Obama on 60 Minutes: U.S. underestimated ISIS.

Obama Acknowledges U.S. Underestimated ISIS

Obama Acknowledges U.S. Underestimated ISIS

The Slatest
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Sept. 28 2014 2:51 PM

Obama Acknowledges U.S. Underestimated ISIS

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President Barack Obama speaks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundations 44th Annual Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards Dinner in Washington on September 27

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

In one of his most candid comments yet on the issue, President Obama told 60 Minutes that the United States underestimated the strength of ISIS. The president told journalist Steve Kroft that it was “absolutely true” the intelligence community had also overestimated the ability of the Iraqi military to fight the extremist group. “Jim Clappper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said, in reference to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The chaos of the Syrian civil war allowed meant that it “became ground zero for jihadists around the world,” Obama added, noting the extremist group was able to “attract foreign fighters who believed in their jihadist nonsense.” Their recruitment drive was helped by a “very savvy” social media campaign, Obama said, according to an excerpt of the interview released Sunday afternoon. But part of the problem is that the extremists have also been able to enjoy some “traditional military capacity” thanks to members of Saddam Hussein’s former military.

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“That's why it's so important for us to recognize part of the solution here is gonna be military,” Obama said. “We just have to push them back, and shrink their space, and go after their command and control, and their capacity, and their weapons, and their fueling, and cut off their financing, and work to eliminate the flow of foreign fighters.” But ultimately a lasting peace will require a political solution. “We have to come up with political solutions in Iraq and Syria, in particular, but in the Middle East generally that arrive in the combination between Sunni and Shia populations that right now are the biggest cause of conflict, not just in the Middle East, but in the world.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.