President Barack Hussein Obama was facing a fierce political backlash on Monday night after he blamed US intelligence chiefs for being caught by surprise by the sudden rise of the Islamic State (Isil) terror movement in Iraq and Syria.
In a highly unusual step, Mr Obama singled out James Clapper, his director of national intelligence, when asked by a television interviewer whether he had underestimated the threat posed by Isil after its fighters burst across the Syrian border into Iraq this summer, capturing large swathes of territory.
“I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Mr Obama told CBS News.
The president’s apparent unwillingness to take responsibility for his administration’s failure to foresee the threat was met with disbelief by both policy experts and senior Republicans, who have long warned of the risks of ceding strategic space to the jihadists in Syria.
“This was the ‘dog ate my homework speech’,” Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate who has long called for Mr Obama to arm moderate rebel forces in Syria, told Fox News, adding that Mr Obama should follow other presidents and admit his mistake.
“Every president in history had made a mistake, acknowledged it and then moved on. President Reagan with Iran contra, President Clinton in Bosnia, President George W Bush after the debacle in Iraq, when he started the surge - but it doesn’t seem to be in this president’s DNA,” he said.
Mr Obama’s foreign policy approval ratings are at a historic low, with almost 60 per cent of American disapproving of his handling of foreign policy – a number that has not improved since the president began implementing his strategy to “degrade and destroy” Isil.
Frederic Hof, the former State Department special adviser on Syria now with the Rafik Hariri Center in Washington, who argued for greater support for the rebels but later resigned in the face of White House opposition to the policy, said the intelligence community was not to blame.
“I very much doubt that the intelligence community was asleep at the switch while Isil was gaining strength in Syria,” he told The Telegraph, “None of this was exactly hidden from view.
“No doubt President Obama and his advisors were perplexed when it came to policy options, and no doubt the scope and speed of the Isil thrust into Iraq were surprising. But I doubt that the US intelligence community is to blame for any policy shortfalls."
The White House denied that Mr Obama was trying to shift the blame away from himself and onto the intelligence community.
“That is not what the president’s intent was,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, adding the president had “the highest degree of confidence” in the intelligence community.
However Mr McCain warned of ‘blowback’ from the intelligence community which already appeared to be moving to defend itself, with a former senior Pentagon official who worked on Isil intelligence assessments telling the Daily Beast website: “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullsh------.”
Source: The Telegraph
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