Sad news reached the American people on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Four U.S. diplomats, including the Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, were killed in an assault on a consulate building in Benghazi. Some suspect the attack was a retaliation for the recent American-made movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” which caused outrage and protests throughout the region. Others believe this was the work of al-Qaeda in avenging the death of Libyan deputy Abu Yahya al-Libi. Either way, the weaponry used in the killings — mortars and rocket-propelled grenades — implies that the attack was premeditated.
Destabilization has increased gradually in the region since the U.S.-led NATO intervention last spring deposed Muammar el-Qaddafi and turned the government over to Libyan rebels. Thus, the U.S. government is forced to deal with potentially dangerous long-term repercussions to an invasion that has been universally lauded for its short-term successes.
Independently, this attack does not damage the relationship between the American and Libyan governments. The assault took place at a consulate building on American property. There was little that Libyan security forces could have done that American forces couldn’t, especially considering the new regime’s instability. Besides, the new Libyan government, installed in the wake of el-Qaddafi’s overthrow, was overtly supported by NATO. Unless the new Libyan government refuses to cooperate with subsequent investigations, there is no reason for the U.S. to weaken ties with a fledgling government in the midst of transitional turmoil.
Rather, the U.S. should support any efforts to quell social unrest in the region. This instability allows religious fundamentalism to gain traction, as observed following the establishment of the provisional government in Iraq in 2003. The U.S. needs to allow Libya to foster its own governmental institutions rather than imposing its policies upon the country. In this way, America will hopefully learn from its past mistakes.
Despite the distance between statements made by President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney about the embassy attack, whoever ultimately wins the election will most likely continue current policies when it comes to maintaining a relationship with the new Libyan government. We should only hope they don’t change course into strategies that result in greater turmoil.
A version of this story appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 13 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.