The White House has been forced onto the defense over President Obama’s claim that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been “contained” — a statement that came one day before the group carried out the deadliest massacre in France in a generation.
"We have contained them,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News that aired on Thursday. “I don’t think they’re gaining strength.”
The following day, a series of coordinated terror attacks killed 129 people across Paris in the country's deadliest episode since World War II.
The attacks forced the White House to defend the comments, which appeared to confirm critics’ suspicions that Obama has consistently underestimated ISIS. More than one year ago, Obama appeared to liken ISIS to al Qaeda’s “JV team” in a comment that has been repeatedly mocked by the president’s critics.
“The president was referring very specifically to the question of ISIL's geographic expansion in Iraq and Syria,” White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, using an alternate acronym for ISIS.
“They had been on the march in both Iraq and Syria for some time,” he added. “But starting a year ago, we were able to halt that expansion.”
Rhodes made his way onto multiple Sunday morning political talk shows with nearly identical comments to defend the Obama administration’s push against ISIS.
“It’s a very specific point the president was making,” Rhodes said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“The fact is we have been able to stop that geographic advance and take back significant amounts of territory in both Northern Iraq and Northern Syria,” he added on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
Obama’s comment is already coming back to haunt him on the GOP presidential campaign trail.
On Saturday, former executive Carly Fiorina accused Obama of taking a “victory lap” before the Paris attacks.
Even Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of State and the Democratic front-runner, broke with the president on Saturday, claiming during a presidential debate that ISIS “cannot be contained.”