“I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.”
That was President Barack Obama’s response to CBS reporter Steve Kroft who asked the president if he was surprised by the rapid rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – a group which he had previously dismissed as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee” team.
As Ed Morrissey observed, it took only hours for The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake to find well-connected sources willing to denounce the president’s dishonest buck passing. Using some rather coarse language, one frustrated former Pentagon official accused the president of either being mendacious or ignoring his intelligence briefings. Morrissey observed that even New York Times reporters found the president’s testimony in his own defense wanting.
Now, even some Democrats are jumping ship. Former Rear Admiral Joe Sestak, a two-term Democratic member of the House of Representatives, a House Armed Services Committee member, and candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010, was asked on Monday how it was possible for the intelligence community so gravely underestimate ISIS. Sestak appeared to surprise his MSNBC interlocutor when he noted that the only people who got ISIS wrong work in the Obama administration.
“How did the U.S. intelligence community get it so wrong on ISIS?” MSNBC host Jose Diaz-Balart asked.
“I don’t think they did,” Sestak replied bluntly, prompting Diaz-Balart’s eyebrows to nearly rocket off of his face in shock.
“If you remember back in January and February, the head — the general, the Defense Intelligence Agency, actually testified before the House and Senate that in 2014, ISIS would take over large swaths of territory,” the Navy veteran asserted. “In fact, at the time he testified, they had already seized Ramadi and Fallujah — 35 miles from Baghdad.”
Sestak noted that even DNI Clapper, who today still bears the tire marks from the bus under which he was thrown by the president, testified that ISIS maintained the capability to expand out from Syria into a wide swath of territory in Iraq.
“I think it was slow on the part of the entire administration to assess that they — what they had to do in order address the threat,” Sestak concluded.
Diaz-Balart quickly moved on, but the damage was done. Sestak had taken a sledge hammer to the dam holding back Democratic criticisms of the president over his approach to the ISIS threat.
Better late than never, as they say, and the United States is now engaged, along with a number of key allies, in a critical campaign aimed at degrading some of ISIS’s capabilities. The president’s own choices over the last two years make it clear to all dispassionate observers that the White House did not take the ISIS threat seriously, and Obama’s efforts to insulate himself from deserved criticism is insulting. It seems that even Democrats with a connection to the military and intelligence community are not going to let him get away with it.