Former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden said the U.S. looks like a “nation in retreat” as it withdraws its U.S. diplomats and military officers from failing countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen — countries that are becoming a breeding ground for Islamic extremism.
Withdrawing from those countries potentially hinders the U.S.’s ability to collect intelligence on terrorist threats in the Middle East and moreover it appears weak — as if it is losing the war against Islamist extremism, said Gen. Hayden in testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security Tuesday.
“We appear to be a nation in retreat when we take these kinds of steps,” Gen. Hayden said before Congress.
The U.S. shuttered the doors to its embassy in Yemen in February and withdrew remaining military personnel from a base in the southern part of the country in March. Several months prior to that, the U.S. government had removed department staff and military personnel from Libya. The government also shut down its embassy in Damascus, Syria, in February 2012.
On Sunday, U.N. officials warned that Yemen was “at the edge of a civil war” as Houthi militants took over the airport in Taiz and swept through the city and surrounding province. The United Nations Security Council had to convene an emergency meeting on the deteriorating situation and said the country was in a “rapid downward spiral.”
Along with Yemen, the U.S. is seeing an alarming and “rapid destabilization,” in its fight against Islamist extremism in Syria and Libya as well, said Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican.
“The rise of radicalism we are witnessing today is not just a passing phenomenon,” Mr. McCaul said in his testimony. “The War against Islamist Terror will be the great struggle our lifetime, the great struggle of this century, and I believe we have a moral and strategic obligation to fight it with all tools at our disposal. Just as communism and fascism before it, Islamist extremism is a cancer that must be destroyed.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee’s ranking member, echoed that concern and recommended that the U.S. government reassess both its strong and frayed relationships with Arab countries in the wake of that instability.
“It is absolutely imperative that we identify what allies we have left in the region,” the Mississippi Democrat said.