The White House Monday tried to take back President Obama’s characterization of rampaging Islamic State militants as the “JV” of terrorist groups, saying the president was referring instead to generic jihadis.
“It’s important to understand the context,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “The president was not singling out [the Islamic State]. He was talking about the very different threat that is posed by a range of extremists around the globe.”
Mr. Obama told the New Yorker magazine in January that there is a “distinction” between the reach of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network “versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”
“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Mr. Obama said at the time.
But the militants of the Islamic State now control wide swaths of Syria and Iraq, and Mr. Obama has ordered airstrikes against the fighters. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week the group is “beyond anything” the U.S. has seen from a terrorist group.
Mr. Earnest said the “vast majority” of terrorist groups “don’t have the capability of attacking the West.” But he also emphasized the administration’s concern that Islamic State militants with Western passports could attack the U.S. or other western nations.