During his appearance on 60 Minutes Sunday, President Barack Obama had the chance to admit that he got a whole lot about Iraq wrong.
He could have admitted that he got the surge wrong in 2007, when he denounced it and declared that there is no military solution to the problems in Iraq and never was. That was wrong. Obama opposed that surge, which worked and bequeathed a quiescent Iraq to him in 2009. He later implemented a surge of his own in Afghanistan — half-hearted though it was.
Obama could also have admitted that he withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq too soon, a decision made for politics that ended up creating the conditions for ISIS to swallow up a large chunk of Iraq and Syria.
Obama could have also admitted that he got ISIS wrong, when he called them the “JV” of terrorism. They are in fact an offshoot of al Qaeda, just as the so-called Khorasan group is an offshoot of al Qaeda — the jihadist group that he claims to have “decimated” and sent scurrying “on the run.” He could have admitted that none of that was true, that al Qaeda is mestasizing from the border regions in Pakistan-Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria to Yemen to Somalia to Boko Haram in Nigeria. And possibly to Oklahoma and New Jersey and Portland.
Instead of admitting any of that, Obama blamed one of his subordinates.
Steve Kroft: I understand all the caveats about these regional groups. But this is what an army of 40,000 people, according to some of the military estimates I heard the other day, very well-trained, very motivated.
President Obama: Well, part of it was that…
Steve Kroft: What? How did they end up where they are in control of so much territory? Was that a complete surprise to you?
President Obama: Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.
“They” work for you, Mr. President.
This isn’t the first time that James Clapper has made a monumental, deadly screw-up, as you’ll see on the next page. Sen. Dianne Feinstein blamed Clapper for blaming Benghazi on a YouTube movie.
Clapper also lied under oath directly to Congress concerning the government’s spying on Americans.
While Clapper was spying on Americans, and lying about it, he believed that the Muslim Brotherhood is “mostly secular.” The Muslim Brotherhood, now banned in Egypt, are the fountainhead for the Islamic radical reformation and the global jihad.
And yet after all of this, and now “underestimating” ISIS, Clapper remains the director of National Intelligence. If Obama is serious, and Clapper truly is at fault, this ought to be his third strike.
Obama’s answer to Kroft brings up another issue that bears discussion.
Some of us warned loudly that stovepiping intelligence through a single point of failure — the director of National Intelligence — would end up being a problem. Prior to creation of the DNI, presidents received intelligence from a multitude of competing agencies. That had problems of its own, but it did give presidents different points of view on intelligence. The DNI submerges the competition in intel down a few levels, to a point where the president may not even be aware that it exists.
Now, the DNI office and that person filter all of the intelligence that gets to the president’s eyes. In James Clapper, we have a person who has openly lied to Congress, who lacks even a basic understanding of jihadism, and now according to Obama, has “underestimated” the Islamic State. Our single point of failure is in fact a many-times failure.
There are two possibilities when it comes to stovepiping intelligence. The DNI could filter all intelligence based on his own ignorance and biases, or because he is telling the president what he knows the president wants to hear in order to keep his own job. The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.