President Barack Obama, in an interview earlier this year with New Yorker editor David Remnick, offered an unfortunate comparison. “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate,” the president said, “is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”
The president’s jayvee jihadists were the Islamic State militants.
Remnick called the analogy “uncharacteristically flip.” After all, the group’s flag then flew over Fallujah.
Today, the Islamic State boasts a net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars, a cadre of battle-hardened fighters that dwarfs the membership of core al Qaeda and an international following large enough to support a brick-and-mortar gift shop in Turkey.
Somewhere along the line, these insurgents went professional. The CIA and the administration promptly took fire for failing to see it coming. But is that criticism fair? Was the sudden rise of the Islamic State insurgents, to use a loaded term, an “intelligence failure?”
Well no, it wasn’t. In fact, we have known, and continue to know, a great deal about the Islamic State extremists. Its well-documented blitzkrieg in early June, when it was known as the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant, has been a goldmine for journalism’s infographic industry. For all that we know about the group, though, we don’t have a comprehensive strategy to counter it.