Obama 'Inviting the Whirlwind' by Neglecting Blooming al-Qaeda Strongholds, Affiliates 'Spreading Like Wildfire'

WASHINGTON -- The House Homeland Security Committee today heard from a panel including two former Democratic lawmakers and a four-star general that al-Qaeda is not on the run and the nation's safety depends on recognizing "this cancer out there."

And there was a strong message to a White House accused of ignoring mounting terrorist growth in Africa, the Middle East and the Caucasus region while fixating on the assassination of Osama bin Laden and a "decimated" core of his terror organization.

"Mr. President, there are three more years in which you're going to be commander in chief," former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) testified. "A lot of what you're doing now is not protecting our security and diminishing our credibility."

Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said he called the hearing because "the president’s rhetoric on the threat of al-Qaeda and its franchises are in stark contrast to the reality we are witnessing in the Middle East and Northern Africa."

"Protecting this nation requires that we correctly identify the threats against it. It also requires that the United States lead on the world stage. I am increasingly concerned that we are doing very little of both," he added, giving the Fort Hood "workplace violence" designation and Benghazi as examples.

"Foremost in the narrative is the administration’s frequent use of the 'core al-Qaeda' concept. This is a false construct in my judgement and misleading for a number of reasons. Today, there is no central al-Qaeda nucleus. References to a 'core al-Qaeda' imply that its defeat would dismantle terrorist efforts around the world and eliminate the terrorist threat to the homeland. This is not the case. Over time, the term 'al-Qaeda' has come to symbolize an ideology of hate toward the West with a goal of establishment of a caliphate, rule by Sharia law and the pathway there through violent jihad," McCaul continued.

"Terrorist groups are multiplying. They are spreading like wildfire across Northern Africa…Our lack of leadership has damaged our standing in the world, and created a power vacuum being filled by terrorists who are prospering in our absence."

Lieberman, Al Gore's onetime running mate who went independent in 2006 after he was defeated in a Democratic primary over his hawkish foreign policy, said after 9/11 "the overwhelming focus of our government and of the American people was on the threat of terrorism."

"Twelve years later, that is no longer the case," he added, noting that the decreased attention stems from the lack of catastrophic attacks on the homeland since 2001.

"Pride in this achievement, however, must be tempered by an awareness of several harsh realities. First, al Qaeda and its affiliates remain a ruthless, determined, and adaptive adversary. Second, the underlying ideology that inspires and drives al-Qaeda to attack us and our allies—the ideology of violent Islamist extremism -- is neither defeated nor exhausted," Lieberman said. "It manifests itself not just in al-Qaeda but in terrorist organizations that are either unaffiliated with al-Qaeda or loosely affiliated with it."

Lieberman criticized voices "on both sides of the political spectrum" who say the terror threat is receding or advocate isolation as "badly and dangerously mistaken."

"Put very bluntly, I do not 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-Qaeda’s newest and most dangerous footholds -- places, from which terrorist attacks against our homeland can and will originate," he said.

One estimate puts more foreign fighters in Syria now than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the past decade as jihadists fight against the Free Syrian Army.

"This failure, it should be added, has consequences for our national security that extend far beyond counterterrorism. Across the Middle East and beyond, the credibility of American leadership is being questioned as it has not been for a very long time. Among friends and enemies alike, there are doubts about our staying power; questions about our reliability as an ally; and suspicions that, at the end of the day, we will hesitate to back up our promises and historic commitments with the use of force -- if necessary," Lieberman continued. "This is the reality of how the United States is seen right now in too much of the rest of the world."

"The Obama administration has repeatedly narrowed the rhetorical scope of this conflict from what it criticized as an amorphous and open-ended 'war on terrorism' to an armed conflict against a discrete and identifiable group: al-Qaeda and its affiliates," a strategy he called "inadequate" because "al-Qaeda as an organization can be eviscerated, but it will regenerate as long as the ideology that inspires it survives."