It's Hard to Keep Up With ISIS When the President Plays Hooky From Intelligence Briefings


President Obama
White House

"Either the president doesn't read the intelligence he's getting or he's bullshitting," a former Pentagon official said of President Obama after the gormless chief executive tried to pass the buck to the intelligence community for underestimating ISIS. But the president likely isn't full of shit—he's playing hooky from his intelligence briefings. According to the latest report from the conservative Government Accountability Institute, President Obama has an overall 42.09 percent attendance rate at his Presidential Daily Briefs. This year (marking the rise of a certain troubling organization/new shithole country) the rate has been 37.5 percent.

President Obama's low attendance at his briefings raised eyebrows in the past. In the Washington Post, Marc Thiessen raised "where in the world is Barry" questions about the president's absence in 2012. By contrast, noted Thiessen, President George W. Bush "held his intelligence meeting six days a week, no exceptions."

The White House responded that the president reads his briefs on his tablet whether or not he attends the meetings, so that he stays up to speed on the big issues. The intelligence community doesn't seem convinced, though, as indicated by the "bulllshitting" comment. Maybe skimming a document isn't the equivalent of listening to experts emphasize the highlights.

Of course, being informed about what's going on is different than using the information effectively. The second President Bush reportedly had a month's notice that Osama Bin Laden planned to hijack airplanes, but that didn't prevent 9/11. Good information and good judgment don't necessarily go hand in hand, and this president, like the last, has plenty of lousy decisionmaking to share across the policy spectrum.

Being informed doesn't necessarily imply a specific response, either. Knowing about ISIS does not inevitably lead to a decision to wage all out war in the Middle East, as the hawkish likes of John McCain imply

But if it's true that the briefings contained warnings about ISIS that just got missed because the president didn't make it to class or do his homework, throwing the bearers of ignored news under the bus is an exercise in lousy judgment.