This article was written for U.S. News and World Report. In the following video, IPT Senior Shillman Fellow and former U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra discusses how U.S. policy in Libya may come full circle, turning to a strongman to restore stability that was shattered when Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown.
The U.S. News article begins here:
President Barack Obama recently admitted that his biggest mistake in office was "probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya." Tell us something we don't know.
At least he moved significantly further than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who valiantly claims that the Libyan intervention represented U.S. "smart power at its best," that the country administered two successful elections in which they voted moderates into office and that "we didn't lose a single person" in the conflict. The families of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty – the four Americans murdered in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 – would likely disagree with her assessment.
Libya persists in an ongoing disaster that could have, and should have, been avoided.
Moammar Gadhafi crystallized the threats to his regime – which were the same radical jihadists who endangered the U.S. – when I met with him on three separate occasions between 2004 and 2009. Recently released transcripts of telephone conversations between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gadhafi in 2011 reveal that the dictator presented similar arguments on the threat to Europe.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly highlighted evidence to the president that revealed no indications of an impending genocide if Gadhafi endured. They warned that removing him would serve no compelling American interest and that it would open the doors to forces aligned with al-Qaida.
It appears that the president not only did not plan for the "day after" the military campaign – when the threats of a post-Gadhafi Libya had already been articulated – he discounted critical advice and insights leading to the strongman's deposition and the likely resulting catastrophe.
The most serious mistake is that five years after initially "failing to plan," no strategy exists today on how to contain the threat posed by the Islamic State group and like-minded groups in North Africa. For perhaps the first time, terrorists – not only state sponsors such as Iran and Syria – control real estate and infrastructure.
As documented in a recent Investigative Project on Terrorism analysis, the Islamic State group has created a caliphate in Sirte along the Mediterranean in Libya that exports weapons, fighters, ideology, death and destruction throughout Africa, into Europe and eventually to North America.
An Islamic State group coterie of lethal and battle-hardened veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan operates from the Islamist bazaar in the Derna area of eastern Libya. Known as Katibat al-Battar, it recruited Belgian-Moroccan Abdelhamid Abaaoud, whom authorities suspect as the orchestrator of the November terrorist massacre in Paris.
In other parts of Africa, Islamist organizations such as Boko Haram, al-Shabab, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al-Sharia fight for their own territory and dominance.
Furthermore, multiple reports indicate that the Islamic State group and other jihadists are seeking to obtain the stockpiles of chemical munitions captured after Gadhafi's downfall. Such groups have demonstrated a willingness to use them.
Additional reports suggest that the administration and U.S. military brass remains at odds over the next steps while the violence proceeds nearly unmolested.
The Director of National Intelligence states the obvious when he says that Islamist factions in Libya will continue to pose a challenge and a threat while Obama refuses to deploy the resources necessary to decimate them.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi warns the West against intervening militarily again, lest Libya slide further into anarchy. He counsels it to strengthen the army of Libya's fledgling but internationally recognized attempt at a unity government and enable it to stabilize the country.
El-Sissi unfortunately might offer the most rational recommendation. In plain English, one could interpret his admonishment as advocating for the West to arm a new strongman to run the country so that he can corral the nihilistic Islamist terrorists.
That such a strategy would return the conflict to where it began five years ago – except that it now might feature a slightly kinder and gentler version of Gadhafi – is a sad manifestation of how much things stayed the same after all the bloodshed and chaos.
Pete Hoekstra Contributor
Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman Senior Fellow with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, the former chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee and the author of "Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya."