The CIA’s former deputy director issued a scathing criticism of America’s policy in Syria and the fight against ISIS, telling CNN’s Christiane Amanpour he does not have much confidence it will succeed.
“It’s not that it’s too late, Christiane, it’s that it’s too little,” Michael Morell said.
“We need to train ground troops in very large numbers if we’re going to be able to take back territory from ISIS in Syria.”
He said that the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq, by contrast, has been very successful, taking back about 25% of the territory ISIS seized last year.
“I am confident in our Iraqi strategy. We have air power and we have ground troops in the form of the Iraqi military, the Kurdish military, and Iranian-trained Shiite militia.”
But without an equally robust campaign in Syria, he said, ISIS will not be defeated.
“What I fear is that we’re going to be successful in Iraq – we’re going to have a hammer in Iraq – but no anvil in Syria. So the ISIS guys are just going to go across the border into Syria, and they’re going to have a safe haven in eastern Syrian, where they are going to be able to continue to plot, and that plotting will include plotting against us.”
In a book released this week, “The Great War of Our Time,” Morell admits that the CIA fumbled in its attempt to predict the Arab Spring.
“We failed,” he writes, “because to a large extent we were relying on a handful of strong leaders in the counties of concern to help us understand what was going on in the Arab street” – the very leaders who were deposed partly because the populace thought they were out of touch with the sentiment on the streets.
Even once the Arab Spring got underway, he told Amanpour, the agency believed that it would be a positive development in the fight against terrorism.
“We said we think this is going to undercut al Qaeda; we think this is going to undercut their narrative that it takes violence to bring political change. And that turned out to be wrong.”
“The Arab Spring was really a spring for al Qaeda.”
It not only “destroyed institutions that were capable of keeping a handle on them,” he said, it “undercut the willingness of some Arab countries to take on extremism.”