Fox News' chief White House correspondent Ed Henry misrepresented comments by chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey to baselessly suggest the White House forced Dempsey to downplay the threat of the extremist group known as the Islamic State. In reality, the two statements from Dempsey that Henry referenced are not inconsistent in their evaluation of the Islamic State as a threat to the U.S., and the Defense Department had already denied the notion that it was directed to change its rhetoric.
Fox Reporter Baselessly Suggests WH Pressure Led Dempsey To Change Assessment Of Terror Group's Capabilities
Fox's Henry: "Dempsey Said The Only Way To Actually Defeat ISIS Was To Go Into Syria With The U.S. Military." On the night of August 25, during The Kelly File, Henry alleged that "the White House appears to be tweaking what General Martin Dempsey said" about the threat to the U.S. from the Islamic State, claiming Dempsey had later altered his comments to say that he was "not sure about U.S. military action":
HENRY: Meanwhile, the White House appears to be tweaking what General Martin Dempsey said last Thursday when he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued dire warnings about ISIS. Remember, Dempsey said the only way to actually defeat ISIS was to go into Syria with the U.S. military. Dempsey now clarifying that ISIS is just a regional threat and he's not sure about U.S. military action. [Fox News, The Kelly File, 8/25/14]
Dempsey Consistently Said Islamic State Is Currently A Regional Threat, Did Not Say Military Should Intervene In Syria Now
Aug. 21: Gen. Dempsey Said Islamic State Currently Threatens Fighters' Home Countries, And That He Is "Not Predicting [U.S. Airstrikes] Will Occur In Syria." During a Pentagon press conference on August 21, Dempsey said the defeat of the Islamic State could be achieved by "a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time" and that it will require "a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is airstrikes. I'm not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America." Dempsey also said "the immediacy is in the number of Europeans and other nationalities who have come to the region to become part of that ideology. And those -- those folks can go home at some point" (emphasis added):
Q: General, do you believe that ISIS can be defeated or destroyed without addressing the cross-border threat from Syria? And is it possible to contain them?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Let me start from where you ended and end up where you started. It is possible contain -- to contain them. And I think we've seen that their momentum was disrupted. And that's not to be discounted, by the way, because the -- it was the momentum itself that had allowed them to be -- to find a way to encourage the Sunni population of western Iraq and Nineveh province to accept their brutal tactics and -- and their presence among them.
So you ask -- yes, the answer is they can be contained, not in perpetuity. This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated. To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border.
And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time. ISIS will only truly be defeated when it's rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad.
Q: And that requires airstrikes (OFF-MIKE)
GEN. DEMPSEY: It requires a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is airstrikes. I'm not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America. But it requires the application of all of the tools of national power -- diplomatic, economic, information, military.
Q: Is it the calculation, though, that ISIL presents a 9/11 level threat to the United States?
SEC. HAGEL: Jim, ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They're beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded.
Oh, this is beyond anything that we've seen. So we must prepare for everything. And the only way you do that is that you take a cold, steely, hard look at it and-- and -- and get ready.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, the immediacy -- the immediacy is in the number of Europeans and other nationalities who have come to the region to become part of that ideology. And those -- those folks can go home at some point.
It's why I have conversations with my European colleagues about their southern flank of NATO, which I think is actually more threatened in the near term than we are.
Nevertheless, because of open borders and immigration issues, it's an -- it's an immediate threat. That is to say, the fighters who may leave the current fight and migrate home.
Longer term, it's about ISIL's vision, which includes -- I actually call ISIL, here we go, right, ISIS, I-S-I-S, because it's easier for me to remember that their long-term vision is the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. And al-Sham includes Lebanon, the current state of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Kuwait.
If they were to achieve that vision, it would fundamentally alter the face of the Middle East and create a security environment that would certainly threaten us in many ways. [U.S. Department of Defense, 8/21/14]
Aug. 24: Dempsey Said Islamic State Is A "More A Regional Threat" And Would Recommend Strikes In Syria If U.S. Is Threatened. The Associated Press reported that in remarks made while flying to Afghanistan on August 24, Dempsey said that while the Islamic State "clearly threatens" U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe, there is currently no indication that the group is involved in "active plotting" against the U.S. Dempsey also reiterated that it would take a coalition to defeat them (emphasis added):
Gen. Martin Dempsey said Sunday that once he determines the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants in Iraq have become a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, he will recommend the U.S. military move directly against the group in Syria.
But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that right now, he still believes the insurgent group is still more a regional threat and is not plotting or planning attacks against either the U.S. or Europe.
Dempsey also told reporters traveling with him that he believes that key allies in the region - including Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia - will join the U.S. in quashing ISIS.
"I think ISIS has been so brutal, and has wrapped itself in a radical religious legitimacy that clearly threatens everybody I just mentioned, that I think they will be willing partners," said Dempsey, expressing optimism for the first time that the Arab nations would join in the conflict.
He contrasted ISIS to the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has plotted and attempted attacks against the U.S. and Europe. As a result, the U.S. has conducted counterterrorism strikes against the group within Yemen.
Dempsey said that so far, there is no sign that ISIS militants are engaged in "active plotting against the homeland, so it's different than that which we see in Yemen."
"I can tell you with great clarity and certainty that if that threat existed inside of Syria that it would certainly be my strong recommendation that we would deal with it," said Dempsey. "I have every confidence that the president of the United States would deal with it."
He added that those regional partners could come together and squeeze the Islamic State group "from multiple directions in order to initially disrupt and eventually defeat them. It has to happen with them, much less with us. [CBS News, 8/25/14]
Defense Department Denied White House Directed It To Change Rhetoric
Pentagon Press Secretary: "No Direction From The White House" To Alter Statements On Islamic State Threat. On the morning of August 25, America's Newsroom host Martha MacCallum confronted Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby with the claim that Dempsey's statements contradicted each other, asking whether Dempsey's comments "were a pullback from that much stronger statement" (emphasis added):
MacCALLUM: [J]ust one more question on this. You know, what's being perceived as this discrepancy in these comments. Were they the result of any pushback from the White House saying that the Pentagon needed to tone down the way that they were discussing the urgency of the threat here at home from ISIS?
KIRBY: There's been no direction from the White House or anybody else to tone down the way we are speaking about ISIL. And I think that we've all been very consistently talking about the very real and growing threat that ISIL poses. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 8/25/14]