On Tuesday, in an interview with television talk show host Charlie Rose, former CIA director Mike Morrell revealed the decision making processes that were undertaken by the Obama administration while Morrell was serving as a chief adviser to the president. The revelations from the interview provides a clear picture of the reasons given for decisions made in the fight against ISIS. The entire interview can be seen here.
Rose began his interview summarizing the latest relevant news, from the State Department’s global travel alert, the Russian plane shot down by Turkey, and President Obama’s meeting with President Hollande. Rose then asked Morrell, “Where do we stand after Paris?”
“So, Paris was obviously a very significant event,” Morell said. “I think it’s a game changer…before Paris we had a strategy that…would take a number of years to show success…Because of Paris is that it’s no longer acceptable for this to take years. We now face a time dimension that we didn’t face before. We can’t take years because there’ll be further attacks in Europe and possibly in the United States. So there’s now a sense of urgency that there wasn’t before.”
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Rose then asked Morell, “What’s the offensive component?” Morrell replied, “We’ve learned two key lessons in the fight against Al Qaeda…Number one is you have to take away their safe haven…the other is to put pressure on their leadership. Best case to remove their leadership. Worst case to make them think about their security every day rather than doing their job which is plotting attacks.”
Morrell explained that what the president meant when he said that ISIS was contained was that the territory that ISIS controls has been shrunk by 25% and that ISIS has every characteristic of a state. ISIS has their own police force, their own government, their own military, tax collection, their own healthcare system, and their own charitable organizations but that they just don’t have the recognition as a state from foreign governments. Rose intimated that the people are living in harsh conditions. “Absolutely, people are not happy living under this North Korean style,” of daily life. Morrell stated that ISIS created an atmosphere where there is “no corruption.” If a citizen breaks the law, he said, they know the consequences.
Morell stated that Obama needs to have a conversation with his staff and ask them two questions. “The first question is what would our policy towards ISIS be the day after a Paris-style attack in New York or in Washington? And then the second question is OK, if that’s different from what our policy is today, and I think it would be, I think the American people would demand that it be different, um, why isn’t that our policy today?”
Morrell told Rose that Obama’s concern for environmental hazards and damage to the environment were the perceived reasons why Obama did not allow oil wells to be bombed. Stating that he’s not in the situation room any longer but in reflection on Obama policies, Morrell said, “Prior to Paris…there seemed to have been a judgement that look we don’t want to destroy these oil tankers because that’s infrastructure that’s going to be necessary to support the people when ISIS isn’t there anymore and it’s going to create environmental damage. And we didn’t go after oil wells. We didn’t actually hit any oil wells that ISIS controls because we didn’t want to do environmental damage and we didn’t want to destroy that infrastructure…So, now we’re hitting oil in trucks…Maybe you get to the point where you say we have to hit oil wells. So those are the kind of tough decisions you have to make.”
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Rose asked Morrell if he thinks the rules of engagement are too restrictive and he responded, “Yeah. I think so.”