The world has devolved into a much more hardened and lethal place since that devastating September morning when Islamists assassinated nearly 3,000 Americans in the worst terror attack on U.S. soil.
On a global scale, jihadists murdered roughly 2,500 people annually between 2001 and 2006, which grew to approximately 3,300 per year from 2007 to 2011 and today has increased to nearly 30,000 innocents killed every year.
What happened over the past 15 years that led to such a dire situation?
Both Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama pursued policies of regime change after 9/11 – with Bush removing al-Qaida’s safe haven in Afghanistan and the sadistic anti-American dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq – but Obama took it a step further and disregarded regional stability as a guiding factor for U.S. policy.
Historians will likely identify the secretive and still classified Presidential Study Directive-11 (PSD-11) commissioned in 2010 as the foundational doctrine of a new U.S. foreign policy.
Reportedly, under PSD-11 the Obama administration deliberately pivoted from maintaining order in the Middle East to a strategy that emphasized American support for regime change. Officials did not concern themselves with questions over whether the new power structures would become allies or foes, or with intelligence agency warnings about the jihadist chaos such regime change might unleash.
The Obama-Hillary Clinton administration withdrew all combat troops from the relatively secure Iraq and prioritized replacing governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria above stability in the Middle East. It engaged with the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida elements, and other syndicates that it naively considered harmless and erroneously believed would foster democratic reforms.
America openly embraced the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its front groups throughout the region. The administration engaged with them to overthrow allies such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
Libya is most illustrative of the new strategy. Gadhafi was a repressive dictator and state sponsor of terror in his own right for 40 years, but he reversed course by 2003-2004 and allied with the U.S. He turned over his weapons programs. He paid reparations to the victims of his terrorist activity. He fought side-by-side with us against radical jihadists.
The administration then turned on Gadhafi and sided with the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida elements to dispose of him.
Syria represents an even uglier outcome on the results of engaging with jihadists. It is five years into a catastrophic civil war launched with meaningless red lines and no plan for what to do the day after.
Today Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan are failed states. The cancer now endangers Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. In Asia the threat is growing in countries like Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
ISIS currently boasts 43 affiliates in 20 countries and continues to control Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. It declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014, with a second front later established in Libya. For the first time, medieval jihadist murderers control a significant amount of territory and run a semi-functioning government.
The massive migrant flows into Europe, the lack of effective assimilation and the attacks in Paris, Cologne, Brussels, Nice, London and others highlight the growing threat in Europe. The U.S. has experienced its own manifestation of radical Islam with the violent attacks in Orlando, San Bernardino, and military installations throughout the country.
Strictly looking at the numbers, the jihadists are winning. They have momentum.
Islamists and their sympathizers hate us and they will not stop hating us until we convert to ancient Islam. There is no middle ground or accommodation.
After 15 years we still haven’t demonstrated the will to define the enemy. We are unwilling to commit the energy to confront, contain, and ultimately defeat the menace.
The U.S. needs to recognize that after 15 years it requires a formula for success that transcends Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses.
The next president will inherit a far more perilous world than in 2001. The next president will need to learn both the positive and negative lessons of previous administrations to implement a foreign policy that diminishes and finally rids the world of the threat from radical Islam.
The bottom line is that the threat from radical Islam is far greater than it was in 2001, and the U.S. has yet to develop a coherent strategy to fight it.
Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism. He represented Michigan for 18 years in Congress, including time as chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. He is the author of "Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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