By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
President Barack Obama has consistently deceived the American people when called out on statements that he’s made in the past, but the media have not consistently reported on these often farcical inconsistencies. However, the President’s recent “evolution” regarding the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni militant group active in those countries that has been beheading kidnapped American journalists, has been so obvious that it could not fail to spark some media criticism. So, too, are the President’s contradictory comments on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And much, much more.
Back in January of this year, President Obama referred to ISIS as the junior varsity team and said, “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.” Now that ISIS is terrorizing Americans, not just Iraqis, the danger seems more imminent to the average citizen, and President Obama finds it politically necessary to deny ever downplaying the threat.
To that end, he recently sent out Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who contended in a press conference that “…the President was not singling out [ISIS], he was talking about the very different threat that is posed by a range of extremists around the globe.” One of those groups is Ansar al Sharia (AAS). State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki argued, also in January, that AAS is not an “official affiliate” of al Qaeda, despite the fact that its leadership has ties to al Qaeda and formerly to Osama bin Laden himself.
How useful are these distinctions, really, when all of these terrorist organizations are intent on killing Americans?
Earnest earned four Pinocchios from The Washington Post’s Fact Checker Glenn Kessler for “Spinning Obama’s reference to Islamic State as a ‘JV’ team.” It is clear from the exchange that the question posed was specifically about ISIS. David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker magazine conducted several interviews with the President, but this one was just days after ISIS took control of Fallujah in Iraq. Obama made the JV (Junior Varsity) reference (“…if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”), and then Remnick said, “But that JV team just took over Fallujah.” Obama replied, “I understand. But when you say took over Fallujah…let’s just keep in mind, Fallujah is a profoundly Sunni city…”
Yet again on Meet the Press on Sunday, September 7th, Chuck Todd raised the JV issue, asking the President if his use of the term JV to describe ISIS was “bad intelligence or your misjudgment?” Obama replied, “Keep, keep, keep in mind that I wasn’t specifically referring to ISIL.”
But the President’s and Earnest’s dissembling doesn’t end there. In early August, Josh Earnest said, “There are no military solutions to the very difficult problems that exist in Iraq now.” Then, on August 28, President Obama admitted on camera that he doesn’t “want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.”
America’s strategy against ISIS is clearly not transparent to President Obama himself. First, in early September, he spoke of “degrading and destroying” ISIS “so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States.” In the same speech, he said this: “Our objective is to make sure that [ISIS] is not an ongoing threat to the region.” Time magazine called this a “muddled vision.” It’s definitely a contradiction.
Containment and destruction are mutually exclusive actions. Which has the President chosen? Maybe we’ll find out this Wednesday when he speaks to the nation about his plans for ISIS.
In that same news conference the President spoke of “shrink[ing] [ISIS’s] sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem.” By September 5, the President’s messaging had evolved to this: “We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, in the same way we went after Al Qaeda” and “you can’t contain an organization [like ISIS]. The goal has to be to dismantle them.” Business Insider ran his new comments under the headline, “Obama Just Completely Changed His Tune On ISIS.”
It turns out that Obama’s strategy to dismantle ISIS will last three years, according to The New York Times. The Times reports, “The final, toughest and most politically controversial phase of the operation—destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria—might not be completed until the next administration. Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months.”
This reveals that President Obama is kicking the can down the road to another administration, just as he seems fond of delaying action after action until after the next election, so that the votes of informed citizens cannot actually reflect his policies.
Given that Josh Earnest won’t admit on camera that the President’s policy toward ISIS has even evolved over time as the threat was more fully comprehended—an understandable administration mistake—it seems apparent to all that President Obama won’t admit his faults publicly. Is he capable of learning from his flaws, even when the mainstream media are calling him out on his past mistakes?
Optics must trump everything this election season, and the President is concerned about the health of his Democratic Party. So are the media.
Remember how Obamacare regulations were pushed back past the elections in 2012? “The bottled-up rules to set up President Barack Obama’s health care reform law are going to start flowing quickly right after Election Day,” reported Politico on November 5, 2012. And thirty-something times, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. Period,” which earned the President PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year. But when later challenged on this once it had become obvious that it wasn’t true, the President changed his tune, saying, “What we said was, you can keep (your plan) if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.” The only problem was, that word “if” wasn’t stated in the earlier promises.
Political expedience trumps everything.
Similarly, Obama has announced that he won’t use executive action on immigration until after the elections in November. He had promised—or threatened—to do so in late summer. The New York Times wrote on September 8th that “What had once looked like a clear political imperative for both parties—action to grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants—had morphed instead into what appeared to be a risky move that could cost Democrats their majority in the November midterm congressional elections.”
“I want to spend some time, even as we’re getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we’re doing this, why it’s the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy,” President Obama disingenuously commented on NBC’s Meet the Press this past weekend. Such a sensitive issue as immigration should be discussed in the halls of Congress, not executed by presidential fiat.
As with immigration, the employer mandate in Obamacare, and the Keystone pipeline, Obama has also pushed the deadline for a deal with Iran on their nuclear program past the November election. The original six-month interim agreement reached in January of this year was extended for four months to, you guessed it, just past the November election. At the same time, Obama and Kerry agreed to release an additional $2.8 billion of frozen Iranian assets, and two people who had previously worked for Obama on this very issue, blasted the move. Dennis Ross, President Obama’s former adviser on Iran, said the delay “marks a significant but predictable failure for President Obama’s befuddling strategy of seeking diplomatic success through reduction of leverage—by eschewing tougher sanctions and a credible military option.”
Accuracy in Media has also reported on President Obama’s refusal to label the invasion of Ukraine an “invasion,” for political reasons. When asked outright on August 28th whether this was an invasion, President Obama said, “I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now.”
Then, due to political pressure, he upgraded it in September to “a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine—a sovereign and independent European nation,” and said that it “undermines an international order where the rights of peoples and nations are upheld and can’t simply be taken away by brute force.” The word invasion still doesn’t appear in those comments. The Guardian also reports that he “was careful not to say that NATO should become militarily engaged in the conflict” between Ukraine and Russia.
There are crises at hand, but the President is still busy mincing his words. Obama is certainly not the first president to put politics above principle, or to brazenly lie to the American people, but to do both so often and so transparently is, it seems, unprecedented.