This particular talking point has suffered two ignominious deaths by prominent fact-checker, but the White House keeps putting shades on it and propping it up, with the administration’s own boyish Andy McCarthy type leading the way from the podium.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest first made his ridiculous claim in an August 25 press briefing, pushing back on the Obama quote from David Remnick’s New Yorker piece that has become shorthand for the president’s dangerous underestimation of ISIS back when it was taking over hard-won territory in the Anbar province of Iraq. Here’s the first attempt at spin, which the Washington Post awarded Four Pinocchios:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest: “I thought somebody might ask this question today so I wanted to pull the transcript of the interview because it’s important to understand the context in which this was delivered. So let me just read the full quote and then we can talk about it:
“‘I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.’
“So the president was not singling out ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, another name for the group], he was talking about the very different threat that is posed by a range of extremists around the globe. Many of them do not have designs on attacking the West or attacking the United States, and that is what puts them in stark contrast to the goals and capability of the previously existing al-Qaeda core network that was led by Osama bin Laden.”
In fact, in the transcript of the conversation with Remnick, it is quite clear that Remnick is referring to the entity that took over Fallujah. Granted, we were not all as familiar with its name then as we are now, so no one actually says ISIS, but that’s the entity at issue and Obama explicitly acknowledges that directly after the quote about the JV team.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but, David, I think the analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant. I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.
Q: But that JV team jus[t] took over Fallujah.
THE PRESIDENT: I understand. But when you say took over Fallujah –
The President himself denied this obvious fact in his Sunday sit-down with “Meet the Press,” and Politifact gave him a “False” rating for his trouble.
“Was that bad intelligence or your misjudgment?” Todd asked.
“Keep in mind I wasn’t specifically referring to (Islamic State),” Obama replied. “I’ve said that, regionally, there were a whole series of organizations that were focused primarily locally, weren’t focused on homeland, because I think a lot of us, when we think about terrorism, the model is Osama bin Laden and 9/11.”
And, today, Earnest is back at it.
I started saying a couple years ago that this White House is better understood if one dispenses with the notion they have a strategy for anything beyond immediate, self-interested, crude, political survival/warfare on a day-to-day basis. In this case, clinging to this absurd notion that he didn’t know exactly who he was talking about naturally riles reporters (Ed Henry, on this occasion), who try in vain to make the White House admit what is patently obvious. As questions get more strident and pressing, ala the YouTube-blaming in Benghazi, Earnest will decry reporters’ interest in such petty “semantics” as distracting from bigger problems in order to distract from the fact that it is, indeed, an important and damning indication of Obama’s inability to anticipate anything in foreign policy.
For the rest of this play we’ve all seen before, I refer you to the 7 Steps to Scandal Comms with the Obama White House.