(CNSNews.com) - Although the United States has made real progress in the war on terror since the 9-11 attacks, "we should not delude ourselves into thinking that this fight is anywhere near over," former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.
"Put very bluntly, I do not see a credible or coherent U.S. strategy right now for exactly those countries -- Syria, Iraq, and Libya--that most threaten to emerge as al Qaeda's newest and most dangerous footholds -- places from which terrorist attacks against our homeland can and will originate."
Lieberman said the war in Afghanistan has squelched al Qaeda affiliates in that region, but at the same time, new sanctuaries for terrorists have expanded significantly in the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
He pointed to one estimate showing that there are more foreign fighters in Syria right now than there were in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the past ten years. That contradicts President Obama's repeated assertion that al Qaeda is "on the run" and has been "decimated."
"Across the Middle East and beyond, the credibility of American leadership is being questioned as it has not been for a very long time," Lieberman said in veiled criticism of the Obama administration. "Among friends and enemies alike, there are doubts about our staying power; questions about our reliability as an ally; and suspicions that, at the end of the day, we will hesitate to back up our promises and historic commitments with the use of force, if necessary."
Because American policymakers have signaled that military involvement is not an option, the U.S. is at a disadvantage when it comes to assisting its local allies in Syria, Iraq and Libya, he said. "It also means that we are failing to help deal with the underlying conditions that are making al Qaeda's resurgence possible."
Lieberman said he does not advocate sending "tens of thousands of troops" to those countries. But he does advocate sending "militarily-relevant support" to "non-extremist rebel forces" in Syria.
In Iraq, he says the U.S. should use its air power to support Iraqis against al Qaeda; and he also says the U.S. should put a "small number" of "embedded advisers" on the ground, using the increased assistance to encourage political reconciliation.
And in Libya, he said, "we can put in place a large-scale, well-resourced, U.S.-led effort to build up new Libyan army and security forces as quickly as possible."
Lieberman says the gains of the past decade in Afghanistan must not be squandered, and he wants U.S. troops to remain in that country when the war ends to "sustain" the Afghan National Security Forces as they try to prevent the return of the Taliban.
"None of these possible actions by the U.S. represent simple or quick solutions," Lieberman told the committee. "There are no easy solutions to the problems here. But there are smart, measured steps we can take that will put us in a stronger position to deal with the evolving threats we face and that will ultimately make us safer as a country here at home."
'The enemy is violent Islamist extremism'
In his opening statement, Lieberman made it clear that America's enemy is not any particular terrorist or terrorist group:
"The fact is, ultimate success in the struggle we are in depends not simply on the death of particular terrorist leaders or the destruction of a particular terrorist group, important though that is. Rather, it requires the discrediting of violent Islamist extremism as a worldview," Lieberman said.
"And let me underscore here, the enemy is violent Islamist extremism--a political ideology that seeks to justify totalitarian governance by perverting religion. The enemy, we can never stress enough, is not Islam itself."
Lieberman told the panel that al Qaeda and its affiliates remain "ruthless, determined and adaptive," while its ideology is "neither defeated nor exhausted."
As a U.S. Senator, Lieberman chaired the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He retired from the Senate when his term ended in January 2013.