Donald Trump, who’s never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, suggested in Wednesday night’s presidential debate that the US-backed Iraqi military offensive to take back the city of Mosul from ISIS, which officially launched on Monday, was strategically timed by President Barack Obama to help Hillary Clinton win the presidential election.
"The only reason they did it is because she's running for office of president and they want to look tough," Trump said. "They want to look good. He violated the red line in the sand, and he made so many mistakes. He made all mistakes. That's why we have the great migration, but she wanted to look good for the election."
ISIS apparently agrees with Trump — or at least agrees that this a useful conspiracy theory to promote. Charlie Winter, a senior researcher at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence reports that the groups claims in a new editorial in its weekly Arabic-language newspaper, Naba, that the Mosul operation was “prompted by ‘necessities of presidential election in US’ and ‘economic problems’ faced by [the governments in] Baghdad/Erbil [the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan].”
This assertion is absurd on its face: Baghdad, not Washington, makes the final decisions on when, and how, to launch major military operations inside their own country.
Indeed, even the slightest suggestion that the US might be trying to call the shots on when to launch operations has caused major friction between the Americans and Iraqis. As my colleague Yochi Dreazen and I have previously written, an unnamed officer from US Central Command, which oversees the war against ISIS, told reporters back in February 2015 that the offensive to retake Mosul would begin that April or May and include up to 25,000 Iraqi and Kurdish security forces.
When Iraqi officials found out, they were livid. Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said at the time that Baghdad, not Washington, would decide when the assault began. "A military official should not reveal the timing of the offensive," Obeidi said.
ISIS almost certainly knows its claim about the Mosul operation being timed to the US election is patently false, but the group clearly thinks it’s a useful conspiracy theory to push in order to make it look like the operation — planned for months and involving tens of thousands of troops — is merely a cheap political stunt.
Donald Trump probably knows his claim is false, too. But he’s pushing the conspiracy theory for more or less the same reason ISIS is: to make it look like the Obama administration (to include Clinton) doesn’t really have a well thought-out strategy to fight ISIS, and is merely engaging in theater designed to help its chosen successor win the presidency.
Perhaps it’s not so strange, then, that ISIS and Trump — both of whom are flailing in their respective political ambitions and are desperate to hide that fact — have converged on the same conspiracy theory.