WASHINGTON – The House Intelligence Committee chairman said Wednesday the United States must attack Islamic extremism with more than military might by focusing on social and economic work in countries that are cooperating in counterterror efforts.
"We need to recognize that this war cannot be won solely by being on offense in a military sense," said House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. "We need a comprehensive strategy, as well, to engage them on a number of different fronts."
Hoekstra's remarks appeared to distance him from the Bush administration, which has put an emphasis on military action to quell violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a think tank, Hoekstra cited his trip earlier this year to Algeria, a relatively new U.S. counterterrorism partner. He said leaders there told him that they wanted to work with the United States on economic, medical, energy and other development issues beyond military and intelligence.
The comments accompanied release of a committee report examining how the terrorist group Al Qaeda has changed since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the continuing threat posed by its affiliates and by home-grown terrorists.
"Unfortunately, there are still gaps in our understanding of Islamist extremist groups, which leaves America vulnerable to future attacks," the 28-page document concludes.
Democrats on the intelligence panel unanimously voted against the report and have expressed concern that Republicans are using it to fan voter fear for political gain. They say the threat assessment adds no new information to the nation's understanding of challenges facing the government.
"It is clear that Al Qaeda and Islamic extremists pose a serious threat to U.S. national security. The American people do not need the House Intelligence Committee to remind them of this fact," the panel's nine Democrats wrote in an addendum.
But Hoekstra said the report and others released by the committee are appropriate and educational, no matter the political timing. "People don't recognize that this is a different kind of conflict and a different kind of enemy than we have fought before," he said.
The report devotes significant attention to extremists' electronic messaging, saying the U.S. government must do more to counter terrorists' "unchallenged use of the Internet."
It also praises a September 2004 CIA decision to create an office that looks at the politics of Islam. "Still, this is not enough," the report says. "This one program at the CIA can only reach a finite number of people."
CIA officials were not immediately available to comment.