Experts: Obama should have seen Iraq unrest coming

posted at 11:21 am on June 17, 2014 by Allahpundit

Foreign Policy had a story about our intelligence failures last week too but I’m still not persuaded. Was this really a matter of not seeing ISIS coming, or was it a matter of seeing it but not being able to do much about it?

Lawmakers from both parties and even some non-partisan analysts say the Obama administration should have better anticipated the rise of Sunni militants, who captured Iraq’s second-largest city last week and could pose a terrorism threat both within and outside the country’s borders…

“It was very clear to people how bad these guys are,” Michael Leiter, a former top counterterrorism official in both the Bush and Obama administrations, said in an interview. “I don’t know if this was a tactical error or an intelligence error.”

Any question about the group’s capabilities or intentions should have been answered when the militants took Fallujah in January, Leiter said.

“I think our intelligence has failed us miserably, from not being aware of the threat that we’ve faced and how this could unfold as quickly as it has. This has been planned for quite some time,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said on NBC’s Meet The Press Sunday. “My first thing to recommend to the president is get your intelligence group back on track, making sure that we have the intel that we need for whatever options we have, that are going to be accurate.”

Contrast that with this passage from The Hill. Date: October 30, 2013, seven and a half months ago.

The teaming of al Qaeda’s Iraqi cell and affiliated Islamic militant groups in Syria into the new Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has developed into “a major emerging threat to Iraqi stability . . . and to us,” a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday.

“It is a fact now that al Qaeda has a presence in Western Iraq” extending into Syria, “that Iraqi forces are unable to target,” the official said.

That growing presence “that has accelerated in the past six to eight months” has been accompanied by waves of bombings and attacks that threaten to throw Iraq into a full-blown civil war.

Yup, pretty much. Two months after that story appeared, ISIS seized Fallujah, which must have settled any lingering doubts within the IC about how dire the threat was. At the end of April of this year, six weeks or so before ISIS took Mosul, Reuters reported that the U.S. was quietly expanding its intelligence presence inside Iraq and holding “urgent” meetings in Washington and Baghdad on how to counter ISIS. All of which is to say, the big push south towards Baghdad didn’t sneak up on us. On the contrary, intel experts have been warning since day one of the Syrian civil war that the longer it dragged on, the more certain it was that Sunni jihadis fighting Assad in the north would begin to leak south into Iraq and cause problems there. Nor was it any secret that Maliki’s antagonized the Sunnis in Anbar by trying to assert Shiite hegemony in Iraq rather than build coalitions. Go figure that a heavily armed, battle-tested Sunni jihadi force might be able to advance quickly in territory controlled by a Sunni minority that hates the government in Baghdad.

This seems to me, then, not so much an intelligence failure as a case of the White House not knowing how to react. Obama wanted to hit Assad last fall to punish him for using chemical weapons and maybe create some space for, ahem, “moderate” Syria rebels to advance, but he gave up when he saw there was no support for it in Congress. He’s spent years weighing whether to arm the “moderates” there to act as a bulwark against Assad on the one hand and jihadi rebels on the other, but there are few moderates to be had and the ones who are there are in disarray. Any weapons you send them are likely to end up controlled by ISIS, just as ISIS now controls U.S. arms and machinery that it captured in Mosul from the Iraqi army. And of course, a guy who got elected in 2008 promising to end the war and bring the troops home wasn’t about to intervene against ISIS on the other side of the border in Iraq until the threat became truly grave. As grave it is right now, there’s still little appetite among the public for doing anything militarily to save Baghdad, despite loads of TV news coverage about it. Imagine how little appetite there would have been in, say, February if O had announced we needed to start bombing again in Iraq to halt ISIS’s advance before they reached Mosul.

If there’s a big intelligence failure here, I think it has less to do with ISIS than with the Iraqi army. Apart from all the political reasons not to intervene, Obama may have been counting on the fact that if ISIS pushed too far south, the Iraqi army would answer the bell and the Sunnis who helped oust Al Qaeda in Iraq as part of the “Awakening” years ago would join them. Hasn’t worked out that way. Iraqi troops who felt no loyalty to the government deserted and local Sunnis who, you would have thought, had learned their lesson after welcoming jihadis to counter the U.S. occupation decided to welcome them again. That’s the part that seems to have caught U.S. spies off guard. How come? Observers have been grumbling for years that Maliki’s sectarian approach was going to break the country apart. Watching parts of the army disintegrate under pressure is a symptom of that. There wasn’t much we could have done at this point to stop it, but not to anticipate it is bizarre.

