President Barack Obama admitted 2014 that his administration underestimated the threat of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in a CBS’ ’60 Minutes’ interview with Steve Kroft that was taped on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014 and aired Sunday evening, Sept. 28. Obama’s interview aired only hours after Speaker of the House John Boehner appeared on ABC News “This Week,” where he told “ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos” he thinks U.S. ground troops are necessary to fight ISIS. Obama repeated many elements from his United Nations General Assembly address delivered on Wednesday, Sept. 24 in his interview.
President Obama reiterated his military plan of targeted military airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in the fight to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS; “That’s why it’s so important for us to recognize part of the solution here is gonna be military. We just have to push them back, and shrink their space, and go after their command and control, and their capacity, and their weapons, and their fueling, and cut off their financing, and work to eliminate the flow of foreign fighters.”
The president also admitted that his administration and the CIA, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper underestimated the strength of the terror organization and their reach in Syria, saying; “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.” When Kroft pointed out that Clapper also indicated the Iraqi Army’s will and ability to fight ISIS, Obama responded, “That’s true. That’s absolutely true.” The president elaborated that the US has a responsibility to helping Iraq in the fight saying; “we are the indispensable nation.”
Obama also explained the difference of sending US troops as military advisors to Iraq as opposed to having involved in a ground war, stating; “There’s a difference between them advising and assisting Iraqis who are fighting versus a situation in which we got our Marines and our soldiers out there taking shots and shooting back.” Contrasting with Boehner’s view, Obama again indicated that he has no plan to send US troops to fight a ground war against ISIS, preferring a global coalition; “that’s why what we have to do is, rather than play whack-a-mole and send U.S. troops wherever this occurs, we have to build strong partnerships.”
The president recounted how ISIS was able to rise quickly in Syria; “Essentially what happened with ISIL was that you had al Qaeda in Iraq, which was a vicious group, but our Marines were able to quash with the help of Sunni tribes. They went back underground, but over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you had huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.”
President Obama also blames ISIS rise on their ability to “attract foreign fighters who believed in their jihadist nonsense and traveled everywhere from Europe to the United States to Australia to other parts of the Muslim world, converging on Syria. And so this became ground zero for jihadists around the world.” At the UN Security Council Meeting Obama chaired on Wednesday, Sept. 24 after delivering his address to the General Assembly earlier in the day, Obama introduced a resolution to prevent foreign fighters signing up for ISIS. The Security Council adopted Resolution 2178 at the meeting and aims to “increase the obligations on states to try to prevent and deter the flow of foreign fighters.”
Obama again acknowledged the fight against ISIS is not going to be easy and it will take long for them actually to be defeated; “I think there’s going to be a generational challenge. I don’t think that this is something that’s going to happen overnight.” Continuing, Obama explained why it will take so long, “There is a cancer that has grown for too long that suggests that it is acceptable to kill innocent people who worship a different God. And that kind of extremism, unfortunately, means that we’re going to see for some time the possibility that in a whole bunch of different countries, radical groups may spring up — particularly in countries that are still relatively fragile, where you had sectarian tensions, where you don’t have a strong state security apparatus.”
Although President Obama believes the military intervention is important to fight against ISIS, in the long run the president thinks a political solution is necessary. Obama explained; “What we also have to do is we have to come up with political solutions in Iraq and Syria, in particular, but in the Middle East generally that arrive in the combination between Sunni and Shia populations that right now are the biggest cause of conflict, not just in the Middle East, but in the world.”
Key to the long-term solution is Muslim youth and “how these countries teach their youth.” The president thinks the military fight is limited solution because “What our military operations can do is to just check and roll back these (militant) networks as they appear and make sure that the time and space is provided for a new way of doing things to begin to take root.”
The president dedicated his weekly address released on Saturday morning, Sept. 27, 2014 entitled; “America Is Leading the World” to American leadership in the fight against ISIS, the Ebola outbreak, and climate change. Again in his interview Obama emphasized the US’s leadership role in the world, expressing; “America leads. We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world. And when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing. They don’t call Moscow. They call us.”
- Preview: President Obama, 60 Minutes, CBS News, Sept. 28, 2014
- President Obama: What makes us America, 60 Minutes, CBS News, Sept. 28, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.