President Obama must come up with a strategy that “disrupts” the Islamic jihadists controlling swaths of Iraq and Syria, said Rep. Mike Rogers (R) of Michigan, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, at a Monitor breakfast on Wednesday.
Possible air strikes are a tactic, not a strategy, he said, later outlining what he thinks the US should do:
“You have to directly target command and control and leadership in a way that is disruptive” to the jihadists, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). That targeting, he said, must begin by destroying ISIS’s safe haven – its training camps and supply line – in eastern Syria.
Only then can the besieged Iraqi government have the “breathing room” it needs for political reconciliation, the outgoing intelligence chairman said. And, he added, a strategic blow to ISIS in Syria would also help thwart the Al Qaeda affiliate from expanding into Lebanon – which is part of its strategic goal of building a caliphate in the Middle East.
“If they ever decide to turn that around and head toward Lebanon, they are going to need that supply line both ways,” he said.
Disrupting ISIS could mean US air strikes, and it could mean US Special Forces, though not “big troops” on the ground, said Representative Rogers, who is leaving Congress at the end of this term to host a radio show for Cumulus Media.
Of all the global threats to the United States, Al Qaeda and its affiliates – including ISIS –worry Rogers the most. While ISIS may be focused on building an Islamic caliphate in the Mideast now, its fighters have access to western passports, which could allow them to reach Europe and the US, he said.
This is why Tuesday’s decision by a US federal court declaring the no-fly list unconstitutional is a “recipe for disaster,” in Rogers’s view.
Looking back, Rogers said the sudden sweep of ISIS into Iraq was not an intelligence failure, but a policy one, and he blamed the president for not acting during the three-year buildup of jihadists in Syria – despite the urging of Arab allies and members of Congress such as himself.
On a more positive note, he said that Sunnis in Iraq are already “chaffing” under the control of ISIS, which is instituting sharia law that disregards the role of resident tribal leaders. Local mullahs are also losing some of their influence. It was such chafing that led to the Iraqi Sunni “awakening” that helped root out Al Qaeda terrorists during the Iraq war.
Rogers listed other serious global threats to the United States, including North Korea’s march toward nuclear weapons and China’s aggressiveness in the militarization of space and toward territorial claims in the South China Sea.
He believes “some maritime skirmish” will occur between either China and Vietnam or Japan within the next 24 months. “I don’t think it will be huge,” but there will be a skirmish, which is important because 40 percent of the world’s trade goes through the South China Sea. The US Navy has been there “since we’ve been a country,” he said, and “when China starts telling us that the US Navy can’t be in the South China Sea, that’s a huge, significant strategic threat to the United States.”
The various threats, but especially that from Al Qaeda and its affiliates, he said, show why it’s important for the US to stay engaged around the world. It's a point he intends to make on his talk show.