Update: Ed e-mails with a good point:

One point about the tribal leaders switching sides. We convinced them to do that the first time against their usual Sunni interests in the Anbar Awakening, in part by at least hinting that we’d be around for the long haul against both the extremists and as a moderating influence on the Shi’ite-majority government. We bailed on both of those explicit or implicit promises, and without that, their instincts are to ally with the Sunnis no matter what. I’d say they’re learning the correct lesson, unfortunately.

A foreseeable consequence of America’s departure. Not an intelligence failure.

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faraway on June 17, 2014 at 12:43 PM

He DID see it coming…

Al Qaeda now controls Libya, their own terrorist country…’he should have seen that coming’.
— He DID see that coming…[email protected], he ordered our military to help the perpetrators of 9/11/01 take over Libya, violating the War owers Act to do so.

Al Qaeda killed 4 Americans and the 1st US Ambassador in over 30 years…’he should have seen that coming’.
— He DID see that coming. He HIRED an al Qeada-associated militia to protect Ambassador Stevens, ignored 2 previous attacks on his compound, denied his requested additional security, ignored threats reported by Stevens, Intel, and the Libyan government.

ISIS (consisting partly of Syrian Islamic Extremists) has swept through Iraq, taking back ground liberated at a high US cost and slaughtering hundreds…’he should have seen that coming’.
— He DID see that coming. He has been smuggling / providing THESE SAME SYRIAN ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS with weapons for over a year…he had the CIA providing them with guns through their ‘gun running’ op out of Baghdad the very day/night the Benghazi compound was overrun and Ambassador Stevens & 3 other Americans were murdered.

When the [email protected] are you people going to wake up and see thr truth, that our President is an, at the least, Islamic Extremist-supporter, and possibly (more probably based on his actions) a ‘domestic enemy’ to the United States?! After 9/11, George Bush swore the United States would never again allow terrorists to have a safe haven anywhere in the world. In Obama’s 6th year as President, he has aided the Muslim Brotherhood take over the government of our Ally Egypt, went as far as to violate the Constitution to order our troops to help the perpetrators of 9/11/01 get their own COUNTRT, injected himself into a post-terrorist attack situation to protect the terrorist by calling his attack a case of ‘workplace violence’, helped arm the very terrorists who are sweeping through Iraq right now, have allowed all the sacrifice made by Americans who Liberated Iraq be swept away. What more is it going to take to wake people up?!

easyt65 on June 17, 2014 at 12:48 PM

Oh he saw it but chose to ignore it. After all He and Hillary/Kerry were authorizing the arms for them in Syria. Since they were not making progress there they moved into Iraq. Easy target when the USA gives them primo weapons.

jake49 on June 17, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Rush on his show basically said exactly what I said.

antisense on June 17, 2014 at 1:09 PM

Yeah I’m surprised too, -that Barry’s crack national security staff didn’t see this coming.

slickwillie2001 on June 17, 2014 at 12:29 PM

You said “Barry’s crack.”

hawkdriver on June 17, 2014 at 12:40 PM

Oh, well played, good sir. Well played!

yaedon on June 17, 2014 at 1:09 PM

The Obama Presidency is really the Costanza Presidency.

Had he done the opposite of everything he did, the nation would be in great shape.

Nethicus on June 17, 2014 at 11:23 AM

He doesn’t want our nation to be in great shape, which is why has purposefully done everything he’s done. With more to come.

His fundamental transformation has yet to be completed.


hawkeye54 on June 17, 2014 at 1:25 PM

Unequivocally correct. And then he should’ve had the stones to tell the American people “this is what occupation looks like, this is how it ends, always.” But he doesn’t exactly have a career that oozes political bravery…

libfreeordie on June 17, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Experts: Obama should have seen Iraq unrest coming

Only if it were coming up the 4th fairway.

Wino on June 17, 2014 at 1:41 PM

He would have known about it, but his computer blackbarry crashed and the email from the CIA informing him on the situation was lost.

