WASHINGTON (AP) — A Democratic-leaning former senator says President Barack Obama has no coherent anti-terrorism strategy in embattled Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, who retired from the Senate last year, told the House homeland security committee Wednesday that the administration is still focused on fighting al-Qaida without keeping up with its current network of loosely affiliated groups.
Lieberman says Islamist terrorists are gaining new footholds in Syria, Iraq and Libya, but American policymakers are signaling that military involvement is off the table. He says the U.S., then, is unable to help quash these groups and protect itself and its allies in the region.
Administration officials have said engagement should not be equated with military action. The State Department has said diplomacy is the first option.
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Former Sen. Joe Lieberman told a House panel Wednesday that President Barack Obama has "no coherent" anti-terrorism strategy in embattled countries where al-Qaida is gaining new influence, and that's endangering the United States.
"I do not, today, see a credible or coherent U.S. strategy right now, for exactly those countries — Syria, Iraq and Libya_that most threaten to emerge as al-Qaida's newest and most dangerous footholds," Connecticut's Lieberman, who retired from the Senate this year, told the Homeland Security Committee.
"If we don't do something more than we're doing now, they're going to tip over," Lieberman added of those countries. And if that happens, "we're going to get attacked again."
It was the latest criticism of the Obama administration's policy toward the Middle East, five years after the president pledged to remake the nation's relationship with the region and improve America's image in the Muslim world.
The administration did not testify at the hearing. Diplomacy is the first option, spokeswoman Jen Psaki has said. She noted that Kerry is meeting with Syrian opposition supporters and Arab League officials and moved to rid Syria of chemical weapons without military strikes.
The administration's approach toward developments in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other countries drew criticism from the Republican-controlled House panel, which did not include any testimony from the Obama administration. One common concern mentioned by the witnesses was Obama's narrative about the core al-Qaida network having been defeated.
In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Islamist terrorists have morphed into a loosely affiliated, highly adaptive network finding new safe havens in countries riven by internal conflict, the witnesses said.
"You cannot let those sanctuaries take hold," Ret. Gen. Jack Keane, CEO of the Institute for the Study of War, told the panel. "They will be predatory in nature on their neighbors and then ... potentially a danger to the American people."
The need for a U.S. strategy in Syria is especially pronounced, said Lieberman, an independent who was Democrat Al Gore's vice presidential running mate in the 2000 election.