White House press secretary Josh Earnest defended the president Monday, telling reporters that Barack Obama wasn’t passing the buck when he blamed intelligence failures for the Islamic State’s rise to power in Iraq and Syria.
“The president’s commander in chief, and he’s the one who takes responsibility for ensuring that we have the kinds of policies in place that are required to protect our interests around the globe,” Earnest said in response to questions about remarks Obama made in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday.
Obama had said, “I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.”
The president’s comments set off a firestorm of controversy among GOP lawmakers and some members of the intelligence community, who have argued that Obama should blame himself for failure to act on information provided.
“I very much doubt that the intelligence community was asleep at the switch while [ISIS] was gaining strength in Syria,” former State Department special adviser on Syria Frederic Hoff 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 [ISIS] thrust into Iraq were surprising. But I doubt that the U.S. intelligence community is to blame for any policy shortfalls.”
Republican Senator John McCain (Ariz.) called Obama’s remark a “dog ate my homework speech.”
“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 told Fox News.
As reporters pelted him with questions about the president’s refusal to admit his administration’s failures in the Middle East, Earnest turned the tables to attack Republicans who have said that U.S. boots on the ground may become an unavoidable reality in the fight against ISIS.
House Speaker John Boehner said of ISIS Sunday, “At the end of the day, I think it’s gonna take more than air strikes to drive them outta there. At some point somebody’s boots have to be on the ground.”
Earnest told reporters the remark was unsurprising.
“That’s something that senior members of the Republican Party advocated in the previous administration,” he said. “It’s something that senior members of the Republican Party advocate in this administration.”
But it isn’t just Republican lawmakers who foresee U.S. troops fighting ISIS on the ground in Iraq and Syria.
In a NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll released over the weekend, 72 percent of respondents said that they believe the U.S. will end up using boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria despite the Obama administration’s repeated promises that troops will not be deployed in a combat capacity.
The results of that poll were exaggerated Monday with reports that ISIS fighters are reportedly staging roughly one mile outside of Baghdad even though U.S. airstrikes were supposed to keep the fighters from reaching the city.