Obit Desk

Honoring Chris Stevens

How the U.S. ambassador killed this week in Benghazi would have handled Libya.

The Sept. 11 killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens is a disaster for Libya's post-Qaddafi transition. The perpetrators of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi ruthlessly exploited Libya's fluid security situation and capitalized on the symbolism of 9/11, all to undermine the country's heretofore impressive steps towards democracy and endanger its burgeoning relationship with the United States.

I met Ambassador Stevens on a handful of occasions. He was a casual and approachable man who boasted an impressive personal touch. His killing is not only a tragedy for both Americans and Libyans -- it is an attack on the engagement efforts between the two countries that he symbolized. It is no small irony that Stevens was killed as he was in Benghazi to open up an American cultural center. The likely long-term effect of this tragedy is that the U.S. mission in Benghazi will be shut down indefinitely, and plans to open a full consulate will be shelved. This is terrible news for the new Libya: Benghazi needs the mission, the cultural center, and the consulate to help overcome its decades of isolation under Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Stevens worked tirelessly to support a free Libya. Since his untimely death, he has received well-deserved praise from all quarters for his work in the country. It seems only natural to ask, then, how he would handle the crisis that Libya currently finds itself in. As a staunch advocate of increased U.S. engagement in Libya, he frequently spoke about the nuts and bolts that would be needed to move the U.S.-Libyan relationship to the next level -- seemingly trivial things like deploying a full-time commercial officer to work in the U.S. Embassy and smoothing the visa hurdles that prevent more Libyan students from studying in the United States. He was especially a believer in giving the Libyans whatever technical expert they were clamoring for -- the last time I spoke with him, he told me that his Libyan counterparts wanted Americans with experience in integrating war veterans back into society. If he were still alive, Stevens would understand that cowering inside the embassy has the potential to make Libya more, not less, dangerous for U.S. personnel.

The murder of Stevens, as well as other American and Libyan personnel, has unsurprisingly overshadowed the country's recent positive developments. On July 7, free and fair elections were held in Libya and a non-Islamist majority was elected to the General National Congress (GNC). The new body, which assumed power on Aug. 8, had been taking steps to combat the low-level militia violence that has plagued the country since the fall of Qaddafi. That progress is now being called into question. Just like Egyptian terrorists who attack tourists at the pyramids or at Sinai's beaches, the Libyan militants struck at the very lifeblood of their country's economy. If the security situation deteriorates and foreign companies cut back on their investments, Libya's transition to democracy will have little chance of success, despite the goodwill of both the Libyan people and the international community.

Amid a week filled with tragedy, Libya took another step forward: On Sept. 12, the GNC convened to elect Mustafa Abu Shagur as prime minister, making him the first truly elected leader in the country's history. So joyous was this news that many Libyans resumed their habit  of firing celebratory rounds into the night sky.

Abu Shagur has his work cut out for him. He will have to rapidly distance himself from the mistakes of the NTC, in which he served as deputy prime minister. He will have to choose ministers based on technical merit, and not for partisan or geographical reasons. This especially means not giving the interior ministry to an official from Misrata and the defense ministry to a senior militiaman from Zintan, as they currently are allotted.

Abu Shagur knows that the security situation must be his top priority, but building the fledgling Libyan security services will require active Western, and especially American, involvement. The goal of the consulate attack was to scare away just such assistance. To prevail over the terrorists, the United States must remain involved in Libyan capacity building. As I wrote back in February, there is much more the United States can do to help its Libyan allies, including serving as a matchmaker between Libyan officials and the American private sector and engaging with moderate Islamists and mainstream militias.

Most Libyans realize that the United States is a crucial ally and was instrumental in supporting the revolution. A recent Gallup survey found that Libyans' views of the United States were the most favorable in the history of its polling of the Arab Middle East. Abu Shagur's election provides another piece of evidence: The new Libyan prime minister is an American citizen -- proof that ordinary Libyans don't harbor strong anti-U.S. sentiments.

Though Abu Shagur must renounce his U.S. citizenship before being sworn in as prime minister, he will remain a willing friend and partner with the United States. Nonetheless, the bilateral relationship is now being put to the test. The changing security restrictions on foreign diplomats in Libya in the wake of this tragedy will present a massive challenge: Non-essential U.S. embassy staff have already left Libya and the future of cultural outreach and education programs are up in the air. Pre-existing security protocols have already limited the movements of diplomats outside their embassies. How can diplomats build personal connections without traveling around the country, or even around the capital?

Paradoxically, this is exactly the moment that outreach programs and a human touch are most required. Sending 50 marines to help the Libyans wage their upcoming counteroffensive against the militants throughout eastern Libya is necessary -- the Libyans lack the capacity themselves -- but is unlikely to drastically help matters.

Foreign investment?

