WASHINGTON — American intelligence officials fear if the United States strikes Syria, Islamic militants will retaliate by attacking U.S. embassies in the Middle East, according to a U.S. Representative from Colorado.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr. spoke to members of Congress at a classified briefing Monday afternoon in the Capitol.
Clapper said “there are threats to our embassy in Iraq, in Baghdad, and our installations worldwide,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo. Springs) said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
The White House press office did not respond immediately for comment. President Obama referred indirectly to Lamborn’s criticism Tuesday night.
In a nationally-televised speech from the White House’s East Room, Obama downplayed the severity of a threat from Syria or al-Qaeda militants.
“We don’t dismiss any threats, but (President Bashar) Assad’s threats don’t have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other – any other retaliation they might seek are in line with ones we see every day,” he said.
Obama did not mention the threats to U.S. embassies and installations.
A Congressional vote on Syria has been delayed in the face of bipartisan opposition to a strike and a Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical stockpile under international control.
Lamborn’s comment represents a rare instance in which officials have specified a consequence of striking or not striking the Middle Eastern country.
At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, top Obama administration officials, making their third public appearance before lawmakers in eight days, presented their argument in general terms.
In his opening statement, Secretary of State John Kerry rebutted common arguments against attacking Syria. He acknowledged the public’s weariness after twelve years of fighting a war on Islamic militants, but blamed Syria’s President for an alleged chemical attack on civilians in the Damascus suburbs Aug. 21.
“(President Obama) didn’t choose this. We didn’t choose this. We are here today because Bashar-al-Assad has used napalm and Sarin gas and has used weapons that he knows resulted in the deaths of 1,400 people, including 400 children,” Kerry said. “This threatens Israel. This threatens Jordan. Gas is a weapon of mass destruction.”
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said U.S. allies “must be reassured that the U.S. will stand by its allies. A world in which our enemies are emboldened instead of deterred is not a world in which we want to live in, as President Obama said last week,” he said.
Lamborn asked Hagel to provide an update on the Obama administration’s efforts to apprehend those who attacked the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
“The administration continues to follow through on what happened a year ago,” Hagel said, noting the FBI and CIA continue to investigate the incident which resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three embassy personnel.