A lot of people seem to be surprised that Libyans have taken up the cudgels against the Benghazi militias thought to have attacked the U.S. consulate there, killing the American ambassador and three of his colleagues. Readers of peacefare.net will not be so surprised, as I’ve repeatedly described the situation there as evolving in a positive direction, with a lot of appreciation for what the United States and NATO did to defeat Muammar Qaddafi. I wrote to friends Thursday just before the news of the uprising against the militias broke:
I’ve been there (in both Benghazi and Tripoli) twice in the last year. I certainly have never had a warmer reception as an American in an Arab country. Most Libyans, especially Benghazis, understand perfectly well that the U.S. and NATO saved them from Qaddafi. And they appreciate it. I drove repeatedly through demonstrations in Benghazi during the election period–there was zero hostility to Westerners. Ditto at the polling places. And ditto last September right after Qaddafi fled Tripoli, when I enjoyed a great Friday evening celebration in Martyr’s (Green) Square.
The Libyan transition has been going reasonably well, on a time schedule they themselves have set, with resources that are overwhelmingly their own. Yes, the militias are a problem, but they are also part of a temporary solution. There would be no order in Libya today without them. They guarded all the polling stations during the elections and eventually reestablished control over the consulate compound after the attack.
We’ll have to wait for the incident report to know, but I would bet on the attack having been a planned one (contra Susan Rice) by armed extremists associated with opposition to the elections and possibly with secession of Barqa (Cyrenaica)….The Libyan [political science professor] Chris Stevens met with the morning he was killed gave me an account of these small extremist groups, mainly headquartered in Derna, the evening after the elections [in July 7]. The state has, however, lacked the organization and force necessary to mop them up, which might in fact be a difficult operation. They are wise not to try until they know they can succeed.
They will now have to do it. We should be helping them where they need help.
It would be a mistake to take the uprising against the extremist militias as the final word. There is likely to be retaliation. What has happened so far is not law and order. It is more lynch mob, though no one seems to have been killed. We should not take much satisfaction from retribution. What is needed is justice, which requires a serious investigation, a fair trial and an appropriate punishment.
Also needed are reliable, unified and disciplined security forces: police, army, intelligence services. This is one of the most difficult tasks in any post-war, post-dictatorship society. Demobilization of the militias really is not possible until the new security institutions are able to start absorbing at least some of their cadres. Reform of security services and reintegration of former fighters are two sides of the same coin: establishing the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
It is astounding that the United States, after 20 years of demand from weak and failing states in the Balkans, Middle East and South Asia, still lacks adequate institutional means to assist in establishing foreign security forces that behave properly towards their citizens. We are especially weak on police, whose training and equipping is largely contracted to private companies that hire individuals who have never previously worked together and may have dramatically different ideas about what a proper police force does. The Americans are also weak in assisting interior ministries, since we don’t use them ourselves. I have little idea what we do assisting foreign intelligence services, since the effort is classified and has attracted little journalistic or academic attention. We have some significant experience and capacity to help with military services and defense ministries, but we could use a good deal more.
Police of course are not much use unless you’ve got courts and prisons to process the accused, along with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and prison guards. Not to mention laws, implementing regulations, legal education, bar associations and the ineffable but important “culture of law.” Installing a modern system for rule of law is a 10 or 20 year project.
The Libyans are facing a challenge similar to what we have seen in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Haiti, South Sudan and likely several more places I’ve omitted. There are pressing rule of law challenges in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen as well as obvious needs in Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan, Pakistan, Nepal, and Burma (Myanmar). When will we recognize that we need a permanent capacity to respond comprehensively and appropriately?