In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CIA director John Brennan made a startling admission: The Islamic State was “decimated” under George W. Bush and had just “700-or-so adherents left” following the surge in Iraq. By the CIA’s own estimate in September 2014, ISIS has grown on Obama’s watch from to between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters. And now, it is likely there are many more.
Speaking at a Center for Strategic & International Studies forum Monday, Brennan called ISIS “an organization of murderous sociopaths” and said of the Paris attack, “I certainly would not consider it a one-off event. It is clear to me that ISIS has an external agenda and that they are determined to carry out these types of attacks.”
[ISIS] can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria … This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate, greater battlefield activity, and additional intelligence.
This means that, by the CIA’s own estimate, ISIS has grown on Obama’s watch from just 700 fighters to between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters. That is an increase of between 2,700 and 4,400 %.
Moreover, Brennan tacitly acknowledged that the Obama administration had underestimated the ISIS threat. At CSIS, Brennan declared that:
Not content to limiting its killing fields to Iraqi and Syrian lands, and to setting up local franchises in other countries of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, ISIL has developed an external operations agenda that is now implementing … with lethal effect.
That now obvious assessment directly contradicts the assessment of ISIS’ intent and capabilities delivered by Obama administration officials just one year ago.
In August 11 2014, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote in a White House blog post:
While both [al-Qaeda and the Islamic State] are terrorist forces, they have different ambitions. Al-Qaeda’s principal ambition is to launch attacks against the west and US homeland…Right now, ISIL’s primary focus is consolidating territory in the Middle East region to establish their own Islamic State. So they’re different organizations with different objectives.
And in an August 8, 2014 interview with CNN, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken declared that:
Unlike core al Qaeda, right now, their [ISIS’] focus is not on attacking the US homeland or attacking our interests here in the United States or abroad. It’s focused intently on trying to create a caliphate now in Iraq.
That was obviously wrong. The Obama administration failed to recognize that ISIS had developed the intent and capability to strike the West. It built its anti-ISIS strategy on a false premise – that ISIS was focused on building a caliphate in Iraq and Syria and not on carrying out external attacks against the US, its interests and its allies.
Yet Obama insists that, as he put it in Turkey yesterday, “The strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.”