O’Malley: Climate Change Contributed to the Rise of ISIS

Daniel Doherty
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Posted: Jul 22, 2015 7:15 AM
O’Malley: Climate Change Contributed to the Rise of ISIS

An interesting theory (via WZ):

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-MD) contends that scarce resources and a major drought triggered by global climate change created the “conditions” from which ISIS obtained hegemony in Syria. Dwindling natural resources and farmlands "drove people to cities," he argues, and thus created a “humanitarian crisis.” This in turn presumably made recruitment efforts a lot easier as young men looked for work and opportunity.

A more convincing theory for the rise of ISIS, however, might be that a string of foreign policy blunders, committed by the Obama administration, paved the way for ISIS to gain a strong foothold in the region, from which a terrorist army was later born. As the New York Times editorialized last year,

As more moderate Syrian rebel groups were beaten down by the Syrian security forces and their allies, ISIS increasingly took control of the fight, in part on the strength of weapons and funding from its operations in Iraq and from jihadist supporters in the Arab world. That fact has led American lawmakers and political figures, including former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to accuse President Obama of aiding ISIS’ rise in two ways: first by completely withdrawing American troops from Iraq in 2011, then by hesitating to arm more moderate Syrian opposition groups early in that conflict.

“I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if we had committed to empowering the moderate Syrian opposition last year,” Representative Eliot L. Engel, the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a recent hearing on the crisis in Iraq. “Would ISIS have grown as it did?”

Who can say? But my suspicion is that global warming was not principally or even directly responsible for the rise of ISIS as O'Malley implies; American withdrawal and hesitation was.

Team O’Malley, however, is convinced they're not actually wrong (via RCP)

The O’Malley campaign [pointed] to a March New York Times report detailing research that shows “one of the strongest links yet between global warming and human conflict.”

Some experts have argued that a severe drought from 2006 to 2009 in Syria, most likely caused by climate change, triggered agricultural chaos in that country, forcing more than a million people to move to cities. That, in turn, increased poverty and public tensions that served as one of many catalysts for the country’s ongoing civil war. Many argue that the resulting turmoil has made it easier for ISIS to advance in the region.

That may be true and O'Malley may be right. But as an explanation for the rise of ISIS this argument completely misses the forest for the trees. The fact is that even Democrats are wondering the following: If the Obama administration made different foreign policy decisions — or acted sooner — would ISIS have become as powerful, formidable, and barbaric as they now are today? Would their crimes against humanity be as frequent and widespread?

I guess we'll never really know. But it seems entirely possible.

UPDATE: RNC Chairman Reince Priebus recently weighed in:

Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus ripped Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley on Monday for linking the rise of the Islamic State to climate change.

“Whether it’s the weak Obama-Clinton nuclear deal that paves the way for Iran to obtain an atomic bomb or Martin O’Malley’s absurd claim that climate change is responsible for ISIS, it’s abundantly clear no one in the Democratic Party has the foreign policy vision to keep America safe,” Priebus said in a statement.