LegendHasIt on June 17, 2014 at 2:24 PM

Obama should have seen Iraq unrest coming

He can’t see beyond and between his legs.

JugEarsButtHurt on June 17, 2014 at 5:59 PM

Expecting Obama to work hard is RAAAAACIST!!!!!

ConstantineXI on June 17, 2014 at 6:29 PM

Daily Brief:

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 17, 2014

Deputy Secretary Burns’ Meeting on Margins of P5+1 Talks
Political Steps Forward
U.S. Engagement with Regional Partners
Maliki’s Comments / U.S. Encourages Inclusive, Nonsectarian Governance
Embassy Personnel Relocations Process
Range of Options Considered / National Security Interests
U.S. Embassy Security / Military Personnel
P5+1 Talks
ISIL / Counterterrorism Efforts / U.S. Assistance

1:34 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Thank you for your patience.


MS. PSAKI: I’m here all day. What should we do next?
QUESTION: So the Iranian – senior Iranian officials said yesterday after it was reported that talks had taken place on Iraq with the U.S. that there was no specific outcome was achieved at the meeting. Would you agree with that? I mean, was it just a discussion about – that you’re going to cooperate with Iran on this, or what specifically was discussed?
They also said then that they would refer to the capitals. What exactly was referred, and what is the timetable now? Or how are things – where did you leave it that – where did you agree that things would move forward?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as we noted or we released last night, but let me reiterate for all of you here, Deputy Secretary Burns met briefly with Iranians on the margins of the P5+1 meeting in Vienna, separate from the trilateral meeting. It was a brief on the margins; it was separate from the discussions and the negotiations that are ongoing. They discussed the need to support inclusivity in Iraq and the need to refrain from pressing a sectarian agenda.
In terms of where we go from here, we’re open to continuing our engagement with the Iranians, just as we are engaging with other regional players on the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq. It is likely it would – those discussions would happen at a lower level, and we don’t expect further conversations with Iran on this issue in Vienna. Those talks will focus on the nuclear issue for the remainder of the week.
QUESTION: So you don’t expect more conversations with Iranians on Iraq in Vienna?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: Well, where would they take place? Where would the next ones take place, and how soon?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I would caution anyone from overly formalizing what this is. This is – we’re engaging with a range of countries in the region who are concerned about the stability of Iraq and the impact on the region. That’s what this was, briefly on the margins. What it will mean moving forward I think is yet to be determined, but it’s not the launch of a formal process or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: How brief is brief?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a number of specific minutes for you, but I think the emphasis on that —
QUESTION: Well, are we talking half an hour, less than half an hour?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have a specific number of minutes. The reason we portrayed that —
QUESTION: A few years?
MS. PSAKI: The reason we – I used that term is because obviously, there were several hours of meetings on the nuclear issue, and this was just simply on the sidelines of that.
QUESTION: And who was —
QUESTION: Well, maybe you can, after you answer that question of who he talked to —
QUESTION: Yeah. Who was available on the Iranian side? Thanks.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have details to share on that front.
QUESTION: Well, can we – I mean, was it like a pull-aside standing up, or did they, like, sit down at a table or something? Just goes to whether this is brief like it’s an encounter in a hallway and it lasted 30 seconds or it was – they sat down at a table and talked for five minutes.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have atmospherics for you. I understand your question. I’ll see if there’s more I can share.
QUESTION: So why (inaudible).
QUESTION: Well, no, I think it goes to whether these were —
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just do one at a time.
QUESTION: — whether this was a serious attempt to talk about Iraq or whether it was just, “Hey, we got to talk about Iraq.” “Okay, we’ll do that sometime.” I mean —
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, under —
QUESTION: — was this a serious attempt to talk about Iraq between the Iranian and the U.S. sides?
MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t have even brought it up as an issue if we didn’t – if it wasn’t a serious attempt, Jo, but I don’t have the number of minutes or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: So if it was a serious attempt, why is there no forward-looking idea of when you might next meet again? I can understand that you wanted to keep it separate from the nuclear talks that are going on in Vienna, but why are you not able to say, “Okay, we’ve said that we will meet again in a week or two weeks,” without even the specific date?
