Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tells Newsmax that President Barack Obama has for years overlooked the threat of Islamist militants seizing control in Mali — and he’s provided no strategy for dealing with Syrian “thug” Bashar al-Assad.
The Florida Republican also says she is continuing to push the administration not to release U.S. aid for the “authoritarian non-democracy” in Egypt.
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And she calls Obama’s choice for Defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, a “terrible nomination.”
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen was first elected to the House in 1989 and is the senior woman Republican in the House. She served as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and is currently chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia.
French troops are now trying to expel militant Islamist forces linked to al-Qaida that have been occupying part of the North African country of Mali.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, Ros-Lehtinen expresses her concerns about the threat.
“What’s interesting is that although it’s a current situation in Mali, really this has been an ongoing threat the Obama administration has chosen to overlook, to dismiss, to not prioritize for a number of years,” she says.
“And under Obama’s watch, this situation has gotten worse. We have the increasing presence of Islamic extremists in North Africa and that is troubling. We have seen what has happened in Libya, in Tunisia, in Egypt, and elsewhere in the region, how destabilizing these groups can be and how they can directly undermine U.S. interests.”
The United States will provide intelligence and logistical support in Mali, but Ros-Lehtinen says “I don’t think the American public wants us to get [directly] involved in another conflict. What our first priority has to be is looking to see if there is U.S. national security interest in Mali.
“Our interest may not be directly in Mali but we have an interest in making sure that these extremist elements don’t get a foothold. And if they do, then we’ll have al-Qaida and whatever group they are spread and spread and all of our great gains will have been for not. So we need to protect and advance U.S. national security interests.”
The subcommittee chairwoman also says Egypt “continues to be a real problem for us. Look at all the high expectations everybody had. Oh wow, the Arab Spring. This was going to be terrific. And now what we’ve seen is we’ve got the Muslim Brotherhood in charge and I’m worried that we’ve really just passed on the baton from one dictatorship to an authoritarian non-democracy, and [Egyptian President Mohammed] Morsi has been actively trying to repress the voices of the opposition in Egypt while gradually assuming more power for himself.
“As extremist groups take hold elsewhere, they see Egypt as their next power grab because they see it as an unstable region. That’s why I have pushed the administration to not release the money that they’ve wanted to release to Egypt, that’s $450 million, because we don’t really know what’s going to be happening there. It’s a troubled region. It’s an area that’s ever-changing and I have put holds on [money for] a multitude of organizations and territories that I don’t think are worthy of U.S. taxpayer dollars.”
Turning to the ongoing conflict in Syria, Ros-Lehtinen tells Newsmax: “Dictator Assad has been systematically imprisoning, torturing, murdering tens of thousands of his own people for over a decade. The U.S. needs to act responsibly. We need to act rapidly to address the threats posed by this crisis in Syria — 60,000-plus have been murdered by this thug Assad and his regime.
“And as the crisis in Syria has gotten worse, as usual, the Obama administration has provided no real strategy to address the issue and the Syrian regime’s brutality, which is aided and abetted by the Iranian regime that seeks to further its illegal weapons programs and support for foreign terrorist organizations. So the possibility that the Assad regime has stockpiled up to 50 tons of enriched uranium raises serious concerns that these materials may fall into the hands of extremist groups and rogue regimes.
“First of all, we need to work with our allies. We’ve got to engage them and ask them to do some heavy lifting because for too long it’s been the United States’ lead efforts and the American people have said enough is enough.
“We need to tell our allies, why do you continue to have such a chummy relationship with Russia when Russia is arming the Assad murderous regime and hurting the Syrian people? Why are we still playing footsies with Russia? We’re not holding them accountable at all. They’ve watered down every sanction that we’ve ever had in place and it’s not going to get any better.”
Asked if she has concerns about former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Defense secretary, Ros-Lehtinen responds: “Absolutely. It’s a terrible nomination and his record speaks for itself when you look at foreign policy issues, particularly issues that I’ve dealt with like Iran, Cuba, and Israel.
“All his positions have run contrary to our U.S. national security interests. During his time in Congress, what did Chuck Hagel do? He supported giving a lifeline to the Castro regime. He opposed sanctions against Iran. Hagel has been an outspoken critic of Israel and this does not further the peace process.
“We should have someone in the Defense department who is supportive of our national security goals.”
Ros-Lehtinen also says the confirmation of John Brennan as the head of the CIA may be held up until he reveals more about his involvement in the Benghazi fiasco that cost the lives of four American diplomatic personnel.
“We want to know where he was. What did he know? What happened that day? Was he involved in the decision to not send help to our four Americans who were under siege?
“I’m looking forward to the Benghazi hearing here in the House.”
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