Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who came up through intelligence positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, says that the George W. Bush administration's Iraq war was a tremendous blunder that helped to create the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS.
"It was a huge error," Flynn said about the Iraq war in a detailed interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel published Sunday.
"As brutal as Saddam Hussein was, it was a mistake to just eliminate him," Flynn went on to say. "The same is true for Moammar Gadhafi and for Libya, which is now a failed state. The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq. History will not be and should not be kind with that decision."
When told by Der Spiegel reporters Matthias Gebauer and Holger Stark that the Islamic State would not "be where it is now without the fall of Baghdad," Flynn, without reservations, said: "Yes, absolutely."
Flynn, who served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years, also said that the American military response following 9/11 was not well thought-out at all and based on significant misunderstandings.
"When 9/11 occurred, all the emotions took over, and our response was, 'Where did those bastards come from? Let's go kill them. Let's go get them,'" he said.
Instead of determining why the U.S. was attacked by terrorists, Flynn said, the Bush administration was looking at where the terrorists came from and locations to attack.
"Then," Flynn said, "we strategically marched in the wrong direction."
Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 based on sketchy evidence presented by the Bush administration that linked weapons of mass destruction and terrorist organization Al Qaeda to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The fall of Hussein resulted in chaos and led to a power vacuum in the region that terrorist organizations, like the Islamic State, have taken advantage of.
Flynn acknowledged just how wrongheaded the U.S. approach was as evidenced by the country's release of current Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late 2004. The Pentagon has said that Baghdadi was arrested earlier that year near Falluja, but was released in December along with a large group of prisoners it deemed to be "low-level."
"We were too dumb. We didn't understand who we had there at that moment," Flynn said.
Flynn, who, before retiring most recently served as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency upon being nominated to the position by President Barack Obama, has also been critical of his former boss' strategy and language surrounding the terrorist group.
In a recent interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera's "Head to Head," Flynn took aim at Obama's publicly stated goals to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State, saying that while the administration is effectively degrading the organization, the group cannot be "destroyed."
"We may cause it to change its name, but we are never going to destroy this organization," Flynn said. "Destroy means to completely eliminate -- he should not have used those words, those were incorrect words to use and he should have been more precise."
Following the violent attacks in Paris earlier this month, Flynn said that the Obama administration's foreign policy is "amateurish" and has "its own place of responsibility in the mayhem that we are seeing right now."
Clarification: Language has been amended to more accurately describe Flynn's service record.