Unless ISIS somehow turns out to be a flash-in-the-pan terrorist outfit, there’s a good chance that the signature statement of Barack Obama’s presidency will be his characterization of ISIS as “the jayvee.” To avoid this stain, Obama’s new press secretary, Josh Earnest, has been assigned to explain the statement away.
Earnest argued that when Obama referred to local terrorists groups as “the jayvee,” he wasn’t singling out ISIS. Here is the exchange in which Earnest made this claim:
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC: Did the president underestimate ISIS when he referred to them in an interview only a couple months ago as a JV squad and making a reference to National Basketball Association basketball teams like the Lakers?
JOSH EARNEST: Well, I thought somebody might ask this question today so I wanted to pull the transcript of the interview because it’s important to understand the context in which this was delivered. So let me just read the full quote and then we can talk about it just a little bit. The president said quote:
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.
So the president was not singling out ISIL [ISIS], he was talking about the very different threat that is posed by a range of extremists around the globe. Many of them do not have designs on attacking the West or attacking the United States, and that is what puts them in stark contrast to the goals and capability of the previously existing al Qaeda core network that was let by Osama bin Laden.
Earnest is not telling the truth. As Peter Wehner shows, Obama was, in fact, referring to ISIS when he derided jihadists engaged in local power struggles.
This becomes clear once we refer to the comment by the New Yorker’s David Remnick that prompted Obama’s now infamous comment. Here is Remnick’s account:
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 Falluja, 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.
Obama then discussed Fallujah specifically:
“Let’s just keep in mind, Falluja is a profoundly conservative Sunni city in a country that, independent of anything we do, is deeply divided along sectarian lines. And how we think about terrorism has to be defined and specific enough that it doesn’t lead us to think that any horrible actions that take place around the world that are motivated in part by an extremist Islamic ideology are a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.”
Thus, when Obama characterized “local jihadists” as the jayvee, he plainly had in mind the group that planted the al Qaeda flag in Fallujah.
Which group had planted al Qaeda’s flag in Fallujah? That would be ISIS.
The New York Times reported on January 3, 2014:
Black-clad Sunni militants of Al Qaeda destroyed the Falluja Police Headquarters and mayor’s office, planted their flag atop other government buildings and decreed the western Iraqi city to be their new independent state on Friday in an escalating threat to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose forces were struggling to retake control late into the night.
The advances by the militants — members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — came after days of fighting in Falluja, Ramadi and other areas of Anbar Province.
As Wehner concludes:
There is therefore only one possible interpretation: the president had ISIS/ISIL in mind when he made his “jayvee” reference. And there’s only one possible conclusion about what Mr. Earnest said: It’s false. He’s distorting the truth in order to exonerate his boss, the president, from having made a statement that was deeply and dangerously misinformed.
There is no getting around it. And given what ISIS has since achieved — plus the administration’s recent concession that ISIS has designs on attacking the U.S. — Obama’s “jayvee” comment will probably become the tag line of his presidency, in something like the way “Mission Accomplished” is President Bush’s.
There’s this difference, though. “Mission Accomplished” was a banner made for a military unit that had, in fact, accomplished its mission and was arriving home. Bush stood under the banner.
The jayvee analogy is something the oh-so-clever, oh-so-cool Obama professed himself. It makes the man some used to call our “smartest president” look criminally foolish.