When adhering to principles falls short
U.S. President Barack Obama placed blame on American intelligence officials recently for what he perceived to be their failure to detect the expansion of the Islamic State (ISIS), the jihadist extremist group in the Middle East, further claiming that U.S. intelligence agencies neglected to prevent ISIS from expanding into Syria.
After these comments, however, he was faced with an onslaught of criticism, rather than support. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives, said, “This was not an intelligence community failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat.”
As the controversy grew, the White House claimed that Obama did not intend to call out these intelligence agencies, but the president’s remark had already indicated what he believed.
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s autobiography, “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace,” provides insights on whether the ISIS crisis is inspired by intelligence failures or policy failure. In an excerpt released before its publication yesterday, Panetta criticized the lukewarm responses of the White House over the situations in Iraq and Syria.
While the U.S. military command and the Iraqi government wanted some U.S. forces to remain in Iraq, their voices were not heard, and the White House’s aides were especially stubborn. Panetta said that it was regrettable to have missed the chance to prevent the rise of ISIS early on. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also acknowledged that the Obama administration’s failed foreign policy had led to the militant jihadist group’s rise in the Middle East. These confessions suggest that the situation was abnormal. When the White House was unwilling to listen to other opinions, the intelligence agencies may have believed that sending a report was enough.
President Obama and his White House aides are trapped in a “presidential legacy,” his pledge to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his tenure, he has often emphasized this intention. And because he was obsessed with the idea of withdrawing U.S. troops as soon as possible, he dismissed the voices who insisted that it was implausible. However, now things have changed. ISIS is taking advantage of the American focus on air strikes. They left their existing bases and have engaged in guerilla warfare to expand their influence.
This case reminds us of the importance of flexibility in adhering to principles. If one stands by principle alone, it is easy to misjudge a situation. And when communication is lacking, it only leads to a blame game.
The author is a Washington correspondent
for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 7, Page 30
By LEE SANG-BOK