ON MAY 6, the U.S. House of Representatives formed a select committee to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, which ended in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The committee will be responsible for investigating “all policies, decisions, and activities” related to the attack.
Democrats are charging Republicans with playing politics, hoping to damage a potential presidential bid by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton is a clear front-runner for the 2016 nomination, and painting her as asleep at the switch on foreign policy will definitely buoy any GOP candidate’s bid. It certainly won’t hurt them in this year’s mid-term elections either.
Democrats and Republicans will trade barbs, but the American people ought to look beyond any partisan bickering and learn Libya’s most valuable lesson.
When a U.S.-led NATO mission to aid Libyan rebels toppled Moamar Ghadafi’s regime in 2011, Democrats were quick to portray the President as a new kind of interventionist — as if disaster couldn’t afflict the varsity squad. Pundits carrying water for the administration did a victory dance; Foreign Affairs called it “The Right Way to Run an Intervention.” Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said the mission was an “enormous success.”
Reality has returned a different verdict. Three years later, Libya is a disaster. Americans caught a glimpse of this when Ambassador Stevens and three members of his team were murdered in 2012. Mainstream U.S. news agencies have largely avoided talking about the bigger picture in Libya, but it doesn’t look good.
The “constitutional” government in Tripoli is a joke. Meetings of the parliamentary assembly are attacked by gunmen, its members forced to flee into the streets. In March, Prime Minister Ali Zidan fled the country, fearing for his life. His replacement resigned after less than two weeks in office, after his family was threatened.
Bombings, gun battles, kidnappings and political assassinations are a daily event. Battles between rival militias often catch civilians in the crossfire. Sometimes, the militias openly target civilians, killing scores. These numerous militias control huge areas, acting autonomously, shutting oil terminals and roads, openly mocking the Libyan army and deciding who comes into and leaves the country.
European security experts fear the growth of a lawless terrorist state just across the Mediterranean. A new State Department report, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013,” expresses serious concern that weapons shipped to Libyan rebels by western governments, including ours, are now in the hands of terrorist groups “supply(ing) arms throughout the region and to fighters in Syria.”
Two weeks ago Ibrahim Ali Abu Bakr Tantoush, an associate of Osama bin Laden, lead his group of Salifist fighters in an attack on a former U.S. special forces compound west of Tripoli. Now, they train there. Counter-terrorism operators in Africa have described Libya as “scumbag Woodstock” — a sort of “jihadist melting-pot” where al Qaeda-like groups can gather to train and plan for attacks “beyond Libya’s borders.”
Susan Rice was correct; this is what success looks like. For decades, those directing foreign policy have played kingmaker in the Middle East — playing sides off of each other, propping up brutal dictators, overthrowing others, but always violently intervening in their affairs. The outcome is always the same: upheaval for them, and blow-back for us.
The House subcommittee on Benghazi may or may not be a partisan endeavor, but Americans should stay united across party lines in opposing future military operations like the one in Libya. That is the most important lesson we can learn from the deaths of those Americans.
Scott McPherson of Portsmouth is a policy adviser at the Future of Freedom Foundation, a libertarian educational foundation based in Fairfax, Va.