The overthrow and hanging of Saddam Hussein was based on his non-existent nuclear weapons, coupled with a harebrained decision to disband the Iraqi army.
This, in turn, led to the Islamic State's decision to recruit these former Iraqi officers to run the parts of Iraq those bloodthirsty extremists have conquered.
When IS collapsed the new, U.S.-trained Iraqi army last June, capturing much of its U.S.-supplied equipment, an unknown number of Iraqi officers signed up with IS.
Many of IS' officers are former Iraqi officers who served under Saddam Hussein and were barred from rejoining the new Iraqi army.
The purge of Saddam's Baath party led to the permanent dismissal of many of its members who had joined if only as a precondition to getting a decent job.
Three months before the 2003 U.S. invasion, senior U.S. officials discounted advice from knowledgeable, pro-American Iraqis not to disband the Iraqi army. "Keep the army together and you'll be out of there in six months," advised one prominent Iraqi.
This reporter heard the senior Pentagon official's response: "Our own best information is that the liberation of Baghdad will be very much like the liberation of Paris after the invasion of Normandy."
We got Iraq wrong from Day One -- and we keep digging a bigger hole, which began when we built a $1 billion U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, as large as Vatican City, for a U.S. Proconsul, long since abandoned.
In 2011, Libya was a similar geopolitical boondoggle. It has now ceased to exist as a state. 1.8 million Libyans, almost a third of the population, have fled to Tunisia, including hundreds of wounded from both sides in a civil war that borders on total anarchy.
France is now calling for action -- specifically, air bombing -- to bring Libya to heel. French aircraft were the first to strike Libya after NATO's 2011 decision to assist an anti-Khadafi rebellion.
The world has witnessed countless examples of how bombing and strafing do not win wars.
In the Vietnam War, Operation Rolling Thunder, a sustained bombing campaign against North Vietnam, did not dent the Hanoi regime's determination to conquer South Vietnam and reunify the country that had been divided following France's defeat at Dienbienphu.
And at Dienbienphu, the French had air superiority and a well-entrenched garrison of 13,000 -- but 10,000 surrendered after a long bloody siege that ended with their close-quarter encirclement.
North Vietnam was a firm believer in boots on the ground as a precondition for battlefield success.
Carpet bombing of Germany in World War II did not bring about the Nazi defeat. It was a ground invasion from the Soviet Union and the allied invasion of Normandy that turned the tide.
The allies had air dominance after destroying Hitler's air force. But that still didn't guarantee success. It was a tough, bloody slog across France, the Netherlands, Belgium's Battle of the Bulge, and Germany all the way to Berlin. Yet most of Germany's major cities had already been decimated by U.S. and British bombers.
And back in northern Iraq and Syria, fighting IS from the air simply forces them to change tactics.
Despite current resistance in the White House and Congress, one cannot fight IS from the air alone. A successful campaign to eradicate IS also requires a de facto deal with the much-maligned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad based on the time-tested adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, albeit temporarily.
IS is now a well-entrenched fanatical force of up to 30,000 fighters, lavishly bankrolled by funds seized from banks in Mosul. It captured everything from tanks and armored personnel carriers to mortars and heavy machine guns that the U.S. had supplied to the poorly trained, reconstituted Iraqi army.
Retired Gen. John R. Allen, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is to lead the overall effort against IS. "What we are facing in northern Iraq is only partly a crisis about Iraq," he said this week. "It's about the region and potentially the world as we know it."
And this is to be done with U.S. bombing alone coupled with what we now know are ill-trained and ill-equipped Iraqi troops, supplemented by reluctant Arab friends.
The Philippines' Foreign Ministry says that 200 of its citizens have gone to war under IS's flag in the Middle East. Most of these are orphans of dead fighters from domestic Islamist insurgent groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Moro National Liberation Front. Retired General Rodolfo Mendoza, head of the Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, says, "They answer to no one and consider themselves one with the Islamic caliphate."
