The U.S. has failed to develop an effective and consistent strategy to counter the festering threat from Islamist terror 14 years after 9/11.
Countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya have disintegrated into lawless states under the rule of ISIS and other jihadists, relationships with historical allies such as Israel have frayed or fallen apart completely and hundreds of thousands of innocent refugees are risking life and limb to escape the barbarism.
Perhaps nothing drew the West’s attention to the horror unfolding there more than that of the 3-year-old Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, who was found washed ashore on a Turkish beach last week.
A vacillating, partisan, and unpredictable foreign policy led the world to its current state of affairs, so when does the country finally unite in owning the challenge of confronting, containing and defeating the existential threat?
It cannot happen soon enough. As much as the current administration would like us to believe otherwise, “strategic patience” is no strategy at all.
This isn’t to say that the U.S. hasn’t achieved a modicum of success since that fateful day when jihadists turned four commercial airplanes into guided missiles and murdered nearly 3,000 Americans in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
In the years immediately following 9/11, Congress restructured the intelligence community to address the disastrous lack of information-sharing among the 17 agencies, implemented policies such as extending tactics and tools reserved for fighting organized crime to jihadist organizations and disrupted numerous terrorist financing networks.
We also engendered loyal allegiances throughout the Middle East that remained steadfast in their support of the United States against al-Qaida. They included Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Kuwait among many others.
I gained a unique vantage point after having personally met with their leaders while serving on the House Intelligence Committee. Even Syria’s Bashar al-Assad postured himself as an ally against the radical jihadist movement, and by 2004 the mad dog of the Middle East himself, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, aligned himself with the U.S.
Islamist bases of operation were confined to mountainous caves in Afghanistan and Pakistan or secretive and sporadic cells.
Unfortunately, within the past few years, we have reversed the gains and allowed them to metastasize into organizations that control actual territory where they plan and prepare attacks throughout the region and against the West. Their bases of operation are no longer in remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but at the doorstep of Europe.
Relationships in the Middle East have become tentative because allies are unsure of our intentions. In Iraq the U.S. aligns itself with the ineffective Baghdad Shiite government, which is in turn aligned with Shiite Tehran. The partnership results in less support for the Kurdish Regional Government and the Sunni tribes, which are the most effective counterweights to ISIS.
Israel, the fountainhead of freedom and democracy in the Middle East surrounded by Islamist enemies who want to destroy it, is uncertain of U.S. support with the signing of an accord that facilitates its most vocal and lethal adversary, Iran, obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The once-strong relationship with Egypt evaporated as a result of siding with the Muslim Brotherhood rather than with President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In Libya, Europe, and the U.S. eliminated a flawed ally in Gadhafi with no contingency plan.
All of this has led to an estimated 4 million Syrians who are now internally displaced. Those fleeing the country, along with refugees from North Africa, are overwhelming Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, the Kurdish territory in Iraq and Europe.
The chaos, combined with no strategy to address it, is terrifying.
The West needs to step back and study the last 30 years of foreign policy of both Republican and Democratic administrations to learn from the many failures and successes as we pass this somber anniversary.
America needs a bipartisan foreign policy that is predictable, pragmatic and understandable. Let’s not allow another Sept. 11 to pass without a plan for facing the very real and ongoing threat from radical Islam.
Pete Hoekstra represented Michigan for 18 years in Congress, including as chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. He currently serves as the Shillman senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and is the author of "Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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