MS. PSAKI: Because we don’t see a benefit in laying that out. We’re going to engage with a range of countries in the region who have a concern about the threat. But again, this is not a launch of a formal process. I mentioned it will be at a lower level, and I don’t have anything to announce or predict for you in terms of how that engagement will continue, if it will continue.
QUESTION: Was this yesterday or today?
QUESTION: Well, where is the sense of urgency?
QUESTION: Was this today or —
MS. PSAKI: Yesterday.
QUESTION: This was yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
QUESTION: And presumably, even to engage in this limited interaction with the Iranians on this issue, the U.S. Government feels that it holds some hope of a productive outcome. So explain for us where in those hopes reside. What exactly is it you think the Iranians could do that would be useful here given their track record?
MS. PSAKI: Well, James, I mentioned this yesterday, but it’s worth repeating: We’re not talking about military cooperation or military coordination. In fact, we don’t think that the focus should be on the military component in Iraq. But clearly any country that can make the argument that there needs to be unity and the sectarian tensions that have been flaming in Iraq are harmful to the stability is one we would feel is useful. That is the message that was sent from our end.
QUESTION: And has Iran in the past, in recent memory, demonstrated that particular inclination?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you’re familiar with our concerns about Iran’s actions and behavior in the past. There is a shared concern, there is a concern that they have expressed publicly about the stability of Iraq and the impact of ISIL. That was the reason why there was a brief engagement on this yesterday.
QUESTION: Is it about hope that Iran can be helpful? Or is it more about laying out what your redlines are when it comes to what Iran’s role is in Iraq, and how that affects your view of what’s going on in Syria?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s really neither. This is a country that also has a concern about the stability of Iraq, therefore we felt it made sense to have a discussion. How that takes place in the future we’ll determine in the future.
QUESTION: Do you —
QUESTION: Jen, was it a topic of discussion during the trilateral or not?
MS. PSAKI: No. This occurred on the margins of the trilateral, outside of the trilateral meeting.
QUESTION: Can you imagine a situation where Iran does not wield so much influence in Iraq, that you – that someone has to talk to it about the stability of Iraq? I mean, Iran obviously supports certain groups, it has a great deal of influence, it has the holy places in which they go back and forth. So it has a great deal of interest in Iraq. Can you imagine stability in Iraq happening without some sort of consultation with Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we consulted briefly yesterday, so I think that answers your question.
QUESTION: Okay. And just to follow up a little bit —
QUESTION: Is there a goal here? Is this simply to stop ISIL and any other partisans who want to join in in their tracks? Is this about perhaps having Maliki step aside and have some other leader step in on an interim basis? What’s the point of engaging with Iran if the U.S. doesn’t have any idea of what it wants to see happening inside Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly have a strong idea of what we want to see happening, but there’s no outside country that can do that on behalf of Iraq. And obviously the officials in Iraq need to take those steps, political steps, to reduce sectarian tensions, to strengthen the Iraqi security forces. Clearly, we want to see an end to the threat of ISIL not just to Iraq but to the region, to the national security interests of the United States. Our view is that the political component should play a large role there, and any country that can help make that argument to the Iraqi Government is one that we will engage with.
QUESTION: Is that the primary reason why there is this overture to Tehran?
MS. PSAKI: Primary reason —
QUESTION: For the overture to get it to get the message to Maliki and whoever is advising him that they shouldn’t focus so much on fighting this threat as much as putting energy into political reconciliation and inclusivity.
MS. PSAKI: That certainly is a prominent component of our message, yes.
QUESTION: Jen, I want to take you back to the interview yesterday with the Secretary of State with Yahoo. And when asked about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Qatar in particular, these three countries supporting and financing – with weapons and money and so on – ISIL, he said we are concerned about this reality, we are dealing with it and so on. So is it the feeling in this building and for the Secretary of State that in fact Saudi Arabia does aid ISIL?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what the Secretary stated. You’re familiar with our concerns we’ve expressed in the past as it relates to Syria. Our – the message that he is conveying to these leaders as he speaks to them is that the threats from ISIL’s advance touched them and their interests directly, and that at this critical time it’s important for Iraq’s neighbors to support all of Iraq’s leaders and the Iraqi people to help them build unity they need to move beyond this crisis and on to a better future. And that’s the message he’s conveying. He talked to them a bit about our thoughts, hears from them as well, but that is the reason why he’s calling and has continued to call a range of leaders in the region.
