In case you missed it, on 60 Minutes Sunday, President Obama threw the intelligence community under the bus by claiming that Jim Clapper, et al dropped the ball in assessing the threat that ISIS posed. This is not the first time Obama has tried to blame his subordinates for providing him with faulty information about ISIS. When confronted with the manifest error of his comment in January that ISIS was the “JV” of Al Qaeda, Obama attempted to claim that based on the information available to him, no one could have possibly foreseen that ISIS would become the problem that it has. This ridiculous claim prompted leaks from the Pentagon that indicated that Obama was unambiguously briefed about the threat of ISIS over a year ago. It beggars the imagination, really, to suggest that the reason Obama has consistently underestimated ISIS is that no one told him ISIS was dangerous, and it also raises the question of why, if this is true, Clapper has not been fired on the spot for what would doubtless be a major failure of intelligence.
Predictably, the intelligence community has decided not to take this lying down and has begun leaking information to the effect that Obama has had accurate and actionable intelligence about ISIS since before the 2012 election. As yet unnamed officials claim specifically that Obama was given information in his PDBs which gathered dust and sat for well over a year.
To understand why this might not have happened yet, perhaps its worth reviewing some stories from 2012 about Obama’s intelligence briefing habits:
President Obama sat down with intelligence officials on Friday for his presidential daily briefing. That might not sound all that surprising, but despite its title, this does not actually happen daily.
The turmoil in the Middle East has provided fodder for critics about the way Mr. Obama reviews intelligence. While the president receives an intelligence briefing in writing every day, he does not sit down with intelligence officials for an in-person briefing every day. To Republican opponents, that has become a symbol of inattentiveness to a dangerous world.
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When Mr. Bush took over, he decided to receive briefings in person every day, whether he was at the White House, on the road or at his ranch in Crawford, Tex. While he read more than most critics gave him credit for, Mr. Bush also valued the give-and-take interaction with intelligence officials – and not just an assigned briefer. He made clear to George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director held over from Mr. Clinton’s time, that he wanted him to attend as well. That later fell to the director of national intelligence once that position was created, later in his presidency.
The briefer would usually “tee up the piece,” explaining each item in the briefing and then hand it to Mr. Bush to read, Mr. Tenet wrote in his memoir, “At the Center of the Storm.” Mr. Bush would read it and then vigorously ask questions. “Sometimes he would start tossing out questions before getting to the bottom line,” Mr. Tenet wrote.
Following up on this, Marc Thiessen noted that Obama’s attendance at the PDB meetings was worse than even suggested by the NYT:
The Government Accountability Institute, a new conservative investigative research organization, examined President Obama’s schedule from the day he took office until mid-June 2012, to see how often he attended his Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) — the meeting at which he is briefed on the most critical intelligence threats to the country. During his first 1,225 days in office, Obama attended his PDB just 536 times — or 43.8 percent of the time. During 2011 and the first half of 2012, his attendance became even less frequent — falling to just over 38 percent. By contrast, Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush almost never missed his daily intelligence meeting.
Obama’s defense to this charge – like Clinton’s defense before him – is that he simply does not need to talk with intelligence officials because he reads the Presidential Daily Briefing every day scrupulously. Reading a document is fine as far as it goes but there simply is no substitute for personal interaction with the experts who can take the opportunity to underline what they consider to be critical information and offer themselves for real time feedback on any questions that this might raise.
Obama’s similarity to Clinton on this issue is not just stylistic. It is more evidence of the fact that however much they might howl and protest at the suggestion, Democrats do not take national security seriously:
Different presidents have chosen to receive the presidential daily briefing in different ways. Former President Bill Clinton preferred to read it and rarely met with the director of the C.I.A. Indeed, at one point when a small aircraft crashed on the South Lawn of the White House, some joked that it was R. James Woolsey, the C.I.A. director, trying to get an appointment.
Mr. Woolsey recalled those days during a panel discussion at George Mason University on Thursday. He said he never gave Mr. Clinton his intelligence briefing in person and had only one private meeting a year with the president. “We had very little access, frankly,” said Mr. Woolsey, who has become a leading critic of Mr. Clinton and other Democrats.
At this point there is no way for this particular leopard to change its spots. You simply cannot rise through the ranks of the modern Democrat party if the Democrat primary voters feel that you might be even a little bit a) pro-life or b) interested in the defense of America from foreign enemies. They can smell out these traits just the same way Republicans have come to be able to smell out secret tax hikers and the special interest groups that guide their electorate will stamp them out ruthlessly on the way to the White House.
The reason Obama underestimated ISIS is not that he wasn’t warned about the danger they pose. It is that he, like most other modern elected Democrats, did not consider the information important enough to care about.