OTR Interviews

Former US ambassador to Iraq: Current actions against ISIS a 'recipe for the status quo'

Former US ambassador to the Iraq the latest to say Pres. Obama could have acted on the Islamic militants much earlier


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 29, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Did President Obama just flat-out ignore warnings about ISIS? Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, says everyone warned the Obama administration about ISIS and that they did almost nothing.

And just today, an ISIS massacre of 30 Iraqis in a town west of Baghdad. And then here at home, new fears of lone-wolf attacks here in the United States.

So could all of this have been avoided if President Obama had just paid more attention? Ambassador Jeffrey joins us. Good evening, sir.

JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Thank you for having me on, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did I correctly quote you that the Obama administration was warned?

JEFFREY: You correctly quoted me.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how were they warned?

JEFFREY: They were warned both by their experts on Iraq as late or as early as November and December of last year by various intelligence reports. Most of all, when the town of Fallujah, iconic town for the U.S. military, because we lost some people liberating it back in 2004, when that fell, it was very clear that ISIS was not another Islamic terrorist group, but a threat to the very stability of the Middle East. For months, we did almost nothing, until June.

VAN SUSTEREN: That was even more painful because that happened late December and January. That, of course, is when the President Obama quoted in the New Yorker ISIS was J.V. Anything but J.V., right?

JEFFREY: They're not J.V. any longer.


VAN SUSTEREN: You were the ambassador of Iraq. You have been all over the world for the United States government. Is ISIS different from anybody else many other groups?

JEFFREY: Really good question. ISIS has things in common with many of these Islamic radical groups that we have seen pop up over decades, particularly since the 1970s, in the region. Iran is another kind of manifestation of this sort of Islamic transcendental religious movement. But ISIS is different because they know no rules. They don't try to adapt to the modern world. They are basically an alternative universe organization of society and man and woman. We need to stop these guys because they are dangerous.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you think if the Obama administration was warned last -- December, for instance, why did they not take more action or why did the president call it J.V., if you know?

JEFFREY: I think, first of all, the president has quite successful fighting the parent organization, the mother ship, al Qaeda, with the killing of Usama bin Laden and other actions in Yemen and elsewhere. And I think that he does have the pivot to the Pacific. In the long run, that's where most of the world's trade and most of the world's economic development will come from.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can't we do both?

JEFFREY: We can, and we should. But, the priority has been to shift both military and diplomatic resources to the Pacific. And the hope was, you know, let the Middle East deal with itself. We weren't successful in Afghanistan. We weren't all that successful in Iraq. So don't keep trying. Well, we see what happens when we stop trying.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, based on what we are doing now with these air strikes and some support to some of these more moderate groups, and, of course, helping the Kurds, is this a recipe for successful? Is this sort of status quo or a recipe for disaster?

JEFFREY: This is a recipe for the status quo as I see it. I would prefer American ground troops in some numbers to deal with the conventional threat that ISIS is posing to, particularly, the government of Iraq and our Kurdish friends in the north. Even if I'm wrong, and you can do this from the air, you have got to do it in a different way from the air. You have got to put a lot more airplanes in and you put advisors on the ground. And the president has been told that and he basically doesn't go along with these recommendations.

VAN SUSTEREN: I have been to the refugee camps there. In fact, Franklin Graham, who is going to be on later about another topic -- I went to a refugee camp near Erbil. These people are really suffering. It's unbelievable, isn't it?

JEFFREY: It is terrible. That's a whole other aspect of the international effort. And we have got to do that. But we have got to look at what's the source of all these refugees? The source is two terrible movements, the Assad government in Syria that has killed over 200,000 of its own citizens and ISIS. And they need to be both dealt with.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ambassador, thank you. I hope you come back soon.

JEFFREY: Thank you very much.