QUESTION: But you agree that at least the United States Government knows that many wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia are financing these fellows in ISIL.
MS. PSAKI: I think, Said, we’ve expressed in the past our concern about financing of terrorists from a range of sources. Those haven’t changed. But our focus of these conversations remains on the need for countries in the region to support all Iraqi leaders at this time.
QUESTION: My last question regarding this issue: ISIL issued a statement saying that Jordan is part of this great Islamic caliphate that they are establishing. Are you doing anything with the Jordanians, considering how close they are to the United States of America?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Judeh this morning, so they’re one of the countries that we’re engaging with.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Just to clarify more on this, and I’m sorry to go around and around on it —
MS. PSAKI: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: Jen, yesterday as everybody here was kind of groping for how to frame some of the messages that were coming out of the Administration, you twice during this briefing said that this communication with Iran would follow a kind of precedent set by communications between Washington and Tehran over Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t say a “precedent.” I actually said that there are other times where we’ve engaged with other – Tehran about other issues, including Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Okay. So then —
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t link the two as exactly modeling each other.
QUESTION: I bring it up just because that particular communication involved the sharing of intelligence in the effort to topple the Taliban, and you’re saying now that that wouldn’t be – we shouldn’t read that as a precedent that —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not just saying now. I would point you – encourage you to read my transcript more closely from yesterday.
QUESTION: Jen, are you —
QUESTION: Hold on. I’m sorry. Quick – just to follow on that since we’re still on this. Let’s also just kind of hone in on the fact that there’s a group of diplomats in Iraq that were taken hostage. There are something like 25 Turkish diplomats, 49 Turkish citizens in all. The Erdogan government today is saying that it’s working extremely sensitively towards getting their release. I’m wondering if anybody in this building is part of that conversation or has any kind of insight into what that sensitive effort involves.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any new insight to offer, other than to convey that we’ve been in close touch with Turkish officials, as we were last week when many of these diplomats were actually kidnapped. And we’ve offered our help and our support, and we will continue to be available for that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I think – I just want to make a point. The first contacts with Iran – acknowledged between the U.S. and Iran over Afghanistan were not – it was actually about drugs, drug smuggling, back in 1999, 2000.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Thank you for that.
Go ahead.
QUESTION: Jen, a follow-up on Said’s question: Prime Minister Maliki was clear today in holding Saudi Arabia responsible for supporting ISIL financially and morally. What do you think about this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s the opposite of what the Iraqi people need right now, and we have continued to make the case to Prime Minister Maliki – Ambassador Beecroft met with him just yesterday – that taking steps to govern in a nonsectarian way, to be more inclusive to increased support to the security forces is what his focus should be on. And this is obviously the opposite of what that is. It’s inaccurate and, frankly, offensive.
QUESTION: Would you say that —
QUESTION: Sorry. What —
QUESTION: — he is fanning the flames of sectarianism?
QUESTION: — is inaccurate?
MS. PSAKI: The comments that he made.
QUESTION: What is inaccurate and offensive?
MS. PSAKI: The comments he made. I would —
QUESTION: About Saudi?
QUESTION: Would you say that Maliki is basically fanning the flames of sectarianism?
MS. PSAKI: I think I would say there’s more that can be done to be more inclusive and govern in a nonsectarian manner.
QUESTION: And one more – sorry James – on this. Saudi Arabia called the events in Iraq a Sunni revolution, adding that the sectarian – that the exclusionary policies in Iraq over the past three years are behind the recent unrest in the country. Do you agree with the Saudis on this?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I – the way we see this is that the situation is complex, and there are some tribes and key local Sunni politicians have joined with the Iraqi Government. Others are working with ISIL through violence to destabilize the government. Those working with ISIL are, of course, supporting terrorists who adhere to an extreme ideology, which believes that Shia should be killed based on their sect alone. Obviously, our view is that there needs to be – the way that Iraq is governed by the leaders needs to take into account the legitimate grievances of all of the people.
QUESTION: That means you don’t agree with them that what’s happening is a Sunni revolution?
MS. PSAKI: I think I made my comments clear.
Go ahead.
