Another day, another defection from a high-profile Democrat on President Obama’s approach to combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
And the latest apostasy must be particularly painful for the White House considering its source, Jimmy Carter, a former Democratic president who supported Obama over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.
While Carter has been critical of the president’s foreign policy in the past, it has generally been from the left, on issues like drone strikes and the National Security Agency’s data snooping.
But in a wide-ranging interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published Wednesday, the Democrat sounded like Obama’s Republican critics, saying the president has vacillated in responding to ISIS.
“First of all, we waited too long. We let the Islamic State build up its money, capability and strength and weapons while it was still in Syria,” Carter said.
But Carter didn’t stop there, launching into a broader critique of Obama’s foreign policy.
“President Obama, it’s been hard to figure out exactly what his policy is. It changes from time to time,” the former president said. “He’s been delayed. Sometimes he draws red lines in the sand on the Mideast and then when the time comes, he doesn’t go through with it.”
While Carter is considered a foreign policy dove, he made the decision in an election year to launch a daring rescue mission of American hostages held by Iran. The mission failed, contributing to Carter’s landslide loss against Ronald Reagan.
The list of Democrats who have spoken out against Obama’s handling of ISIS now include both living former Democratic presidents, both of his former secretaries of defense, and a possible future president and former secretary of state, not to mention several members of Congress.
On Tuesday, former Obama defense chief and ex-CIA director Leon Panetta released a new memoir that included scathing criticism of the president’s “failure” on ISIS. The White House has repeatedly said there will no “boots on the ground” to deal with ISIS, but Panetta said on msnbc that some ground troops will be needed.
Last month, Panetta’s predecessor at the Pentagon, Robert Gates, who wrote his own critical memoir in January, also said ground troops will be needed. “I think that by continuing to repeat that [the U.S. won't put boots on the ground], the president, in effect, traps himself,” Gates told CBS News.
Carter also agreed that the U.S. needs troops in Iraq. “You have to have somebody on the ground to direct our missiles and to be sure you have the right target ... Then you have to have somebody to move in and be willing to fight ISIS after the strikes.”
The other issue at stake here is whether the administration should have backed moderate Syrian rebels more than a year ago to combat ISIS.
Both former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is considering another run for the White House, have both said publicly that the administration’s failure to do so created a vacuum for ISIS to fill.
Elsewhere in the interview, Carter praised Obama and said that “a lot of [the criticism of the president] is based on racism.”
But with even Jimmy Carter now to the right of Obama, it will be hard for the White House to claim the attacks on his foreign policy are merely partisan point-scoring.