Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf complained recently about the “crazy” responses she received after she said that one way to fight ISIS is to ensure job opportunities for would-be terrorists.
During a Q&A period at an HBCU foreign policy conference Harf was asked what she considers her biggest professional gaffe or mistake.
“I did a cable interview on ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’ a few weeks ago where I said something that, to me, was totally uncontroversial,” Harf began.
She was referencing a Feb. 16 show in which she said of the bloodthirsty ISIS: “We cannot win this war by killing them. We need…to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether…”
Matthews pushed back on that argument, saying “we’re not going to be able to stop that in our lifetime or fifty lifetimes. There’s always going to be poor people. There’s always going to be poor Muslims, and as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet’s blowing and they’ll join. We can’t stop that, can we?”
Harf’s suggestion sparked immediate ridicule. Her critics argued that she was downplaying the role of ISIS terrorists’ Islamic faith. They also pointed out that many ISIS leaders come from wealthy families. The Twitter hashtag #JobsForISIS was also created.
But Harf aggressively defended her comments days after she made them, saying that her position was “too nuanced” for some of her critics to grasp.
She also defended the comments at the HBCU event, which was held March 6 at the State Department.
“I’ve heard the president say it, I heard military commanders,” she said during the session, video of which was posted online earlier this week.
“I mean, sometimes when I leave an interview I know if I’ve gone a little too far,” Harf continued. “I left this interview, I went to dinner with my dad, he was in town. Thought nothing of it. And it exploded. It exploded on Twitter…it exploded on cable news.”
She also cautioned her audience to avoid looking at Twitter.
“And in the span of a week people were going back and getting my college thesis and posting it online. They were crazy, right?” Harf continued, referencing a story first reported by The Daily Caller’s Patrick Howley. (RELATED: Marie Harf Wrote Thesis On How Conservative Support For Israel Complicates US Foreign Policy)
Harf’s master’s thesis at Indiana University was on how “conservative evangelical support for Israel complicates U.S. foreign policy.”
TheDC’s Howley wrote that Harf’s thesis provides important background context given the Obama administration’s chilly relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Harf also spoke to what she believes is the underlying reason she received so much backlash for her remarks.
“I had people tweeting the meanest things you can imagine,” Harf said. “And it’s not based on what I said, most of it. It’s often based on how I look, or how old I am, or that I’m a woman, which makes it even worse. People were calling my parents at home, I mean this is crazy, right?”
Harf went on to say that she did not consider her ISIS remarks to be a mistake or a gaffe. Not anticipating the response to those remarks was her true mistake.
“But it’s instructive,” she said. “It makes you very careful when you say things.”