QUESTION: Given the latest developments – the new violence and what appears to be the spread of exactly what you don’t want, which is sectarian killings and massacres on both sides – I’m wondering, one, is there any change to the revised status of the Embassy and Embassy personnel? And two, are all of the people who were being relocated to different places, are they at those different places?
MS. PSAKI: There’s no change. That process, as I understand it, is ongoing, but I’m not going to —
QUESTION: Excuse me. The relocation process is ongoing?
QUESTION: So it’s not complete?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: On the issue of the security contractors, there are a number of security contractors, many of them American and so on, in Iraq. Are they in coordination, or did they coordinate their presence or their departure from Iraq with the U.S. Embassy? Do you know anything about their status?
MS. PSAKI: The – are you referring to the contractors who were —
QUESTION: Contractors – yeah, security contractors. They were providing security —
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish my question —
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m saying —
MS. PSAKI: — so I can make sure I answer your question accurately.
MS. PSAKI: Are you referring to the contractors from last week that were moved out —
QUESTION: Yeah. Partially, yes —
MS. PSAKI: — or different?
QUESTION: — the contractors from last week and others that stayed on.
MS. PSAKI: Well, those individuals were moved out by their companies. Obviously, we remain in close touch with American companies and we provide information and services to American citizens. But beyond that I don’t have any other update for you.
QUESTION: May I request two different topics if I might here?
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: One is, is it correct that there is a U.S. Government delegation meeting with the KRG today?
MS. PSAKI: I did not receive an update from our team on – are you referring to our diplomats in Iraq?
QUESTION: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
MS. PSAKI: On their meetings today – I can go back. They’ve had a range of meetings with a range of officials, including Kurdish officials, over the past several days. So it wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ll check and see if we have an updated list of meetings.
QUESTION: We did an interview with the foreign minister from the Kurdish Regional Government yesterday, and he indicated that today he expected to be sitting down with a U.S. delegation. Is – would that be Assistant Secretary McGurk or are you familiar with this?
MS. PSAKI: It could be. And I would just – I am happy to check, but I would remind you that Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk has been there for, I believe, a week and a half now. He’s had meetings with a range of officials. We’ve tried to provide updates on those. So it could be him; it could be other officials as well.
QUESTION: The other question I wanted to ask is this: Given all the particulars of this situation in which so much American blood and treasure was expended in order to establish this central Iraqi government, and given furthermore that that central Iraqi government is now in a situation where terrorist enemy fighters are closing in within 100 miles of Baghdad, isn’t it the case that for the President of the United States to predicate any swift U.S. intervention to help this central government on the readiness of that government to make some greater efforts toward political inclusiveness in the political system there – isn’t that really akin to trying to teach a drowning man to swim?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not an accurate depiction of our view or the President’s view. I would say that our view is that Iraq and the successful outcome here is not contingent upon the intervention of any country. They need to take steps on the political front to be more inclusive, to govern in a non-sectarian manner. But the United States is – and the President is – considering a range of options, looking at factors including the national security interests of the United States.
So in the meantime, we’ve increased our assistance, whether that’s military assistance or surveillance, over the course of the last several weeks and months because of our concern here and in an effort to assist. And we’ll make decisions about what’s next based on what’s in our national security interests.
QUESTION: So you think that if al-Maliki were to just hold hands with Sunni leaders prominently and sing “Kumbaya” that this would somehow stop the advance of ISIL within 50 miles of Baghdad?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I’m suggesting. But we do think that at this time a unified government across all of the sects is an important component of a successful long-term outcome.
QUESTION: So you’re anti-“Kumbaya”? Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a lovely song. I’m not sure it will immediately help in this case.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you – going back to the Iran thing for one second, you said at a lower level – recognizing – that the future talks would, if there are any, would be at a lower level. Recognizing that there isn’t anything set – I want to make sure. There’s nothing set, right?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Are we talking about having meetings in Baghdad amongst diplomats who are there, or like in New York or the UN? Has that not been decided? Could it be – could they be anywhere? I mean, there are a lot of places where there are U.S. and Iranian diplomats posted in the same place. Would you expect that they would be in a place that is in or close to Iraq or could they be, I don’t know, Beijing?
