JESSICA DESVARIEUX, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, TRNN: On the Hill, the jihadist extremist organization known as ISIS is on everyone’s radar.
REP. MIKE MCCAUL, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (R-TX): But the only way you can defeat ISIS is to attack them wherever they exist.
DESVARIEUX: At Wednesday’s hearing, titled “One Flight Away: An Examination of the Threat posed by ISIS Terrorists with Western Passports”, officials from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the State Department, all testified before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security. When asked if ISIS posed a threat to the United States, the panelists were unanimous in their assessment.
TROY MILLER, CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION OFFICIAL: I do believe that it could be a short-term and long-term threat to the United States.
DESVARIEUX: But on closer examination of the testimony from Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Jennifer Lasley said ISIS is not a threat to the U.S. in the near-term.
JENNIFER LASLEY, HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: We currently have no credible information to indicate that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is planning to attack the homeland.
As I said, we don’t see a near-term threat directly from them. No evidence yet of that.
DESVARIEUX: But an attack on the homeland is what seven out of ten Americans think ISIS is capable of, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll. And almost half of Americans see ISIS as a very serious threat to the U.S. That’s about the same percentage of those that thought the same of al-Qaeda in 2003. On the Hill, ISIS is being compared to al-Qaeda, which may strike an emotional chord with many Americans, since the anniversary of 9/11 is on Thursday. But critics are concerned that another push for a war against terrorism won’t get to the root causes of Sunni extremism.
MATTHEW HOH, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY: So what you have is, say, in Iraq with the Islamic State, is you have this organization that requires war, it requires chaos to function. It’s a parasitic organization. And it needs the United States to come in and be involved, because it eats the United States to be a villain, it needs the United States to fulfill that Crusader motif. It also needs the Sunni population—this is the most important thing—it needs the Sunni population to feel that they need the Islamic State’s help, that the Islamic State is actually fulfilling a role for them.
So if the United States jumps back into the Iraqi Civil War, takes the sides of the Shia or the Kurds, well, that pushes the Sunnis up against the wall, because you have this intersectarian, interreligious fighting going on in Iraq. If we go in and take one side, well, then the other side becomes desperate, and they turn to groups like the Islamic State.
And so, I think, by not understanding that dynamic, not understanding the political situation that exists in these countries, this sectarian fighting, this interreligious fighting, one side pushing the other side, one side persecuting the other side, that if we just lay over this veneer of this simple good-versus-bad narrative that we possess, then it becomes very complicated and we play right into the hands of these extreme groups.
DESVARIEUX: Matthew Hoh served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq. He says that the civil war in Iraq was caused by our decade-long occupation of the country, and more military involvement will only prolong the civil war. Hoh said the American public should be wary of any officials trying to trap Americans into another conflict.
HOH: You have both the head of our counterterrorism center and Homeland Security saying that the Islamic State has no sleeper cells, has no members in the U.S., and that the Islamic State is not an imminent threat to the United States. And so I’m afraid that we’re falling right into this trap, falling right into this debate that the Islamic State needs and wants. They need us to come into the conflict, because they need the conflict to be continue to be stirred up. They need to have the U.S. as a villain to play that Crusader role in order to, one, fit their narrative and aid in their recruitment.
And the second thing is they want to fight us. These are men and women who believe in this religious conflict. And so they want to fight us. So by jumping right back in, rushing right back into the conflict, we give the Islamic State exactly what they need, and also what they want, as well as making the conflict much more difficult to achieve any type of political solution, because if we go in there on behalf of the Shias and the Kurds, then what incentive do the Shias and the Kurds have to give any concessions to the Sunnis? What reasons do they have to enter into any real negotiations? Why would the Kurds give up that increased territory they took over the last few months? Why would the Shia in Baghdad make any real reformations, bring the Sunnis back into the government, if the Americans are on their side? Why would you do that?
DESVARIEUX: But Democrats and Republicans both want further militarization.
HARRY REID, U.S. SENATOR (D-NV): As commander in chief, the president has the authority he needs now to act against ISIS. I believe the vast majority of members of Congress agree with that. For now, it’s critical we support our commander in chief as he takes this decisive action.
DESVARIEUX: This action would mean giving the White House authority to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. The White House wants Congress to tack on what’s known as Title 10 authority to a stopgap spending bill that lawmakers were hoping to pass this week. That bill, if passed, would prevent another government shutdown. But there are those cautious to arm such factions, since evidence has been released linking ISIS with these moderate Syrian rebels.
A recent report by Conflict Armament Research found that ISIS is now in possession of lethal weapons formerly owned by moderate Syrian rebels, as well as a bulk of arms produced in the United States. You can see in pictures like these some of the arms that they mention. The report states that antitank rockets captured from ISIS forces in Syria are identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free Syrian Army umbrella in 2013.
Such evidence could raise some questions. The White House has invited all members of Congress to a special closed briefing on ISIS on Thursday. But we’ll have to see if any members will question the president’s decision.
For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.