The unfolding sectarian violence in Iraq is just the latest crisis where the Obama administration seemingly has been caught off guard. From the Veterans Affairs scandal to Russia’s swift annexation of Crimea, news of the world somehow keeps taking the commander-in-chief and his team by surprise.
The following is a refresher of major domestic and foreign policy developments that, apparently, were news to the White House.
1. Islamist militants gaining in Iraq
The New Yorker (1/27/2014): “In the 2012 campaign, Obama spoke not only of killing Osama bin Laden; he also said that Al Qaeda had been ‘decimated.’ I pointed out that the flag of Al Qaeda is now flying in Fallujah, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria; Al Qaeda has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too.
‘The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,’ Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy. ‘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.'”
The Wall Street Journal (6/11/2014): Iraq Drama Catches US Off Guard
2. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine
Politico.com (3/4/14): “A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Obama was satisfied with the intelligence he received on Russian intentions in Ukraine. But spokesmen for the U.S. intelligence community defended its work.
The Central Intelligence Agency says it’s always noted the possibility of aggressive military action.
‘Prior to and throughout the situation in Ukraine, the intelligence community has provided timely and valuable information that has helped policy makers understand the situation on the ground and make informed decisions. That continues to be the case today,’ said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. ‘Any suggestion that there were intelligence shortcomings related to the situation in Ukraine are uninformed and misleading.’
… While officials appear to disagree about the insights offered by U.S. intelligence, it’s beyond dispute that a lot of public commentary pundits offered as the Ukraine crisis unfolded was less than clairvoyant.”
3. NSA spying on foreign leaders
Wall Street Journal (10/28/2013): “Obama was unaware for the last 5 years, the NSA had been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other members of world leaders. Only after an internal Obama administration review in 2013 did the White House know of the spying.”
President Obama news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan (5/16/2013): “I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the I.G. report before the I.G. report had been leaked through press — through the press.”
4. VA waiting list scandal
Jay Carney during a White House press briefing (5/19/2014):
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: “When was the president first made aware of these problems? Of these fraudulent lists that were being kept to hide the wait times, when was he first made aware of those problems? And when did other White House officials, top White House officials, become aware of these problems?”
JAY CARNEY: “When you say these problems, the fact that there have been bureaucracies –”
ACOSTA: “The delays have been known for some time.”
CARNEY: “You mean the specific allegations that I think were reported first by your news network out of Phoenix, I believe. We learned about them through the reports. I will double check if that is not the case. But that is when we learned about them and that is when I understand Secretary Shinseki learned about them, and he immediately took the action that he has taken.”
5. IRS targeting scandal
President Obama in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Cameron (May 13, 2013): “Well, let me take the IRS situation first. I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday.”
6. HealthCare.gov failing
Remarks by President Obama on HealthCare.gov (10/21/2013): “Of course, you’ve probably heard that HealthCare.gov — the new website where people can apply for health insurance and browse and buy affordable plans in most states — hasn’t worked as smoothly as it was supposed to work. And the number of people who visit the site has been overwhelming which has aggravated some of these underlying problems.”
Jay Carney during a White House press briefing (10/23/2013): “While we knew that there would be some glitches and actually said publicly that we expected some problems, we did not know until the problems manifested themselves after the launch that they would be as significant as they have turned out to be.”
7. DOJ obtaining AP phone records
Jay Carney during a White House press briefing (5/14/2013):
QUESTION: “When did the president find out about the Department of Justice’s subpoenas for the Associated Press?”
CARNEY: “Yesterday. Let me just be clear. We don’t have any independent knowledge of that. He found out about the news reports yesterday on the road.”
QUESTION: “What was his reaction to that? Does he believe that this was an overreach?”
CARNEY: “All I can tell you is that I cannot and he cannot comment specifically on an ongoing criminal investigation or actions that investigators at the Department of Justice may or may not have taken. It would be wholly inappropriate. And if we did comment on it, or if we did have insight into it, you would appropriately ask why and is that correct procedure, because it would not be.”
8. Fast and Furious scandal
Jay Carney during a White House press briefing (6/27/2012): “The president did not know about this tactic until he heard about it through the media; the attorney general did not know about it.”
9. Air Force One flyover in Manhattan
President Obama during media availability on arrival at FBI headquarters (4/28/2009):
QUESTION: “Sir, what do think of the Air Force One incident –”
THE PRESIDENT: “No — no questions –”
QUESTION: “– over New York City yesterday, sir?”
QUESTION: “Are you concerned about New York City yesterday, sir, with the Air Force plane?”
THE PRESIDENT: “It was a mistake, as was — as was stated. It was something we found out about along with all of you and it will not happen again. Thank you.”