President Obama scrambled to denounce any effort to influence analysts. “As a consumer of this intelligence, it’s not as if I’ve been receiving wonderfully rosy, glowing portraits of what’s been happening in Iraq and Syria over the last year and a half,” he said Sunday. “[I]t feels to me like, at my level at least, we’ve had a pretty clear-eyed, sober assessment.” But wait. Hasn’t he been telling us that the Islamic State was “contained”? One can see why analysts just might get the idea the president does not want to hear news his policy is failing. He insists his policy is working, despite ample evidence.
We already know how an administration’s tone can influence underlings. (The Internal Revenue Service employees certainly thought their hyper-partisan investigation of conservative groups was just what a hyper-partisan White House wanted.) In the case of national security, the president could not have been more clear in playing down the threat. He was ending wars. Al-Qaeda was on the run. The Islamic State was the jayvee team. And we know from the talking points drafted by deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes that just after the attack on Benghazi, the immediate reaction was to embrace an explanation of the attacks that did not undermine his narrative that al-Qaeda was on the run. We had the Islamic State contained. It did not take an explicit e-mail for underlings to get the message, but if there really was such a specific directive, it will require an independent investigation as to its origin.
The emerging picture is one of a president so ideologically whetted to being the not-Bush, so determined to show he had ended the real threat from Islamist jihadists, so insistent that the prior administration had overreacted to the threat of Islamist terrorism that his administration repeatedly ignored and played down threats, refusing refused to recognize the leading-from-behind strategy of minimalist action was failing. Not even the latest attack has jarred the president. But it has shaken the American people who, whether they think Obama has been dishonest or merely clueless, no longer believes he is fulfilling his most important obligation to keep Americans safe.