including his high regard for the president on some fronts and his deep concern
about his leadership on others.
- By not pushing the Iraqi government harder to allow a
residual U.S. force to remain when troops withdrew in 2011, a deal he says
could have been negotiated with more effort. That “created a vacuum in
terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of
that vacuum that ISIS began to breed.” Islamic State also is known as ISIS
- By rejecting the advice of top aides — including Panetta
and then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — to begin arming Syrian
rebels in 2012. If the U.S. had done so, “I do think we would be in a
better position to kind of know whether or not there is some moderate element
in the rebel forces that are confronting (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.”
- By warning Assad not to use chemical weapons against his
own people, then failing to act when that “red line” was crossed in
2013. Before ordering airstrikes, Obama said he wanted to seek congressional
authorization, which predictably didn’t happen.
The reversal cost the United States credibility then and is complicating efforts to enlist international allies now to join a coalition against the Islamic State, Panetta says. “There’s a little question mark to, is the United States going to stick this out? Is the United States going to be there when we need them?”
In the book’s final chapter, however, he writes that Obama’s “most conspicuous weakness” is “a frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause.” Too often, he “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.” On occasion, he “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”
In the interview, Panetta says he thinks Obama “gets so discouraged by the process” that he sometimes stops fighting.