When the Obama Administration was blindsided by Maliki’s coup in Iraq last night, it was only the latest in a string of intelligence failures dating back to the founding of ISIS. As a probing report in the Wall Street Journal demonstrates, U.S. intelligence services have consistently failed to take the group’s measure since its formation:
The president acknowledged Saturday that U.S. spies and policy makers had underestimated the group, also known as ISIS and ISIL. “There is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates, and I think the expectations of policy makers both in and outside of Iraq,” he said.The inability of U.S. spy agencies to provide details about the timing of Islamic State offensives or their likelihood of success has touched off debate among U.S. national-security officials about whether intelligence on the group has been adequate.The struggle to understand the capabilities of the group reflects the difficulty of collecting detailed intelligence on its internal planning. “Collection is tough,” one senior U.S. official acknowledged.
These intelligence failures could be the result of operational problems, or the result of higher-level officials insulating the White House from bad news. Either way, the intelligence system is clearly broken—and either way, the buck stops on President Obama’s desk. Whether or not the Administration gets more deeply involved in the Middle East now, restoring a working intelligence system has to be a top priority.To some extent, the Journal‘s sources make clear, the intelligence failure in the Middle East is one more cost of the hasty withdrawal from Iraq:
A decline in U.S. spy resources after the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq in 2011 has limited American intelligence capability in the region. In some cases, intelligence officials have been frustrated by the Obama administration’s reluctance to get more involved in Iraq and Syria, current and former U.S. officials said.
From the Iraq withdrawal to our vacillations on the Syrian civl war and the “redline”, the U.S. has racked up a number of debts in the region that all seem to be coming due at once.