Panetta slams Obama on ISIS response

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says that decisions from President Obama have made the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) more difficult.

In a USA Today interview published Monday, Panetta outlined several actions in particular — including not pushing the Iraqi government harder to allow a residual U.S. force to remain when troops withdrew in 2011 — that he said "created a vacuum" where ISIS began to breed.

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Another call Panetta cited was warning Syrian leader Bashar Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people, then failing to act when the "red line" was crossed in 2013.

That is complicating efforts to enlist an international coalition against ISIS, Panetta said.

"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?" he said.

The president also rejected the advice of top aides — including Panetta and then-Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Majority of Democratic voters happy with their choices among 2020 contenders No presidential candidate can unite the country GOP lawmakers speak out against 'send her back' chants MORE — to begin arming Syrian rebels in 2012.

"I think we're looking at kind of a 30-year war" that will have to extend beyond ISIS to include emerging threats in Nigeria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere, Panetta said.

Panetta said in the interview — his first about his new book, Worthy Fights — that showing leadership in the fight against ISIS is a chance for the president to get a fresh start after having "lost his way."

"He may have found himself again with regards to this ISIS crisis. I hope that's the case," he said.

The White House rejected Panetta's criticism on Monday.

"The president has demonstrated, I think, in a rather public fashion over the last several weeks his success in leading the international community to confront some of the very difficult challenges of our time," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

"Time and time again, we have seen the president use that position to lead the international community and ensure that we are making the world a better place in a way that also furthers the core interests of American national security," he added. "The president is proud of the record of leadership that he’s demonstrated."