to go and get his book right now, Black Flags: The Rise Of ISIS. Like The Looming Tower, you’ll be hearing about it a lot on the Hugh Hewitt Show in the years to come. Joby, thank you, Merry Christmas, thanks for joining me, and congratulations on a terrific book.
End of interview.