Hillary Clinton defended President Obama’s infamous comparison of ISIS to a “jayvee” basketball team on Thursday, saying during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations that she does not “think it’s useful to go back and replow old ground.”
Asked by event host Fareed Zakaria if she believed Obama had made a mistake when he downplayed ISIS’ threat during an interview in Jan. 2014 for The New Yorker, Clinton demurred.
“I think that from the perspective of what they had accomplished at that time, even though they had seized and held territory, the major focus of our government was on trying to remove Assad from power,” Clinton said, referring to Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president.
“There were so many groups fighting, and there were so many other factors at work,” Clinton continued, adding that she believes that ISIS is “now expanding their reach so they can keep their propaganda going.”
“So I think there has been an evolution in their threat, and we have to meet it.”
Obama has been heavily criticized for the “jayvee” comparison, which was seen as part of an effort by Obama to defend his decision to remove U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.
“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 told The New Yorker’s David Remnick.
Those remarks soon came back to haunt Obama as ISIS ramped up its brutal campaign to form a caliphate in the Middle East. The group carried out numerous high-profile beheadings of Americans and other Westerners beginning last summer. It was also behind last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris. ISIS has also claimed responsibility for bombing a Russian airliner over the Sinai peninsula on Oct. 31. The Paris attacks left 132 dead while the attack on the Russian plane killed 224.
While Obama has since avoided using crude sports comparisons to describe ISIS, he has still sought to downplay the terrorist group’s threat, both publicly and privately.
Just hours before the Paris attack, Obama claimed that ISIS had been “contained.” And on Wednesday, The New York Times cited a 2012 report from the United States Defense Intelligence Agency noting the rise of radical jihadists in Syria.
But that report was “disregarded by the White House,” Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the former head of the defense agency, told The Times.
“It was disregarded by other elements in the intelligence community as a one-off report. Frankly, at the White House, it didn’t meet the narrative.”
And in September, The Daily Beast reported that 50 U.S. intelligence analysts have expressed concern that U.S. Central Command and the Defense Department have manipulated intelligence to fit the public narrative that ISIS is being defeated.
During her speech Thursday, Clinton reiterated her call for a “no-fly” zone over parts of Syria. She also said that a U.S.-led coalition must empower Iraqi forces to engage in the fight against ISIS. She also called on Turkey to focus its efforts on fighting the terrorist group rather than the Kurds.