Just 350 miles from the tiny European member state Malta, ISIS has set up a colony in Surt, Libya. This Libyan outpost is now receiving veteran fighters and administrators from the burgeoning theocratic blob that has spread across Syria and Iraq. It is from this redoubt in Surt that the Islamic State can project power across North Africa, according to an in-depth report from The New York Times.
Now that we've seen the Islamic State lash out on European soil, the prospect of them establishing a statelet 400 miles from Italy should give us pause. How did they get there? How was Surt made ready to be the Islamic State's caliphate away from the caliphate?
Look no further than the woman most likely to become our next president, Hillary Clinton. Using American power to help overthrow Moammar Gadhafi's government was her signature idea as secretary of state. Surely, the Arab Spring rebels would handle the mop up. Alas, it didn't turn out that way.
However, beyond a tut-tutting tweet from Jeb Bush, don't expect any of Clinton's 2016 rivals for high office to criticize her for it. The Republican Party is now congenitally unable to criticize the result of a war without promising to double — nay, Supersize — its awful consequences. And socialist hero Bernie Sanders is too busy beating on the billionaires to take much notice of violent extremism. His plan to stop the spread of terrorism is to cool the planet.
So, sometimes your humble columnist has to do a job aspiring American presidents won't do, or at least show them how to do it. This one is a gimme.
In her memoir, recounting the decision to use what she called America's "Smart Power" to help topple the government of Gadhafi, Clinton outlined the choice facing her this way: "Was it time for the international community to go beyond humanitarian aid and sanctions and take decisive action to stop the violence in Libya?" Clinton became the leading advocate in the Obama administration for bombing Libya. After Gadhafi's government fell, you can see Clinton crudely exulting over the new chit on her record; she deposed a dictator and sponsor of anti-American terror at very little cost. "We came! We saw! He died!" she boasted, recalling the videos of Gadhafi being gutted like a caught fish on a Libyan street.
She concluded her chapter on this momentous initiative of hers by shrewdly disowning anything bad that might happen in the future.
If the new government could consolidate its authority, provide security, use oil revenues to rebuild, disarm the militias, and keep extremists out, then Libya would have a fighting chance at building a stable democracy. If not, then the country would face very difficult challenges translating the hopes of a revolution into a free, secure, and prosperous future. [Hard Choices]
Unfortunately, the decisive action she urged did not "stop the violence in Libya." Our ambassador to Libya got killed in proximity to an unexplained CIA operation. Mali was destabilized. Libya has had two governments simultaneously drawing salary from its resource revenues. Terror gangs still rule many of the roads. All we managed to prove about Smart Power is that ISIS is what we get in Iraq and Syria when American policy extends and exacerbates a civil war. And a colony for ISIS is what we get in Libya when American policy foolishly tries to end one.
It's simple, really. Clinton's rivals can even read their stage directions while performing this attack. Just say: "Barack Obama defeated you by saying that you exercised poor judgment in supporting the war on Iraq. He then foolishly trusted you as his secretary of state, and your signature achievement was the worst foreign policy decision of his administration, the one that exacerbated a refugee crisis that is roiling Europe, and put ISIS within a day's sail of Sicily. You were wrong about Iraq. You were wrong about Libya. Why should anyone — our European partners, the diplomatic service, the American people, or even the cutthroat terrorists themselves — ever take you seriously as our commander in chief? Of course, they should not."
Only Rand Paul occasionally brings up Libya as a demerit on the former secretary's record. The other Republican candidates cannot bring themselves to question the results of force. And Bernie, well, who has time for beheaders when the Koch brothers are subsidizing libertarian academics?
Libya is the forgotten war. Clinton should pray that nothing happens along the southern coasts and rivieras of Europe that reminds us.