President Barack Obama, deliberately or not, undercut the U.S. intelligence community last night.
Obama, an interview with Steve Kroft of CBS's "60 Minutes," appeared to voluntarily lay blame on the intelligence community for the failure to grasp the rise of the Islamic State.
Here's the exchange:
STEVE KROFT: 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.
Obama's not wrong. Here's what Clapper said in a September interview with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius:
What caught some off guard, at least according to some in the intelligence community, is that Obama brought Clapper and the intelligence community into the conversation unsolicited. Kroft never cited Clapper's interview in the question, but Obama was quick to pin the failure explicitly on the intelligence community.
Former Senator Scott Brown, now a candidate for a Senate seat in New Hampshire, attempted to seize on the statement for political gain. He fired out a statement before the Sunday night interview was even complete.
"I'm disappointed that President Obama refused to accept responsibility for underestimating ISIS. Instead, he blamed James Clapper, his director of intelligence," Brown said.
It may be a matter of semantics -- Obama has been somewhat imprecise with his words in recent months (see: Strategy, we don't have one.) A White House official said the president was not trying to make a point and was simply repeating what the top U.S. intelligence official had said. Yet the president's words are closely watched by the different elements of his administration and Obama has always held a somewhat hot-and-cold relationship with the intelligence community.
He is given much credit for defending them -- almost to a fault, his political advisers acknowledge -- in the wake of the ground-shaking disclosures from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. But just as it is with the Pentagon and at times the Justice Department, members of the intelligence community have described the White House as insular and often unwilling to give recommendations full consideration if they don't track with the administration's official line. (Ignatius just so happened to hint at exactly that in his next column. See here.)
Aside from grumbles within the intelligence community, the president's comments likely won't result in much. The White House official made clear that no harm was intended. Still, this is hardly the time to be alienating a central component of a strategy still in its early stages. The president, intentional or not, may have done just that.
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE