If this Daily Mail report turns out to be true, Barack Obama knew of the rising threat from what is now ISIS or ISIL before the 2012 presidential election. That means that the US intelligence community told him of the danger at the same time Obama ridiculed Mitt Romney during the presidential debates two years ago for wanting a residual force in Iraq to prevent exactly what Romney warned would happen. It also means that his expression of surprise at US intelligence “underestimating” ISIS was sheer nonsense:
President Barack Obama’s intelligence briefings have provided him with specific information since before he won re-election in 2012 about the growing threat of the terror group now known alternatively as ISIS and ISIL, an administration insider told MailOnline on Monday.
‘Unless someone very senior has been shredding the president’s daily briefings and telling him that the dog ate them, highly accurate predictions about ISIL have been showing up in the Oval Office since before the 2012 election,’ said a national security staffer in the Obama administration who is familiar with the content of intelligence briefings.
The staffer declined to share anything specific about the content of those briefings, citing his need to maintain a security clearance.
But ‘it’s true,’ he said, ‘that the [intelligence] community was sending pretty specific intel up to us.’
‘We were seeing specific threat assessments and many of them have panned out exactly as we were told they would.’
The credibility of this report rests on the source, who went unnamed for obvious reasons. Who would this source from within the “administration” likely be? From the context of the leak, it’s pretty clear that it’s someone from a very angry intelligence community, tired of getting tossed under the bus for Obama’s failures.
And that’s a pretty big deal, considering the long slog ahead on ISIS. We saw this after the Benghazi attack in 2012, in an almost identical sequence. The attack prompted immediate questions about the unpreparedness of the administration to deal with the consequences of terrorism its own policy choices (the intervention against the Qaddafi regime in that case) had produced. Instead of admitting immediately that it had discounted months of warnings from the intelligence community (they were “flashing red” at the time of the attack), the White House tried shifting the blame to the CIA. That sparked a war of media leaks between State and CIA that lasted several weeks, until the Obama administration finally admitted that they had been warned all along that the situation in Benghazi had deteriorated badly but that State had ignored the danger. That is what led to the infamous “What difference at this point does it make?” retort from Hillary Clinton in a Senate hearing, as the Obama administration tried to change the subject to security precautions in the future.
If the White House and intelligence communities are back at war with each other, just how effective will either be in the fight against ISIS in the future?
The Daily Mail gets some backup for this side of the story from the New York Times today, although they shift the timeline into 2013:
By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria, according to senior intelligence and military officials. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq.
But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.” …
But by pointing to the agencies without mentioning any misjudgments of his own, Mr. Obama left intelligence officials bristling about being made into scapegoats and critics complaining that he was trying to avoid responsibility.
“This was not an intelligence community failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat,” said Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
In other words, expect a lot more of these leaks over the next few weeks. Obama had already been working under an increasing credibility deficit on national security and terrorism before now, but this latest attempt at blameshifting may prove fatal to any hope of restoring that credibility, I argue today at The Week. And again, this is a very bad time to have a discredited Commander in Chief in charge:
If Obama truly had been misinformed about the threat, one very clear response would be to hold his most senior advisers responsible for the failure. Yet months after ISIS began its genocidal sweep through Iraq and Syria, and weeks after Obama admitted that his administration had yet to form a strategy to deal with the threat, not a single pink slip has been issued to his national-security team, and no one has resigned to spend more time with his or her family.
Recent polls show Obama’s credibility has eroded significantly on national security. A new poll from NBC/Wall Street Journal shows that 72 percent of Americans expect that U.S. ground troops will be sent back into combat against ISIS, while only 20 percent trust Obama’s promise not to send them into war in the region. That follows an earlier poll in the same series in which 68 percent of respondents had little to no confidence in Obama’s leadership against ISIS, even though 62 percent supported his decision to start hitting ISIS with air strikes.
That’s more than just a political problem for a president facing a tough sixth-year midterm election. Obama has taken the country to war again, and yet cannot articulate that one simple fact. He tried to convince Kroft that this was just “America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with,” referring to only Iraq. However, Obama has ordered continuing strikes on Syria, a country that pointedly does not have a security partnership with the U.S. and which has not asked for our assistance. Under any definition within reality, those are acts of war against an enemy, even if the enemy in this case isn’t Syria itself. Nor will Obama admit that he underestimated the threat of the resurgence of AQI/ISIS over the past six years, despite plenty of warnings and data to reconsider his policies regarding Iraq.
Obama wants to eat his Nobel Peace Prize cake and have his war, too. But he can’t have it both ways. So the real question becomes, is he trying to fool the nation, himself, or a little bit of both? One of the three must be true.
Obama’s incredible … in the most literal sense of the word.