Libya may no longer be front-page news, but it should be. Late last month, rebels seized the Benghazi branch of the Central Bank of Libya. Gunmen kidnapped the internationally recognized deputy foreign minister right before U.N. talks between the factions were to begin. Troops loyal to the recognized prime minister also had a gun battle with an al-Qa’ida affiliate. Libya is rapidly becoming the next breeding ground for terrorist organizations.
The revolution in Libya, beginning in February of 2011, gave hope to the world that a country once ruled by a pariah regime could turn a new leaf and re-enter the community of nations. While no one expected the process to be smooth, the U.S. and our allies bear much of the blame for the current state of affairs.
After helping revolutionaries overthrow Qaddafi, the West failed to follow through with any plan for stabilization. With no existing civil society, coherent opposition, or leaders in waiting, Libya plunged into sectarian conflict. Instability worsened further with Egypt and the UAE backing secularists in the East, and Sudan, Turkey, and Qatar supporting the Islamists. As if this wasn’t complicated enough, al-Qa’ida and separatists are also in the mix.
It did not need to turn out this way. The United States and Europe (France in particular, which took an early leading role) should have brought the factions to the table to reach some power sharing agreement and put their collective weight behind a new government. It is not as though the West doesn’t have tools – financially, it could have leveraged threats of frozen oil and overseas assets; politically, the importance of diplomatic and international recognition is often overlooked; and finally, the introduction of a stabilization force would have signaled the West’s commitment and it’s resolve.
Instead, the West withdrew and paid less and less attention. The response of the U.S. since the terrible attack on our consulate in Benghazi only made this situation worse – the closure of our Embassy and our remaining consulates has left us blind. Without a strong American presence in country and no real partner domestically, we have little influence or ability to bring all of the murderers to justice.