President Obama told The Atlantic that ISIS is not winning, but “the training of Iraqi security forces, the fortifications, the command-and-control systems are not happening fast enough in Anbar, in the Sunni parts of the country.”
“I don’t think we’re losing,” Obama said. “There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time, primarily because these are not Iraqi security forces that we have trained or reinforced.”
Obama spoke with Jeffrey Goldberg on Tuesday, after the fall of Ramadi and well into the White House spin operation on the ISIS gain.
“I know that there are some in Republican quarters who have suggested that I’ve overlearned the mistake of Iraq, and that, in fact, just because the 2003 invasion did not go well doesn’t argue that we shouldn’t go back in,” he said. “And one lesson that I think is important to draw from what happened is that if the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them.”
Obama also assured the magazine that the Iran nuclear deal will be good because of his “personal interest in locking this down.”
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing,” he said. “If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this.”
He also contested Goldberg’s suggestion that the anti-Semitic regime in Iran is not a rational negotiating partner.
“Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival,” Obama said. “It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—”
Goldberg interjected that European anti-Semitic leaders had, indeed, made irrational decisions.
“They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have,” Obama retorted.
“That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.”
Obama also said that the African-American experience has a parallel to Israel’s right to exist. “There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” he said. “These things are indivisible in my mind.”
“…I consistently received overwhelming majority support from the Jewish community, and even after all the publicity around the recent differences that I’ve had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the majority of the Jewish American community still supports me, and supports me strongly.”
Obama appeared in the Oval Office today with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, but did not take any questions from the media.
He’s scheduled to deliver remarks at Congregation Adas Israel in D.C. tomorrow for Jewish American Heritage Month.