The White House on Wednesday dismissed criticism leveled by former President Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterBiden: Between a rocket and a hard place? Dealing with Iran: Will Joe Biden be the new Jimmy Carter? G. Gordon Liddy, central figure in Watergate scandal, dies at 90 MORE, who said the U.S. "waited too long" to go after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ADVERTISEMENT

"The president has responded to that criticism a number of times," press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

ADVERTISEMENT
In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Carter said the U.S. allowed ISIS to "build up its money, capability and strength and weapons while it was still in Syria."

"Then when [ISIS] moved into Iraq, the Sunni Muslims didn't object to their being there and about a third of the territory in Iraq was abandoned," he said.

But Earnest maintained that proposals to arm the Syrian opposition sooner, which is battling both the terror network and Syrian President Bashar Assad, would have left the U.S. in danger.

"It certainly would put the United States at risk, because those weapons could pretty easily fall into the wrong hands if we didn't know who we were giving them to," Earnest said.

Moreover, the press secretary said, "it is far-fetched to suggest that giving weapons to untrained, unvetted, unorganized groups of individuals in the hopes that they would succeed in overthrowing the Assad regime that was backed by a sophisticated, modern Russian military and was supported by Hezbollah fighters."

"Is it worth the risk of supplying weapons to large groups of individuals that you don't know in Syria?" Earnest asked. "That seems like a relatively high risk, even to an uninformed or at least inexperienced observer like me."

Carter also suggested the U.S. should deploy ground troops to assist U.S. airstrikes, something Obama has ruled out.

"You have to have somebody on the ground to direct our missiles and to be sure you have the right target," Carter said. "Then you have to have somebody to move in and be willing to fight ISIS after the strikes."

Earnest conceded Wednesday that the decision not to deploy U.S. ground troops "limits our capabilities in this region."

But, Earnest said, the U.S. was "confident" that opposition fighters now being trained and equipped by the Pentagon could become more effective.

"That will have an impact on the battlefield, and that’s certainly not something that was contemplated three years ago," Earnest said.