There is likely much gnashing of teeth in the intelligence community today in the wake of Obama’s interview with 60 Minutes last night. He laid the blame for the rise of the Islamic State at the feet of the intelligence community. “Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that, I think, they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” said the commander in chief on national television.
Not true, reports Eli Lake in the Daily Beast. “One former senior Pentagon official who worked closely on the threat posed by Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq was flabbergasted,” writes Lake, then quoting his source: “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting.’”
It’s not a good sign that the president and the intelligence community are at odds over intelligence on the Islamic State. However, there’s an even more serious concern in the offing over the Iranian nuclear program. If, as Obama claims, the intelligence community was wrong about the Islamic State, how can it be trusted to get Iran right? Or, alternately, how can the president be trusted not to blame his own failures on others?
The White House has repeatedly claimed, “We have the capacity to monitor the Iranian nuclear program… We would know if they were to make a so-called breakout move towards developing such a weapon.”
But Obama’s interview last night instead suggests one of two things. Either the intelligence community is incapable or getting timely and trustworthy intelligence to American policymakers and has left the commander-and-chief in the dark. Or Obama is ignoring the warnings of the IC, including intelligence that may forecast an Iranian breakout. In any case, this dysfunctional relationship between the president and his own intelligence community may come to have even more dire consequences for U.S. interests.