In January, the President dismissed ISIS — formerly known as “al Qaeda in Iraq” — as a “jayvee” team and not a serious threat in Iraq or a serious threat to U.S. national security. He said this even though ISIS forces had just seized control of the city of Fallujah days before the January interview with a reporter from the New Yorker.
But as numerous Mideast analysts, myself included, have repeatedly warned, the forces of Radical Islam have grown more powerful and more dangerous in recent years, not less so — and ISIS, in particular, is no “jayvee” squad. They are a vicious, battle-tested, barbaric terrorist organization. They are slaughtering Muslims and Christians throughout Iraq and Syria. They are beheading American reporters. They seek to conquer not only Iraq and Syria but Lebanon, Jordan and all of Israel. They want to build a global kingdom or “caliphate,” and ISIS leaders openly vow to attack America and raise their black flag over the White House.
As I have been researching and writing my forthcoming novel about the ISIS threat — THE THIRD TARGET — I have been astonished to see President Obama and his top advisors repeatedly dismiss the ISIS threat and refuse to take action until just within the last few weeks when they have begun to change course.
Now the President is admitting that the U.S. “underestimated” the rise and severity of the ISIS threat.
But is he really taking responsibility, or is he actually blaming American intelligence officials for underestimating the ISIS threat? Does he finally understand the magnitude of the threat and is he really willing to do all that is necessary to protect the American people and our allies and fully defeat ISIS, or is he talking big but taking half-measures?
You be the judge.
- President Obama acknowledged that the U.S. underestimated the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also called ISIL) and overestimated the ability of the Iraqi military to fend off the militant group in an interview that aired on 60 Minutes.
- The president was asked by 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft about comments from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has said the U.S. not only underestimated ISIS, it also overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi military to fight the extremist group.
- “That’s true,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s absolutely true.”
- “Jim Clappper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” he said, blaming the instability of the Syrian civil war for giving extremists space to thrive.
- The comments were among the president’s most candid to date about the rapid rise of the terrorist group that has ransacked much of Syria and Iraq in recent months.
- “Essentially what happened with ISIL was that you had al Qaeda in Iraq, which was a vicious group, but our Marines were able to quash with the help of Sunni tribes,” he explained. “They went back underground, but over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you had huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.”
- The group was able to “attract foreign fighters who believed in their jihadist nonsense and traveled everywhere from Europe to the United States to Australia to other parts of the Muslim world, converging on Syria,” the president said. “And so this became ground zero for jihadists around the world.”
- He said their recruitment has been aided by a “very savvy” social media campaign. He also blamed remnants of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s military, which were expunged from the Iraqi military after Hussein’s fall, for lending some “traditional military capacity” to the terrorist group.
- “That’s why it’s so important for us to recognize part of the solution here is gonna be military,” he said. “We just have to push them back, and shrink their space, and go after their command and control, and their capacity, and their weapons, and their fueling, and cut off their financing, and work to eliminate the flow of foreign fighters.”