The dramatic testimony of Gregory Hicks, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, has shone the media spotlight on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack. Republican lawmakers and conservative journalists have managed to raise substantial and serious questions about the administration’s response to the attack, both as it was occurring and in the days that followed. The mainstream news media have been obliged to follow suit, putting White House spokesmen on the defensive, even if charges of a “cover up” remain far from proven.
But, oddly enough, almost no one is talking about what I regard as the real scandal here–the shameful failure of the Obama administration to extend state-building assistance to Libya’s pro-Western leaders after having helped them to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. The inability of the Libyan government to control its own territory created the conditions that led to the 2012 attack–and those conditions have not changed since.
A recent Reuters dispatch from Tripoli notes: “More than 18 months after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s new rulers have yet to impose a firm grip on a country awash with weapons. Rebel groups that helped to overthrow him are still refusing to disband, and remain more visible on the streets than the state security forces.”
Libya ostensibly has democratic institutions, but in reality it seems to be prey to mob rule. At the end of last month, for example, gunmen besieged the foreign and justice ministries, demanding the passage of a law to ban anyone who had held a senior position in the Gaddafi government. As Reuters further notes: “Parliament bowed to the demand and approved the legislation a week later, despite criticism from rights groups and diplomats who said it was sweeping, unfair and could cripple the government.”
The U.S. is being derelict in not doing more to help the elected government in Libya to establish its authority–and in the process we are allowing an opening for al-Qaeda and its ilk. Shouldn’t someone in a position of authority in Washington be talking about this? And, even better, doing something about it?
No doubt President Obama, in the full grip of Iraq Syndrome, regards any attempts to stabilize Libya as the first step toward getting involved in a “quagmire.” And no doubt, too, Republicans are loathe to criticize him on this front because “nation building” remains as anathema in their ranks as it does in the Obama administration. But in the process we are not doing nearly enough to address the critical threat in Libya, which could result in more attacks on U.S. personnel and interests in the future.