Libya disaster: Have Western leaders learned anything?

That the U.S. has launched airstrikes against ISIS in Libya should demonstrate once and for all the total disaster of the NATO-led adventure to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011.

Libya devolved into a failed state when NATO assisted Qaddafi’s radical jihadist opponents in killing him and then promptly abandoned the country. Left in the wake were two rival governments competing for power, which created space for Islamists to turn Libya into a cesspool of extremism.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to call the debacle American “smart power at its best.” Other presidential candidates still argue that it was the right thing to do.

How will the West ever learn anything if it can’t identify its most obvious failures?

Libya has no central functioning government that can provide security for its citizens. ISIS fights to expand its caliphate along the Mediterranean to points as close as 200 miles from Europe’s vulnerable southern border. It controls Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. It has imposed Shariah law in the areas under its control. It exploits Libya as a base to export weapons, jihadists and ideology to Europe, other African countries and the Middle East.

Benghazi and Derna, which have long been hotbeds of radicalism, provided more fighters per capita to Afghanistan and Iraq than nearly any other area in the world. The difference between then and now is that Qaddafi kept the lid on the garbage can long before 2002-2003, when he became a reliable U.S. ally against radical Islam. He changed his behavior, gave up his nuclear weapons program, paid reparations to the victims of his atrocities and provided invaluable intelligence that disrupted numerous Islamist terror plots.

It represented a massive foreign policy success, and the U.S. thanked him by facilitating his murder.

Similarly, the West embraced former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in his struggles against Islamist forces, and then it threw him under the bus. Both Qaddafi and Mubarak did everything asked of them, but they ended up dead or in jail.

Any leader would really need to ask why he should trust NATO or the West. Is there any question why Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad does not negotiate an end to his country’s civil war and clings to Iran and Russia to keep him in power?

Iran cheated on its nuclear program for years. As a result, the U.S. gifted it with more than $100 billion – including $1.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars – and it hasn’t changed its behavior in the slightest. In addition to its military ambitions, Iran will most assuredly spend the money on supporting Assad and its terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East, Africa and, yes, Europe.

I’m amazed by some of the statements now coming from the coalition. The French defense minister is concerned about ISIS fighters blending in with refugees crossing the Mediterranean. Talk about restating the obvious. The British want troops to identify friendly militias in order to avoid targeting them in future airstrikes. Has something changed where we have improved the vetting of “moderate” militia groups?

NATO failed miserably in Libya and in Syria the first time around. What’s different now?

The only official who seems to make any sense is U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who said recently, “The Libyans don’t welcome outsiders intruding on their territory.” He was referring to ISIS, but he might as well have been talking about the West. Libyans have not forgotten that NATO all but vanished once Qaddafi was killed.

Western foreign policy is in disarray. The scariest part is that supposed leaders don’t even know it, and therefore they can’t admit to previous mistakes. Allies that brought stability to the region are gone. Former and current antagonists benefited from Western incompetence.

Who would have predicted six years ago that those rulers battling Islamist terror would be deposed and that those committing it would become the West’s new friends?

NATO snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Libya. Refugees flood Europe. Terrorist attacks continue to spread geographically and in lethality. The Syrian civil war rages on. Iran lavishes its newfound wealth on its nuclear program and campaign of global terror.

Is it any wonder that citizens in Western countries are frustrated and angry with those in positions of authority?

Republican Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism and the former chairman (R-Michigan) of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. He is the author of “Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya” (The Calamo Press, October 2, 2015).

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