The senators visited the region as part of the investigation into pre-Sept. 11 intelligence failures.
By DAVID ENRICH
STATES NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- Millions of Americans spent the Fourth of July picnicking and watching fireworks. Not Sen. Mike DeWine.
The Ohio Republican, joined by his wife and two other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, marked Independence Day with a solemn ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
Nearly 20 years ago, it was the site of terrorist attacks that killed dozens of American soldiers.
The ceremony at the embassy came in the midst of an eight-day, four-country tour of the Middle East. The visit was DeWine's first to Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. He previously had visited Israel.
DeWine said it served as a stark reminder of the United States' stake in remaining militarily and politically engaged in the tumultuous region.
"This trip reinforced my belief that, as far as national security and terrorist issues in the United States, the best defense is a good offense," DeWine said Tuesday. "I'm convinced that it is in the United States' national interest to stay engaged in the Middle East and to try to move the parties slowly toward accommodations."
Intelligence committee chairman Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., who sits on the panel, joined DeWine on the trip.
Purpose for visit
The three senators visited the region as part of the committee's investigation into the intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It also served as an opportunity for the lawmakers to get a firsthand look at the war-torn region.
DeWine and his two colleagues met with heads of state and were briefed by U.S. government officials stationed overseas.
DeWine said the trip underscored the importance of a greater emphasis on "the basics" -- recruiting and retaining more people with expertise in international affairs and foreign languages. He said it would require a significant boost in spending on intelligence.
Those priorities are likely to be reflected in a report that the committee is preparing on the Sept. 11 intelligence failures. DeWine said he expects the report to be completed in February.
The senators spent hours talking with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syrian President Bashar Assad, pressuring them to more aggressively fight terrorism.
DeWine said that Egypt, Lebanon and Syria all have failed to take a sufficiently hard line on groups like Hezbollah, which DeWine said "poses a threat around the world." But while the United States and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist group, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria see Hezbollah as an indigenous group that is a domestic, not global, concern.
DeWine said it was important that such disagreements not undermine American foreign policy.