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Monitoring and Understanding Extremist Threats Abroad

April 14, 2015
Weekly Columns

As threats of terrorism continue to unfold around the globe, particularly through the spread of extremist groups in the Middle East, it is critical for America to show strength and focus in its dealings with friends and foes alike. Beyond condemning specific acts and sponsors of terror, our country must be guided by a clear strategy in our dealings abroad, including our approach to our relationships with both allied partners and those who wish us harm.

Certainly, the most revealing glimpse into the state of the world is through firsthand observation and conversation with our allies living in or near volatile areas. Recently, as part of a House delegation, I had the opportunity to travel overseas and engage in useful and eye opening conversations with key leaders and U.S. officials in seven different countries: England, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Spain. During this trip led by Speaker John Boehner, I was able to better grasp the gravity of the threats in the region and to our country and its allies. 

It was evident that the Middle East is in incredible turmoil. In addition to the dangerous threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), there are several other sources of conflict of which Iran is directly and detrimentally involved. Clearly in an effort to establish hegemony, Iran is siding with dangerous actors throughout the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s corrupt regime and Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran is also exercising undue influence in Iraq, which could easily become an Iranian satellite.

Iran's aggressive actions have caused the formation of an unlikely and unofficial de facto alliance between Israel and the Sunni states. While differences remain over issues like Palestine, both sides speak in identical terms about Iranian aggression and activity in the region, believing that Iranians are undermining sovereign states.  

Another unifying factor for otherwise opposing sides is the problem of radical terrorism throughout the region. Along with Israel, every Sunni state sees ISIL as a dangerous terrorist movement. Even leaders in Iran and Syria would agree that the terrorist group is everybody’s enemy and nobody’s friend. This has led to common action—though obviously not coordinated with Iran and Syria—to combat the dangerous enemy’s presence in Iraq.

Unfortunately, our shared belief that ISIL must be stopped is not enough to trust Iran in other areas, especially in light of P5+1 nuclear negotiations. Because the framework for a nuclear deal with Iran emerged when we were overseas, we heard a great deal of concern voiced by leaders in neighboring countries about the nature of the final agreement. It didn’t come only from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, other countries like Saudi Arabia reflected the same concerns, warning us that Iran should not be trusted and must not be allowed to develop any nuclear capacity or capability while engaged in aggressive activity throughout the region.

The lack of confidence among our friends and allies in the president’s ability to lead and confront Iran was evident throughout the trip. And it only takes a quick glance at his recent record in the Middle East to understand the skepticism exhibited by our friends in the region. Because there’s a strong absence of American leadership and considering previous Administration misfires related to American policy in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, there is just cause for concern about the absence of a comprehensive U.S. strategy in the Middle East. 

After hearing firsthand from our friends, including Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah II, about the tumultuous reality in the region, it was clear to our delegation that the Administration needs to spell out the strategy America is operating under and offer it to Congress. Moreover, it is clear that many Democrats, who are normally supportive of the president, also have serious concerns about the Administration’s current foreign policy in the Middle East in general and with respect to Iran in particular. 

My recent trip was a reminder that given the threats that emanate in the Middle East, we are not going to be able to avoid being actively involved in the region. It is critical that we keep the friends that we have in the Middle East, confront the terror within the region and prevent Iran from developing into a strategic threat to both our friends there and to the United States.