Obama Cites Assessment Of Intelligence Community, Media Accuse Him Of Playing The Blame Game

After President Obama repeated the assessment of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, of the intelligence community's initial view on the threat posed by the Islamic State, media are accusing Obama of “throwing the intelligence community under the bus.”

Media Accuse Obama Of “Shifting Blame,” Throwing The Intelligence Community “Under The Bus,” For Citing DNI's Assessment Of Islamic State Threat

Fox Host: Obama Threw “The Intel Community Under The Bus.” The September 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed Obama's appearance on 60 Minutes, where he cited DNI James Clapper on the intelligence community's assessment of the threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The hosts accused Obama of “throwing the intel community under the bus” :

STEVE DOOCY: [Obama is] very outward in that he throws the intel community under the bus.

[...]

BRIAN KILMEADE: It just bothers me so much to see somebody blame somebody else for a position they're in. That's the anti-leadership quotient. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/29/14]

National Journal's Ron Fournier: The President Has A “Maddening Habit Of Shifting Blame.” In a September 29 column for National Journal, Ron Fournier pointed to Obama's mention of Clapper as evidence that he has a “maddening habit of shifting blame” :

There are far more honest reasons for criticism of Obama, including one illuminated by the same 60 Minutes interview: the president's maddening habit of shifting blame. This is more than a tick; it's a personality flaw and a political problem, because Americans want their leaders to be accountable and credible. Obama could summon neither attribute when Kroft asked whether he was surprised by the ISIS surge.

“Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.

Sorry, Mr. President. Jim Clapper is the director of national intelligence, not the commander in chief. It's the DNI's job to present the president with the best available intelligence, which is rarely certain; it's almost always a mix of hard evidence and educated guesses. It's the president's job to analyze the facts, assess the advice, and act.

Clapper didn't assure the world that ISIS was just a “JV team” -- its threats exaggerated by social media. That was Obama.

Clapper has acknowledged that the United States overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi army to fight ISIS. [National Journal, 9/29/14]

Wash. Post's Jennifer Rubin: “Obama's Excuse That This Was An Intelligence Failure Is Pure Bunk.”  In a post on her Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin argued that Obama is avoiding responsibility for the rise of ISIS by blaming others, such as Clapper:

The president is nothing if not reliable when it comes to avoiding responsibility for his gross foreign policy errors. Asked in his “60 Minutes” interview if he had been surprised by the rise of the Islamic State, he replied:

 "Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria...

[...]

Obama's excuse that this was an intelligence failure is pure bunk. It was a leadership failure. It was Obama's failure. [The Washington Post, Right Turn, 9/29/14]

Fox Host: Obama Is “Pointing The Finger At His Spy Chief.” In the opening segment of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer accused Obama of “pointing the finger” at Clapper for “dropping the ball on ISIS” :

BILL HEMMER: First though, blaming intelligence officials once again for dropping the ball on ISIS. President Obama pointing the finger at his spy chief for underestimating the vicious terror group that's sprung up in Iraq and more so now in Syria.

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MARTHA MacCALLUM (co-host): Last month the president said intelligence estimates have failed to anticipate the rise of ISIS. Now he is doubling down on that comment and naming names this time. He singled out his Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

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HEMMER: Did James Clapper get the number of that bus that hit him? [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 9/29/14]

Daily Beast: “Obama Specifically Blamed James Clapper” For Being Caught Off Guard By Islamic State Threat. In an September 29 article for The Daily Beast, Eli Lake accused Obama of “fault[ing] his spies for failing to predict the rise of ISIS” :

But in an interview that aired Sunday evening, the president told 60 Minutes that the rise of the group now proclaiming itself a caliphate in territory between Syria and Iraq caught the U.S. intelligence community off guard. Obama specifically blamed James Clapper, the current director of national intelligence: “Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that, I think, they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” he said.

[...]

Clapper did tell The Washington Post's David Ignatius this month that he underestimated the will of the ISIS fighters in Iraq and overestimated the ability of Iraq's security forces in northern Iraq to counter ISIS. (He also said his analysts warned about the “prowess and capability” of the group.)

Still, other senior intelligence officials have been warning about ISIS for months. [The Daily Beast, 9/29/14]

Rather Than “Blaming” Clapper, Obama Merely Cited What Clapper Had Said About The Intelligence Community's Assessment of ISIS

DNI Clapper: “We Underestimated ISIL” By Not Predicting “The Will To Fight.” As David Ignatius wrote in a September 18 Washington Post column, Clapper said in a phone interview that the intelligence community knew of the Islamic State's “prowess and capability,” but “underestimated” the group's will to fight:

The United States has made the same mistake in evaluating fighters from the Islamic State that it did in Vietnam -- underestimating the enemy's will, according to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

[...]

Asked whether the intelligence community had succeeded in its goal of providing “anticipatory intelligence” about the extremist movement in Syria and Iraq that has declared itself the Islamic State, Clapper said his analysts had reported the group's emergence and its “prowess and capability,” as well as the “deficiencies” of the Iraqi military. Then he offered a self-critique:

What we didn't do was predict the will to fight. That's always a problem. We didn't do it in Vietnam. We underestimated the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese and overestimated the will of the South Vietnamese. In this case, we underestimated ISIL [the Islamic State] and overestimated the fighting capability of the Iraqi army. . . . I didn't see the collapse of the Iraqi security force in the north coming. I didn't see that. It boils down to predicting the will to fight, which is an imponderable. [The Washington Post, 9/18/14]

On 60 Minutes, Obama Cited Clapper As Head Of Intelligence Community, Reiterated His Assessment Of Intelligence Community's Understanding Of Islamic State. In a 60 Minutes interview that aired on September 28, Obama reiterated Clapper's assessment of the intelligence community's understanding of the Islamic State threat:

Steve Kroft: I understand all the caveats about these regional groups. But this is what an army of 40,000 people, according to some of the military estimates I heard the other day, very well-trained, very motivated.

President Obama: Well, part of it was that...

Steve Kroft: What? How did they end up where they are in control of so much territory? Was that a complete surprise to you?

President Obama: Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.

Steve Kroft: I mean, he didn't say that, just say that, “We underestimated ISIL.” He said, “We overestimated the ability and the will of our allies, the Iraqi army, to fight.”

President Obama: That's true. That's absolutely true. And I...

Steve Kroft: And these are the people that we're now expecting to carry on the fight? [CBS, 60 Minutes, 9/28/14]