White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the "primary responsibility" for the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq lay on the shoulders of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Wednesday, not President Obama.
Fox News correspondent James Rosen quoted President Obama's remarks at the G-7 summit in Germany about getting Sunni tribes in Iraq involved more rapidly in the fight against IS, saying, "This is part of what helped defeat AQI–the precursor of ISIL–during the Iraq War in 2006."
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"I was struck by hearing the president refer to the defeat of AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq], because that suggests to me that he is quite aware that AQI, as a precursor of ISIL, was defeated, and therefore that the rise of ISIS is something that's entirely on his watch and something for which he should accept responsibility," Rosen said.
Earnest, not surprisingly, took exception to that view, pointing to the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq before shifting blame to al-Maliki.
"Out of the remnants of the defeated AQI sprang ISIL," Earnest said. "The primary responsibility for that actually lies at the feet of Prime Minister Maliki, who failed to govern Iraq in an inclusive way, but rather, because of his failed leadership, allowed sectarian divisions to emerge and weaken that country and create an environment where ISIL was able to make surprising and significant gains across the countryside."
The rise of IS has plagued the region for a year, and Obama has long sought to shake off responsibility. After constantly touting ending the Iraq War in his re-election campaign in 2012, Obama tried to make it seem last August as if he had no choice but to withdraw troops after no Status of Forces Agreement could be reached.
Obama called it a "decision made by the Iraqi government" to not want residual U.S. forces to stay behind, but he argued the point with Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 that it was clearly his choice to bring all troops home. Since then, Iraq has devolved into chaos and violence.
Rosen reminded Earnest of Obama's underestimation of IS as a "JV team" in his follow-up question.
"So as the group that the president disparaged as a junior varsity team rose up from a defeated AQI and gathered enough strength to be able to take over huge swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, this was chiefly the fault of al-Maliki and Barack Obama bears no responsibility whatsoever?" Rosen asked.
"Well, James, I think the point is the Iraqi people, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces have to be responsible for the security situation in their own country," Earnest said.