The ASG and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) announced their allegiance with IS in August. Other Philippine groups such as the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), responsible for shopping center and hotel bombings, are inspired by IS and crave a caliphate.
Indonesia, long troubled by radicals that have fought for a caliphate for decades, recently banned its citizens from joining IS. Jailed terrorist kingpin Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who heads Jemmah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), reportedly pledged allegiance to IS in July. On August 9th, Indonesia's police counter terror unit, Detachment 88, arrested JAT official Afif Abdul Majid and two others for joining IS. Majid has helped carry out scores of operations in Indonesia, including suicide bombings against a church and a mosque in 2011. "We have found the [IS] flag on every terrorist arrested this year," Indonesian Police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar recently said.
At least 56 Indonesians have joined the IS fight in the Middle East.
Malaysian Special Branch (SB) arrested 19 IS-inspired suspects between April and June. Their mission was to attack civilian targets and overthrow Putrajaya, the "Washington DC of Malaysia," and replace it with a caliphate. Ayub Khan, head of SB's Counter Terror Division, says the targets included "...a disco, pubs in Kuala Lumpur and a Carlsberg [beer] factory." The accused included everyday professionals and two housewives. They had raised thousands of dollars for their plot and purchased aluminum powder, a common ingredient of homemade bombs. Mr. Khan said, "In terms of ideology and intention, it was very clear. It would have been carried out."
Malaysia says at least 20 of its citizens -- and probably more -- have joined IS in the Middle East, and at least three have been killed. One was a suicide bomber who died in Iraq in May.
What's it all mean?
First, IS's growing influence across Southeast Asia indicates trouble for the region. Malaysia will remain under threat, and IS-inspired fighters will worsen the low intensity conflicts in Indonesia and the Philippines. By default, this puts ever-vigilant Singapore at risk, which is always in the crosshairs of Islamist jihadists. IS might also inspire Thailand's otherwise local Islamist-Pattani nationalist insurgency that has increased violence in the face of failing negotiations with the government. According to the rebel manual, Fight for the Liberation of Pattani, they want a local caliphate, too. Burma's small Muslim vs. Buddhist conflict has already spilled over into Indonesia and Malaysia with a few bombings and assassinations. It's a candidate for IS provocation as well.
Second, IS's actions in Malaysia prove that it's not necessarily about concrete terror networks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said recently IS couldn't attack the US at the moment, saying, "ISIS, they have no tentacles here yet." He's wrong. IS is primarily about inspiring individuals -- even housewives -- through its victories and successful Islamist jihadi "brand" that set up a large caliphate. Terrorist networking -- intelligence, planning, and logistics -- simply follows after these radicals coagulate.
Third, IS's activities in Southeast Asia indicate what it might do in America. Congressman Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says hundreds of Americans are fighting for IS in the Middle East, in part funneled there by a long standing "twin city" terror pipeline in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. The motivation of Islamist jihadists to attack America is here, IS has capitalized on it, and there are people to carry out these threats, just like Southeast Asia.
Ultimately, not countering IS "out there" before they "get here" has been a colossal strategic miscalculation by the Obama administration. "It is a threat to the United States," says Secretary of Defense Hagel. "...A clear threat to our partners in that area, and it is imminent." President Obama decisively defining the threat and what to do about is what America needs. Instead, it was British PM David Cameron who, on August 29th, gave a rousing, leadership-drenched speech declaring that it was IS's Islamist jihadi ideology that was the main threat to the UK. He then listed decisive steps to thwart it. In stark contrast, President Obama, even in his September 10th speech announcing strikes against IS in Iraq, continued to dance around this subject, pretending Islamist jihadi ideology is not an issue. It is a continuation of the Ostrich doctrine, which serves to protect no one.
Jeff Moore, Ph.D., is the chief executive officer of Muir Analytics, which assesses threats from insurgent and terror groups against corporations. He is the author of the recently published book, The Thai Way of Counterinsurgency.