Fox News Channel's James Rosen questioned WH spokesman Josh Earnest about where responsibility for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria lies, an issue which could be vital in the 2016 election.
Rosen dissects a statement Obama made at a G-7 press conference last week in Germany, where the president said, supporting moderate Sunni tribal groups "is part of what helped defeat AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq]... during the Iraq war." Obviously, if the president admits that AQI was defeated in the Iraq War, then "the rise of ISIS happened entirely under his watch" reasons Rosen.
Josh Earnest defends the president's strategy.
JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: The president during his G-7 news conference in Germany last week spoke of his desire to get the Sunni tribes involved more rapidly [with the war on ISIS].
He then said "this is part of what helped defeat AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq]... during the Iraq war."
I was struck by hearing the president talk about the defeat of AQI, 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 happened entirely under his watch. And is something for which he should accept responsibility.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: The reason that that is not the way we see this, James, is there is no doubt-- There are a couple of important facts here. AQI didn't exist until the U.S. invaded Iraq in the first place under the leadership of the previous administrations. What is also true is that out of the defeated remnants of AQI sprang ISIL.
And the primary responsibility for that actually lies at the feet of Prime Minster Maliki, who failed to govern Iraq and in inclusive way.
And 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 rapid gains across the countryside.
And that is why we believe that the lynchpin of the strategy is a genuine commitment on the part of the central Iraqi government to unite and govern in a multi-sectarian and inclusive fashion, and to assemble a security force that will govern the country in the same way.
JAMES ROSEN: 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 swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, this was chiefly the fault of al-Maliki and Barack Obama bears no responsibility whatsoever?
JOSH EARNEST: The Iraqi government and security forces have to responsible for their own country, and the U.S. is certainly ready to partner with them as they try to take on that difficult task... But ultimately in the mind of the president, it is clearly in the best interest of the U.S., our citizens, and our interests for the Iraqi people and central government to take responsibility for their own country.