QUESTION: Or Tehran?
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have any more details to share. I certainly understand the interest. Don’t have any more details to share.
QUESTION: Oh, no. That’s right where I wanted to take – is where were those – where were discussions left? I mean, how do you see moving forward on this thing? Would you see maybe Iran being part of a bigger discussion in a room with other neighbors? Because you said that this is a regional issue.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s far ahead of where discussions were left. This was a brief discussion on the sidelines of the P5+1 negotiations. We’ll continue to engage with countries in the region, including Iran. But beyond that, I don’t have any predictions for you in terms of if, when, how.
QUESTION: So you don’t know – where were discussions left? I mean, where – surely you didn’t say okay, thanks very much, and that the book was closed.
MS. PSAKI: We conveyed where we were coming from. It was an opportunity to do that. Beyond that, I don’t have any other updates.
QUESTION: And a follow up on that. Is – given that there’s no sign that Maliki’s government is going to listen to the U.S. on reaching out to the Sunnis, would the U.S. still then be willing to consider options of strikes? I mean, is it – is that a – is it a condition of those strikes or of the U.S. offering further assistance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President continues to consider a range of actions, but there – our view is there needs to be a comprehensive strategy, and that includes capacity building for security forces. But there’s a great deal that’s on the shoulders of the Iraqi Government, and we believe that there’s more they should and can do. But I don’t want to lay out more detail about what’s being considered and how and why.
QUESTION: So you want to see them —
QUESTION: Is there any —
QUESTION: You want to see them coming up with a plan first before the President moves? I’m just trying to figure it out.
MS. PSAKI: No, I understand why you’re asking. But I’m not going to box us into how and when and why we’ll make decisions.
QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary McGurk or anyone from the Administration reaching out to see how this – it’s not only ISIL, but it’s also a coalition of 80 Sunni tribes, maybe 41 militant former Baathist groups and so on. It’s huge. It’s a huge thing. Is anyone reaching out to these groups?
MS. PSAKI: As I noted, I think last week, Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk had met with a range of officials from different tribes. We’ve met with different officials across the political spectrum, and I expect that will continue.
QUESTION: Has there been any discussion of having the Arab League intervene in this in any way?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Roz. Obviously there are a range of countries that could be in touch with them.
QUESTION: And then I have one other one. It’s a legal question regarding the U.S. troops. Apparently they have legal permission from the Iraqi Government to be in country. They are carrying weapons. Given the crisis, I can understand how things move very quickly. Does it sort of beg the question why this couldn’t have been done back in 2011, when the U.S. was ready and willing to have troops there to work on counterterror measures with the Iraqi army?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely separate question. These are – military are there for the security of the Embassy. That’s what their focus is. That’s the role they’re playing. This is linked to the announcement we made on Monday – or sorry, Sunday – about the relocation of some of our staff and the fact that some would be coming in to help the security there.
QUESTION: But I think the question was: Technically, on the legal issue, I mean, are – do they come under chief of mission authority, even though they’re Pentagon and not the regular Embassy Marine guards? Because if they do, then they have immunity, but if they don’t, then you would need some kind of an agreement with the Iraqis to give them immunity. And I think what Roz is asking, and it makes perfect sense, is: If the Iraqis were willing to do it now for these people, why didn’t you – why couldn’t you try – why couldn’t you have gotten – why couldn’t you convince them back in 2011 when you were trying to get a broader SOFA?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, they were – they’re trained to integrate —
QUESTION: So – but it’s a moot point if they’re under chief of mission authority and they have immunity because of that. But if —
MS. PSAKI: They’re trained to integrate with existing U.S. Embassy security teams, but they’re not playing a combat role. They’re playing a role at protecting our Embassy and providing security at our Embassy.
QUESTION: Well, right. But —
QUESTION: But the SOFA wasn’t supposed to give them combat status. It was supposed to give them training and cooperation on counterterror, which is not technically combat status.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not the role they’re playing here, though, either. So I will see if they’re under the chief of mission authority and I’m happy to get that answer (inaudible).
