President Barack Obama admitted in an interview set to air Wednesday evening that he was caught off guard by the rise of the Islamic State in 2014.
"Let me ask you if it’s possible in your position to be completely honest and say the rise of the Islamic State surprised you, it took you by surprise, it took the administration by surprise," CNN's Fareed Zakaria asked the outgoing president.
Obama admitted: "The ability of ISIL to initiate major land offensives that took Mosul, for example, that was not on my intelligence radar screen."
In the last weeks of his eight-year stint in the White House, the president told Zakaria that the situation in the Middle East — and his legacy that surrounds it — still haunts him.
— Fareed Zakaria (@FareedZakaria) December 7, 2016
However, Obama contends that the decisions he made in the region were the best he could come up with in a time when there really were no good options. He said avoiding a large-scale ground conflict in Syria "is the smartest decision from a menu of bad options that were available to us."
Though Obama was careful to take direct blame for the intelligence failure, the fact that it was a surprise is not a new revelation. During a 2014 appearance on CBS' "60 Minutes," the commander in chief said, "[Director of National Intelligence James Clapper] has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria."
Obama ran for president in 2008 vowing to completely scale back the United States' large-scale troop deployments in Iraq and Syria, and in 2012, he fulfilled that promise.
Despite a war-weary America, President-elect Donald Trump used Obama's full troop withdrawal as a campaign talking point, referring to the president as the "founder of ISIS." The billionaire businessman said Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state in the Obama White House, left a power vacuum in Iraq that allowed the Islamic State to flourish.
It is worth noting, however, that retired Gen. David Petraeus, Obama's former CIA director and a reported candidate for secretary of state in the Trump administration, isn't convinced maintaining a military presence would have made any difference regarding the Islamic State.
"I don't know whether 10,000 troops would have given us the leverage. I suspect it might not have. But I would have liked to have tested the proposition," Petraeus told CNN.