Obama Admits That U.S. Underestimated ISIS Growth

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It’s not often that a president is willing to admit to his mistakes, and Obama wasn’t quite ready to break with that tradition in his 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft. Passing the buck in grand presidential fashion, he admitted only that “they” underestimated what was happening in Syria, referring to the exponential growth of ISIS.

The “they” he refers to is James Clapper and the National Intelligence community. Presumably, Obama feels this mistake has nothing to do with himself.

“Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” he said, shifting the blame just enough to stem the flow of criticism. He also acknowledged that there was an overestimation when it came to the Iraqi military and what they could accomplish in the fight against ISIS on the ground.

Some have praised the president’s candor, but others see this as an imperceptible step toward Obama breaking his promise to keep military boots off the ground in the Middle East. Such a backtrack could be politically devastating to the administration and Democrats in general, but Obama may be left with no other choice. Clearly, the problem is not with putting military ground troops into action so much as it is that he made such a forceful declaration to begin with.

War is unpredictable and messy. With the admission that the administration underestimated the threat of these militants, it goes to show how unwise it was for the president to make wild promises that couldn’t be kept. Within days of his unyielding proclamation, top generals were telling Congress that they would ask the president for ground troops if airstrikes didn’t pan out as expected.

For the most part, Obama was speaking in the past tense. In other words, he was explaining how things got to the point where we had to address this growing army of extremists. But his words could just as easily be used to explain why airstrikes have not been as effective as previously assumed. Obama promised he could rally Kurdish troops, Syrian moderates, and the Iraqi army to fight the war on the ground, but this seems like an increasingly unlikely scenario. The ISIS group is too strong, the opposing forces too scattered. There are also strong questions about whether ground forces in these countries are fully willing to join the U.S. in a fight against fellow Muslims.

The president’s view on military solutions in general has changed so quickly in the last few months that it’s almost as if he’s been taken over by the living ghost of George W. Bush. His rhetoric has shifted dramatically. Many have questioned whether this turnaround is due to the challenges before him or something more politically motivated. One thing is certain: clips of him promising to keep boots off the ground will color perceptions of his administration for years if he goes back on his word. Should a ground war go as badly as Iraq, it will be the final coffin nail in the already-tarnished legacy of America’s first black president.