The president is nothing if not reliable when it comes to avoiding responsibility for his gross foreign policy errors. Asked in his “60 Minutes” interview if he had been surprised by the rise of the Islamic State, he replied:
Notice that the component of the Iraq situation Obama left out was the most critical — the withdrawal of our troops and the loss of influence over Maliki. That was foretold by numerous lawmakers, military men and outside experts who explained sectarian violence would reappear — precisely as it did.
Candidate for Senate in New Hampshire Scott Brown released a statement bashing Obama’s buck-passing: “I’m disappointed that President Obama refused to accept responsibility for underestimating ISIS. Instead, he blamed James Clapper, his director of intelligence. Yet, it was President Obama who described ISIS as a ‘Jayvee team’ earlier this year. At some point, the man in charge has to answer for what happens on his own watch.”
Many administration officials and lawmakers such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had for years argued that our hands-off policy in Syria would create a radicalizing dynamic that would result in a terrorist sanctuary in the Middle East. This prediction was accurate and was informed not by some super-secret analysis McCain saw about the Islamic State, but by understanding regional dynamics and history. It’s ironic that Obama, who won the presidency by deploring the Bush administration for following intelligence advice on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, now hides behind the intelligence community.
Lots of people knew exactly what was brewing in Syria and Iraq. The Daily Beast reported that the collapse of Iraq to Islamic State forces was no surprise to those who were paying attention:
[I]nterviews with a dozen U.S. and Iraqi intelligence officials, diplomats, and policy makers reveal a very different story. A catastrophe like the fall of Mosul wasn’t just predictable, these officials say. They repeatedly warned the Obama administration that something like this was going to happen. With seemingly no good choices to make in Iraq, the White House wasn’t able to listen. . . . While the policy process in Washington was frozen, U.S. intelligence analysts still filed their warnings about major weaknesses in Iraq’s military. Both the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have issued reported analysis for nearly a year warning that Iraq’s military would not be able to stand up against a sustained campaign from ISIS.
The president either was derelict in his failure to heed warnings or — just like in Benghazi, Libya — he was unwilling to give credence to reports that would have meant he had let jihadists out of their box and American withdrawal was proving to be a disaster. Administration officials were telling Congress in 2013 how dire things had become:
Brett McGurk, a deputy assistant secretary of state and the Obama administration’s senior U.S. official in Baghdad since the crisis began last month, presented to Congress a similarly dark warning. ISIS was launching upwards of 40 suicide bombers a month, he said, encouraged in part by the weakness of Maliki’s military and the aggressively anti-Sunni policies of the Shi’ite prime minister. It was the kind of ominous report that American intelligence agencies had been delivering privately for months. McGurk added that ISIS had “benefited from a permissive operating environment due to inherent weaknesses of Iraqi security forces, poor operational tactics, and popular grievances, which remain unaddressed, among the population in Anbar and Nineweh provinces.”
Whether in Syria or Iraq, a chorus of voices tried to sound the alarm including Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who recently confirmed he had been sounding the alarm for some time that jihadism was growing:
I think we collectively felt that way. We said many times, “Hey, we need to get this intelligence in front of the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the National Security adviser! The White House needs to see this intelligence picture we have!”We saw all this connective tissue developing between these [proliferating] terrorist groups. So when asked if the terrorists were on the run, we couldn’t respond with any answer but ‘no.’ When asked if the terrorists were defeated, we had to say ‘no.’ Anyone who answers ‘yes’ to either of those questions either doesn’t know what they are talking about, they are misinformed, or they are flat out lying.
If only Obama had heard about the Foreign Policy Initiative Summit in October 2013, which discussed the rise of Syrian militants in depth.
Sens. McCain and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently set out the numerous opportunities when Obama could have acted to check the rise of the Islamic State, which they argue “was neither inevitable nor unpredictable.” They recall that in the summer of 2012:
President Obama’s entire senior national-security team — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey — identified the threat posed by radicalization in Syria and recommended a proposal to arm and train elements of the moderate Syrian opposition. At the time, extremist elements and al-Qaeda-affiliated forces that later became ISIS were weak and the balance of power strongly favored more moderate opposition forces. A properly empowered moderate Syrian opposition could have stymied the growth of ISIS and prevented President Bashar al-Assad’s massacre of tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
By ignoring experts outside his circle of toadies and discounting unspinnable media, Obama apparently missed warning after warning after warning about the rise of Islamists in Syria, like the ones The Post columnists and editorial board have given over the years. If Obama did not see the consequences of American withdrawal and the growing threat of Islamists it was because he chose not to. (Hillary Clinton wasn’t hampered by “bad” intelligence and argued for U.S. action. Only Obama was given misleading intelligence?)
Obama’s excuse that this was an intelligence failure is pure bunk. It was a leadership failure. It was Obama’s failure.