QUESTION: Right. And if they’re not, can you find out exactly how they have – because presumably you wouldn’t – they wouldn’t – the Pentagon wouldn’t have sent them if they were – did not have immunity. So if they are not under – if they’re not covered by the diplomatic – by a Vienna Convention type of thing, what they are covered by would be interesting to know.
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, and they’re meant, as I noted, but to augment —
QUESTION: I know, I know.
MS. PSAKI: — the security we already have on the ground.
MS. PSAKI: Iraq?
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: I do not.
QUESTION: Where is Bill Burns at the moment? Is he coming – is he back here or is he staying?
MS. PSAKI: Where in the world is Bill Burns?
MS. PSAKI: He was only in Vienna for yesterday. I’m not aware if there are other travel plans. I’m sure he’ll be back in Washington soon, if he’s not already.
QUESTION: New subject?
MS. PSAKI: Any more on Iraq? Hello, Nicolas. You’re so far back.
QUESTION: Yeah, I was late, so – but it gives me another perspective, so —
MS. PSAKI: Okay. (Laughter.) Good to hear.
QUESTION: Just follow up on the – on your relationship with Iran. Would you – I mean, would the U.S. consider resuming the diplomatic relationship, as the U.K. will do in reopening their embassy in Tehran?
MS. PSAKI: That’s far from the point we’re at. We’re just talking about a brief engagement on this issue. Our focus is on the nuclear negotiations, and I expect that will be the case for the time being.
QUESTION: And do you – so do you support the U.K. – I mean, the U.K. decision to reopen its embassy in Tehran? Is it a good sign? Is it a good move?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly every country makes their own decisions, and our focus is on continuing the P5+1 negotiations and the effort to close the gaps there. So as long as it doesn’t interfere with that, it is a choice that they are making.
QUESTION: Just one last one, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that American policymakers were taken by surprise with this sweep into Mosul and other Iraqi cities by ISIL, or did they, in fact, have some advanced knowledge or warning that this was going to be happening imminently?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that we’ve long been concerned about the growth of terrorist operations in Syria, the neighboring country, of course, and the expansion of that or the overflow of that, we feel, is one of the main determining factors here. Beyond that, we’ve also increased our assistance, whether that’s training or it’s military equipment, over the course of the last several months given our concerns. I don’t have any other outtakes for you.
QUESTION: Would you say that anyone —
QUESTION: (Off-mike.)
MS. PSAKI: No. Two Iraqis, two Iraqis.
QUESTION: Would you say that anyone who asserted that he or she were inside the United States Government and tried to warn top policymakers that this was imminent would be wrong or inaccurate to say so and that those warnings were not heeded?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that feels a little straw man argument to me, but we’ve increased our assistance because of our concern about the overflow from Syria, and we’ve taken steps over the past couple of months given that.
QUESTION: And maybe the simplest way to ask this is: Were there warnings specifically about these kinds of developments happening imminently that were unheeded by top policymakers in this government?
MS. PSAKI: I think I have nothing more to share with you on that front, James, other than to say that we’ve, again – we took steps because we were concerned over the course of the last several months, and we’ve taken a range of steps to increase the capacity of the Iraqi security forces.
QUESTION: So by definition, those steps were insufficient to prevent this from happening?
MS. PSAKI: Well, clearly we’ve seen what’s happened across Iraq. That’s why we’re going to continue to increase our assistance, and the President is considering a range of options.
QUESTION: Jen, given that the – that you met briefly with the Iranians —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — about Iraq, would you now be open to talking to them about Syria?
MS. PSAKI: As you know, the Secretary raised the issue of Syria when he met with Foreign Minister Zarif in Germany several months ago. Beyond that, I think our focus will continue to be mainly on the nuclear negotiations.
QUESTION: And there was no discussion yesterday on Syria at all?
MS. PSAKI: No. No.
Okay. New topic? Go ahead.

canopfor on June 17, 2014 at 6:52 PM

And then he should’ve had the stones to tell the American people “this is what occupation looks like, this is how it ends, always.”

Well, except for the Philippines, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Bosnia, and Albania, you would have been correct. While you take some remedial history lessons, “professor”, do work on that conjunction thing.

F X Muldoon on June 17, 2014 at 6:56 PM

A real leader doesn’t just see the threat coming… years before it does there is a plan in place about how to handle a situation like it.

You don’t make tough choices on the fly. You make them when your head is clear and the consequences can be taken into account.

It was predictable that these things would happen in Iraq.

But the Obama administration never seems to have thought that any thing that happens could ever happens.

petunia on June 18, 2014 at 12:11 AM