In effort to shield Obama from criticism on ISIS, White House makes everything worse
posted at 4:41 pm on August 22, 2014 by Noah Rothman
Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security advisor, made things a lot worse for President Barack Obama today.
As AllahPundit observed, the White House has been in a crouch since Wednesday over the president’s decision to continue with his vacation plans – most notably to allow his golf game to persist uninterrupted – in the wake of the beheading of an American at the hands of Islamic State terrorists.
Obama’s supporters dismiss criticisms of the president not allowing the outbreak of war on several continents to conflict with his vacation plans as just more irrational and partisan attacks. The White House has, however, not been so dismissive. In fact, their responses could be more accurately characterized as defensive.
“Aides said the golf game did not reflect the depth of his grief over Mr. Foley, noting that the president had just spoken with his parents that morning,” The New York Times reported on Thursday. Translation: this is bad, let’s play cleanup.
But Rhodes’s statements today made a whole new mess of Obama’s ill-timed golf outing.
“When you see somebody killed in such a horrific way, that represents a terrorist attack,” he said. “That represents a terrorist attack against our country and against an American citizen.”
“We see that as an attack on our country when one of our own is killed like that,” Rhodes added.
So, now the president was not just callously golfing in the wake of the horrific murder of an American citizen, he was golfing in the immediate aftermath of a “terrorist attack” on the United States of America. Oops.
After Rhodes left the stage, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz was asked to further clarify this issue. Schultz said that the murder of an American citizen amounting to a declaration of war on the United States had “absolutely captured the president’s attention.” That’s a clarification that an American president should hardly ever need to make.
In that same press conference, Rhodes was asked to explain Obama’s claim in January that ISIS was merely al-Qaeda’s “jayvee” team after the Islamic State captured the Iraqi city of Fallujah. “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama said then.
Rhodes insisted that Obama was being deliberative about the terrorist threat matrix in the Middle East and North Africa at the time, and ISIS has clearly become more powerful in the ensuing months. He added, however, that the Islamic State has been a constant fixture in Iraq for the last “10 years.”
“Clearly, [ISIS], which has a long history and has an origin dating back to al Qaeda in Iraq, has gained capacity as they advanced across Iraq and gained heavy weaponry,” he said.
But ISIS became the force that we know today in Syria, where Islamist forces fled after American and Iraqi troops evicted them from neighboring Iraq. Even Vox.com’s Zack Beauchamp, who attempted to make the same claim as Rhodes, conceded that experts note that al-Qaeda has sought to disassociate itself from ISIS.
“Over the years, there have been many signs that the relationship between al Qaeda Central (AQC) and the group’s strongest, most unruly franchise was strained,” Haverford University’s Barack Mendelsohn wrote. Indeed, Beauchamp’s post makes a comprehensive argument as to why al-Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS are entirely distinct entities, though he set out to make the opposite case.
Even if ISIS was virtually synonymous with al-Qaeda in Iraq, suggesting that the group has decade-old ties to that country puts the lie to Obama’s claim in 2011 that the U.S. was leaving behind “an Iraq that is sovereign, stable, and self-reliant.”