Libya needs the U.S. for its transition to democracy
by Charles Dunne
Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs
Deborah Jones is scheduled to appear Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committeeon her nomination as the new U.S. ambassador to Libya. This will present a stark reminder of the events that took the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012. Since that tragedy, the United States has understandably focused on bringing those responsible for it to justice and taking steps to bolster diplomatic security. But as a result, the United States has largely disengaged from Libya’s democratic transition. This transition is critical — not only for Libya but also for the security and political stability of its neighbors — and the United States is essential to its success.
To be sure, Libya’s challenges are daunting. The Benghazi attacks, the recent car bombing at the French Embassy in Tripoli and frequent assaults on government ministries give the appearance of a country out of control. Armed groups remain an obstacle to stability, frequently disrupting the political process through intimidation and violence. Institutions remain dilapidated, dysfunctional and strikingly weak. Certainly, security is paramount to ensuring that all the key components to build stability fall into place: Constitutional negotiations, job creation, attraction of foreign investment and legal reform are among many items on the agenda. Questions about the political role of Gaddafi-era officials, private-sector development and border control have yet to be answered.
These obstacles amplify the necessity of U.S. reengagement in Libya. The United States has important national security interests in North Africa, including the need to combat growing regional terrorist networks, to prevent a destabilizing flow of loose arms to the broader Middle East and to avoid an influx of refugees to Europe. Politically, a successful transition in Libya would be a comforting and important model for democracies emerging elsewhere in the region. Greater engagement can make Libya a bulwark against, rather than a catalyst for, regional instability.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.