By Michael Shank and Najla Elmangoush, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Najla Elmangoush is the dean of Centre of Gender Studies at the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies in Tripoli. Michael Shank is the associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and adjunct faculty at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. The views expressed are their own.
With violence in Iraq dominating the news, there’s little attention paid to the similar implosion in Libya, aside from the usual periodic Benghazi rhetoric. Yet U.S. interventions in both countries have clearly backfired, leaving them all the messier because the U.S. didn’t carefully plan reconciliation processes in either country. And, without Washington’s willingness to engage in some self-reflection on what it did wrong with Libya, we risk seeing the same chaos that is unfolding in Iraq.
Sadly, the West’s neglect has allowed Libyan renegades like Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a former Gadhafi supporter who has recruited other ex-Gadhafi loyalists, to take charge. Haftar, whose is supposed to be fighting the extremists, has been behind the bombing of areas around Benghazi, and leads a powerful militia once part of the national army. He is also using the same language as the West regarding his refusal to “negotiate with terrorists.”
But none of this is helping Libya become more stable. Indeed, the security situation is deteriorating, and this summer witnessed the worst violence in Benghazi since 2011, when Gadhafi’s militia attacked the city. The latest example of violence – between Ansar al-sharia, the most dangerous armed Islamist militia group in Libya, and Haftar’s forces – claimed the lives of 19 civilians, with dozens more hurt.
By Karim Mezran, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Karim Mezran is resident senior fellow at The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. The views expressed are the writer's own.
Of Libya’s manifold challenges, deteriorating security has occupied most of the international community’s attention, particularly in the aftermath of the tragedy in Benghazi that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in September 2012.
In the highly partisan Washington climate, the House of Representatives voted to establish a select committee to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the event. But if the underlying goal is to protect U.S. diplomats and interests, the latest move misses the big picture. If the United States and its partners want to see security improved in the long run, it should instead renew its engagement with Libya and more robustly support its transition to democracy. After all, continued insecurity can have dire consequences not just for Libyans but for others too, as Benghazi illustrated.
Since the toppling of Gadhafi in October 2011, Libya has been gripped by chaos as the weak central government struggles to assert authority, inadvertently allowing centrifugal forces to gain momentum. Recent local election results suggest that, in the absence of state action and authority, a frustrated public is willing to cast a vote for elements that stand for operating outside of the law.
By Christian Whiton, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christian Whiton is the author of the forthcoming book, ‘Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.’ He was a State Department senior advisor from 2003-2009. The views expressed are his own.
That’s twice Washington was caught slack-jawed amid revolution in the world’s biggest Arab-majority state. But don’t blame the Obama administration exclusively for twice being on the losing side of events in Egypt. Reality in Egypt has also eluded Beltway Republican foreign policy mavens and America’s dysfunctional and distracted intelligence bureaucracies. That makes shaping events in Egypt nearly impossible.
The first shock for Washington came in January 2011, when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians demanding secular democracy filled town squares. According to Washington and its $80 billion-per-year intelligence bureaucracy, these people did not exist in the Middle East. The choice there was supposedly between corrupt strongmen like Egypt’s 30-year president Hosni Mubarak or repressive Islamists like those who run Iran and populate Muslim Brotherhood parties around the region.
Secular liberals were as rare as unicorns and supported by only a small number of Egypt’s urbanites – or so the story went. And yet there they were: mobs of young Egyptians not demanding Islamic law and clerical rule, but accountable government with democratic laws and institutions.
By William Young, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: William Young is a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He was formerly a senior officer with the CIA with extensive experience in the Middle East. The views expressed are his own.
Benghazi is back in the news. Late last week, clashes between protesters and militia claimed at least two dozen lives after demonstrators reportedly stormed a pro-government militia base. The latest violence is a reminder of just how unstable parts of the country remain – and how many questions remain unanswered as the United States seeks to ensure that there is no repeat of a tragedy that claimed the lives of four Americans last September.
The truth is that something has gone terribly wrong when two U.S. government officers end up making a last stand against overwhelming odds in a terrorist attack on an American diplomatic compound. Last year’s attack on the Benghazi consulate, reportedly also a CIA outpost, suggests the United States simply was not prepared to operate in such a high-threat environment and had not reassessed the changing nature of the danger.
By Anas El Gomati, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anas El Gomati is a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, and director of Sadeq Institute, Libya’s first think tank. The views expressed are his own.
Libya may want to move on from its past, but a law passed earlier this month with the backing of more than 90 percent of lawmakers is the wrong way to go about it.
The “Political Isolation” law would be sweeping enough if it just stuck to the provisions barring anyone that held a senior position in the Gadhafi regime from holding office again for a decade. But it also states that intellectuals, academics, civil servants, security and army officials and leading media personnel should also be barred from doing so. Even exiles and defectors in opposition during Gadhafi’s reign who held senior positions in the distant past could also be barred from serving again for 10 years.
The law, which will effectively be policed by an “Isolation Commission” tasked with vetting officials, was pushed through in the wake of increased activism by Libyan militias. Indeed, militias were quick to seize on the aftermath of the bombing of the French Embassy on April 23, one of a string of attacks in the past year on foreign interests, to help further their agenda. And, even as Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s cabinet attempted to draw up a response for the international community, revolutionary and rogue militias seized four key ministries at gunpoint, demanding that the law be passed.
By Christopher S. Chivvis, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christopher Chivvis is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and author of the forthcoming book ‘Toppling Qaddafi.’
