Pete Hoekstra's Perspective:
Recent media reports have included chilling suggestions that some of the militants who attacked our facilities in Benghazi, Libya and murdered four Americans may have been trained, armed and perhaps even funded by NATO during the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.
That information is sure to cause great consternation on Capitol Hill, and provide more than enough ammunition for fresh partisan bickering over what went wrong and who’s to blame.
I think it would be smarter for Americans to take a step back, understand the complexity of American foreign policy, and try to calmly determine what we could learn together from our tragic experience at Benghazi.
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The hard fact is that America faces a boatload of challenges in the very troubled Middle East. Besides the escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians and the threat of a nuclear Iran, we must pay close attention to the deteriorating political situation in Egypt, a dysfunctional government in Libya, the imminent collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, and the growing threat to the government in Jordan.
With all of that on the table, we would be wise to ask ourselves how we can apply the painful lessons of Benghazi to similar or even more challenging events that are certain to arise.
Benghazi was the site of a horrible tragedy, and there’s no doubt some mistakes were made in Washington, D.C. that contributed to the heartbreaking outcome. But it’s also providing us with a powerful learning and teaching opportunity. Republicans and Democrats should take advantage of it. Our national security depends on it.
If the terrorists who attacked our compound in Benghazi were NATO trained and sponsored, it is because NATO accepted them as allies of necessity during the 2011 overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
There were many legitimate reasons for the U.S. and NATO to become involved in that effort. Gaddafi was threatening to maintain his power by slaughtering thousands of his countrymen and destabilizing North Africa. The entire world knew he was capable of such actions, since he had pursued them in the past. There were powerful reasons to help with the effort to depose his regime, as well as good arguments to stay out of the conflict.
This just illustrates the complicated nature of American foreign policy. Situations are rarely black and white, particularly in a region like the Middle East. When we make the determination to become involved, usually for humanitarian reasons, it often becomes necessary to align ourselves with groups that share our immediate goal, but may prove troublesome in the future.
We all remember one of the key questions when our Libyan operations began: Just who are the rebels we’re working with and what will they do when Gaddafi is gone? There was no way to know for sure. Those are the risks that are sometimes taken in tricky foreign policy situations. It was necessary to form alliances with groups we couldn’t fully vet, and we knew at least some of them might change their allegiances after the immediate goal was accomplished.
This wasn’t the first time we’ve been forced to work with allies of questionable loyalty, and it certainly won’ be the last. Perhaps the most obvious historic example was World War II, when we worked in conjunction with the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany, only to have the Soviets become our major global adversary.
So where do we go from here?
The Obama administration must do it’s best to get all the facts out and stop the self-serving spin. Others must acknowledge that foreign policy is an inherently risky business that can change quickly. What looks like the right decision today may look very different down the road. That’s often because conditions change in unpredictable ways, and not necessarily because we misjudged a particular situation.
Perhaps we all need to work at making foreign policy more bipartisan, in a very real and meaningful sense. It's time to try and restore some level of bipartisanship to foreign policy, a characteristic that has been sorely missing since shortly after the beginning of the war in Iraq. The lesson from Benghazi, stop the infighting and fix it now!
It means presidents doing more to keep the leaders of the opposition party informed about breaking events. It means consulting more closely with the opposition leadership before making key decisions. It should definitely mean declassification of more intelligence information that the nation needs to know. It means having an honest dialogue with the American people.
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More than anything, it would require lawmakers from both parties to make personal pledges to leave partisan bickering at our national shorelines, so we can present a more united front when we deal with the rest of the world.
Foreign policy has never been easy, and it’s going to be a lot more difficult in the years ahead. If ever there is a time to bury our partisan differences and attempt to stick together as much as possible, this is it.
That might be the most appropriate way to honor the Americans who lost their lives on Sept. 11 in Benghazi.
Pete Hoekstra is the former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He now is a senior advisor at DicksteinShapiro, and on the advisory board of LIGNET.
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