CIA Director John Brennan made an extraordinary point during the Q & A portion of a speech he gave at the Center for Strategic and International Studies yesterday. Brennan shared his thoughts on the Paris attacks, ISIS and the possibility of terrorism on U.S. soil.
He said that the Islamic State — which had its roots in al-Qaeda in Iraq — was “decimated” under George W. Bush, with just “700-or-so adherents left” following the surge in Iraq. Said Brennan:
It was, you know, pretty much decimated when US forces were there in Iraq. It had maybe 700-or-so adherents left. And then it grew quite a bit in the last several years, when it split then from al-Qaeda in Syria, and set up its own organization.
[ISIS] can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria. … This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate, greater battlefield activity, and additional intelligence.
In other words, this particularly virulent strain of jihadism has grown from just 700 fighters in 2008 to between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters now, thanks to Obama’s “smart power.”
That is an increase of between 2,700 and 4,400 percent, according to Thiessen’s calculations.
Brennan also tacitly admitted that the Obama administration grossly underestimated the ISIS threat. Brennan said:
Not content to limiting its killing fields to Iraqi and Syrian lands, and to setting up local franchises in other countries of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, ISIL has developed an external operations agenda that is now implementing … with lethal effect.
Thiessen notes that “that now obvious assessment directly contradicts the assessment of ISIS’ intent and capabilities delivered by Obama administration officials just one year ago.”
In August of 2014, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote in a White House blog post:
While both [al-Qaeda and the Islamic State] are terrorist forces, they have different ambitions. Al-Qaeda’s principal ambition is to launch attacks against the west and US homeland.…Right now, ISIL’s primary focus is consolidating territory in the Middle East region to establish their own Islamic State. So they’re different organizations with different objectives.
And in an August 8, 2014, interview with CNN, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken declared that:
Unlike core al-Qaeda, right now, their [ISIS’] focus is not on attacking the US homeland or attacking our interests here in the United States or abroad. It’s focused intently on trying to create a caliphate now in Iraq.
That was (obviously) wrong. The Obama administration failed to recognize that ISIS had developed the intent and capability to strike the West.
It’s almost like political hacks have been in charge of U.S. foreign policy for seven years, making foreign-policy decisions and assessments based on domestic political calculations.