Having grown up on cloak-and-dagger movies, a favorite genre of our father, we know better than to provoke the wrath of an espionage agency. Those guys are always portrayed as ruthlessly efficient sorts, and they’ve put more athletic and handsome men than ourselves in perilous situations we do not wish to endure, so we make it a point not to say anything unflattering about them. President Barack Obama has apparently been watching too many “chick flicks” and arty independent releases, however, as he’s foolhardily started a public relations fight with the entire intelligence community.
It’s all a result of that Islamic State terror gang that’s lately been conquering huge swaths of Syria and Iraq and spreading the most gruesome sort of mayhem along the way, including the widely publicized beheadings of two Americans and other westerners. The situation is all the more embarrassing for the president because he had run for re-election on the boasts that American troops had been withdrawn from a stable and secure Iraq, that Islamist terrorism was “on the run” and “the tide of war is receding,” and that as recently as last winter he was telling a fawning interviewer that the Islamic State terror gang was the “jayvee team” of Islamist terrorism and nothing to worry about. Now that the “jayvees” are within a mile or so of Baghdad that the president is insisting he never called them that, a claim so preposterous that even the friendliest press won’t pretend otherwise, so he’s been casting about for another explanation that confirms his infallibility. What he came up with during a recent interview with “60 Minutes,” which is where Democratic presidents go to get some much-needed sympathy, is that his Director of National Intelligence has already volunteered that the intelligence community got it wrong.
The Director of National Intelligence might have professional reasons to throw himself under the proverbial bus, but his underlings in the various agencies are apparently less willing to take the blame. They’ve responded not with wristwatch-laser beams fountain pen explosives or the other high-tech gadgetry that always figures in the movies, but rather by reaching into their old fashioned Rolodexes for the phone numbers of well-placed reporters who owe them favors. No less a fancy-schmantzy newspaper than The New York Times, which has previously been willing to re-write the history of the Iraq war and the rules of English grammar to accommodate the president, was indebted enough to its deep-cover sources to produce a damning rebuttal to the administration line. According to the inevitably unnamed but assuredly senior intelligence and military sources, the president had been warned in alarmed language as early as late last year about the rising threat of the Islamic State but failed to pay heed.
One wonders that those unnamed sources were owed, because a close reading of the article buttresses conservatives articles that The New York Times is usually inclined to ridicule. Even the token right-winger at The Washington Post was allowed to note that it shows that Obama’s decision to withdraw all troops from Iraq rather than negotiate a new status of forces agreement has proved unwise, that the resulting sectarian violence was foreseeable, and that the president ignored the intelligence community’s warnings for political and ideological reasons. All of these revelations feed a growing public perception that the president is too busy with golf and fund-raising to be a serious steward of America’s foreign policy, and it doesn’t help to have new revelations about how often he skips his national security briefings altogether. The last time this was in the news was right after the tragic fiasco at the American consulate in Benghazi, when the administration laughed it off with claims that the president didn’t need to question is advisers because unlike his illiterate predecessor he could read reports and was “among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet.” That explanation was sufficient to win the president re-election, but with the Islamic State at the gates of Baghdad and the cloak-and-dagger guys now in full revolt it might not prove as effective in the upcoming mid-terms.
– Bud Norman