The car bomb attack this morning near Benghazi hospital, which some reports suggest may have killed a dozen people, is further evidence of the pressing need for the United States and its allies to up their support for the nascent Libyan state by paying to train and equip a Libyan security force loyal to its elected government. Unfortunately, U.S. support is stalled by Washington’s reluctance to spend even modest sums on Libya, a country widely viewed as rich and capable of paying its own way.
Today's attack, coupled with the strike against the French embassy on April 23, marked a new phase in the deterioration of Libya’s internal security situation, which has been near anarchic since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gadhafi. Since the bombing, former revolutionaries have assaulted the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry in protest against the inaction of the provisional government, which itself is paralyzed by pervasive insecurity.
The Libyan government’s failure to unify and establish control over the country’s multiple militias after the end of the 2011 war is looking more and more disastrous as time passes. And by adopting a laissez-faire policy toward security in Libya after the war, the United States and its allies who helped the Libyan rebels topple Gadhafi share in the responsibility for the country’s current predicament.
By Fred Abrahams, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Fred Abrahams is a special adviser at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
All civilians deserve protection, but some civilians deserve more protection than others. Or so it seems in Libya today.
Two years ago, the U.N. Security Council authorized a military operation by NATO with a mandate to protect civilians who were under attack by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. That operation led to Gadhafi’s fall.
Today, long after the fighting has stopped, those who are rightly or wrongly perceived to have supported Gadhafi are under threat. Thousands of women and children have been displaced from their homes and living in camps, often harassed. Men have been detained, tortured and killed. They need protection, but the nations that intervened two years ago have done virtually nothing on their behalf.
By Fred Abrahams, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Fred Abrahams is Special Adviser at Human Rights Watch. You can follow him @fredabrahams. The views expressed are his own.
The Obama administration’s handling of the September attack in Benghazi, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other US citizens, became a matter of heated presidential campaign debate. But Libya should not be allowed to gradually fall off the U.S. radar, even if it’s no longer time to score political points. Policy makers and analysts should learn from the deadly attack and review how the U.S. government and others can help Libya build stability and security after 42 years of dictatorship.
Here are some ideas to start that conversation. First, encourage and help Libya develop security forces that can operate with the professionalism, transparency and accountability that were absent for four decades under Moammar Gadhafi. Libya desperately needs effective military and police. But these forces should break with past practice and serve the public under the rule of law rather than the interests of one man.
By Brian Klein, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Brian P. Klein is an economic consultant and former U.S. diplomat who blogs at Klein’s Commentary. The views expressed are his own.
The recently publicized series of State Department emails laying out in harrowing detail the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi have provoked another round of finger-pointing and more politically-motivated pabulum.
At 4:05 p.m. on September 11, 2012: “The Regional Security Officer reports the mission is under attack. Embassy Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well.”
Ambassador Christopher Stevens and four other personnel, according to the same email, are at this time in the safe haven and the 17th of February Militia is providing security support. Based on this early assessment, it appears the situation is under control. Diplomats are safe. Armed entities are defending.
President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney had plenty to discuss at Monday night's foreign policy match-up:
There's an ongoing war in Afghanistan, civil war in Syria and a tense standoff between Iran and Israel. Terrorism is still an issue, as evidenced by the recent embassy attack in Libya. And then there is a perceived threat from China.
But what are the facts behind the claims made by the candidates? Here's a round-up of CNN's fact checks from Monday's debate:
2014 AFGHANISTAN DEADLINE
Obama accused Romney of initially being against a withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
The claim: "In the same way that you initially opposed a timetable in Afghanistan, now you're for it, although it depends," Obama said. FULL POST
By Michael O'Hanlon, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings (where he was a colleague of Rice’s for several years), teaches at Princeton and Columbia and Johns Hopkins and is a member of the CIA External Advisory Board. The views expressed are his own.
Ambassador Susan Rice has been roundly criticized of late for her comments made on five Sunday morning talk shows the weekend after the Benghazi tragedy in which four Americans lost their lives to a terrorist attack. Because Rice stated her belief that the violence was the result of a mass demonstration gone bad, rather than the planned extremist attacks we now know them to be, some have even gone so far as to demand her resignation from her current cabinet position as United States ambassador to the United Nations.
This is way off the mark and extremely unfair to a dedicated official who has served the country tirelessly and remarkably over her four years in the Obama administration. Rice did not choose all her words perfectly that weekend, even based on what was known at the time, it is true. There should have been a bit more nuance and more acknowledgement of the uncertainty in some of them. But there is no basis for concluding that she sought to mislead, and no reason to think that harm came to the country's interests because of her comments. While there are issues worth debating in regards to Benghazi, to Libya, and to the state of the Arab awakenings more generally, the unkind focus on Rice badly misses the mark.
By Christopher Preble and Malou Innocent, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christopher Preble (@capreble) is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, and Malou Innocent (@malouinnocent) is a foreign policy analyst, at the Cato Institute. The views expressed are their own.
In the wake of violent protests in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, as embassies and consulates scramble to beef up security, the focus here in the United States has shifted to the U.S. presidential campaign. As the candidates trade shots over apology tours and ham-fisted reactions, their partisan bickering obscures an uglier truth: both of the major parties have supported policies that have failed to deliver tangible benefits to the American people and made the United States look weak.
Whether it is economic assistance to authoritarian allies, or wars of liberation and nation-building, the most powerful country in the world conveys the impression of begging for cooperation from nations of marginal importance. Democratic and Republican administrations alike have pursued such misguided policies. It’s time to stop, and the appalling response to a low-budget film mocking the Prophet Mohammad should prompt such a change.