Libya not only needs security for its own sake, but to encourage foreign investment that will bolster its economy and consequently provide a better life for its people. These concerns are currently the largest barrier to foreign companies entering the Libyan market. A common misconception holds that most foreign companies operating in Libya are in the oil sector. In fact, this isn't a growth sector for American companies -- but helping the Libyans spend their petrodollars on infrastructure and diversifying their economy is.

The updated State Department travel warning issued on Sept. 12 could have been even more restrictive, but fortunately it was wisely understated. It only warns U.S. citizens against nonessential travel to Libya -- it does not advise them to leave Libya immediately. However, this is a distinction that might be lost on some businessmen, who undoubtedly have the murder of the U.S. ambassador and his colleagues fresh on their minds.

Before the attack, there was a sense that Libya's sporadic violence consisted of regional or tribal conflicts that did not pose much direct threat to foreigners. It will be extremely dangerous if this healthy perception shifts. If America cuts and runs or lashes out in revenge, security and stability will deteriorate, foreign direct investment will dry up, and the Libyan economy outside of the oil sector will stagnate. That will provide fertile soil for the worst elements inside Libya to regain a foothold.

Carefully crafted American engagement can help restore positive momentum to the political transition currently underway in Libya. In the wake of the savage killing of its ambassador, it’s time for the United States to double down.


Obit Desk

The Strange Life of Reverend Sun Myung Moon

The bizarre tycoon and church leader never lived to see his dream of a reunited Korea.

The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah and messenger of Jesus Christ, built a transcontinental business empire that rivaled his Unification Church in scope and power. Moon, who died Monday at the age of 92, managed to cultivate friendships with world leaders like George H.W. Bush, even though millions of worshippers, some of whom Moon blessed in colorful -- some might say wacky -- mass wedding ceremonies, called the church leader and his wife "father" and "mother" with cult-like intensity. But the fervently anti-communist Moon never managed to figure out North Korea, becoming one of the biggest individual investors of the authoritarian, atheist land of his birth even as he failed to change it.

Born in 1920, Moon said that when he was 15, Jesus appeared to him and told him to take on an unspecified "special mission on Earth." He concluded he needed to "go to Japan and to America so that I can let the world know the greatness of the Korean people," according to his autobiography. After graduating from middle school, Moon moved to Japan to study. In the autobiography, As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, published in English in 2010, Moon tries to show how he suffered for his cause. Active in the Korean independence movement in Japan, Moon could not "even remember the number of times I was taken into custody by the police, beaten, tortured, and locked in a cell. Even under the worst torture, however, I refused to give them the information they sought."

Returning to Korea, Moon's preaching and proselytizing caught the attention of authorities, who arrested him for being a spy for the South Korean government and for "disturbing the social order," sentencing him to five years in a labor camp in 1948. "In prison, the authorities beat me endlessly and demanded that I confess my crimes," Moon wrote. "Even as I was vomiting blood and seemed on the verge of death, I never let myself lose consciousness ... [I] prayed with confidence, ‘God, don't worry about me. Sun Myung Moon is not dead yet. I won't let myself die in such a miserable way as this.' I was right."

The Korean War broke out while Moon was still in the camp. The day before he was scheduled to be executed, Moon claimed, the U.S. military attacked. "The high walls around the prison began to fall ... At around two o'clock in the morning on the next day, I walked calmly out of Heungnam Prison with dignity," he wrote.

Moon returned to South Korea and founded the Unification Church in 1954; a spokesperson for the church said that the roof of Moon's first dwelling in South Korea was made out of ration boxes. "Korea was terribly poor, so they decided to do business" to create revenue and support the mission work of the church, the spokesperson said, adding that in "the early days of the church, they would paint pictures of U.S. servicemen and their families, and sell them to earn funds."

Moon quickly expanded to tools and machine parts; in 1963, the budding tycoon founded the Tongil (Korean for "unification") Group, which soon extended into construction, resorts, and weapons, with the subsidiary Tongil Heavy, which was sold off in 1998. Most of the companies that Tongil runs are privately traded, making numbers difficult to come by; Forbes reported in April 2010 that Tongil Group's assets "are said to total $1.5 billion."

As his business empire grew, Moon positioned himself in the campaign to stop the spread of communism, which he saw as a "godless ideology that tried to dominate man and take away their connection from their heavenly parents," according to the church spokesperson. He founded the International Federation for Victory over Communism in 1968, which reached a membership of more than 4 million in South Korea, according to a church-affiliated website. In 1985, Moon funded a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, entitled "The End of the Soviet Empire." He even became something of a media mogul, creating and sponsoring outlets to help preach his views. Moon founded the conservative newspaper the Washington Times in 1982; the Unification Church also runs News World Communications, which owns the once-prominent newswire UPI. Moon reportedly spent more than $1.7 billion on the Washington Times.

No stranger to delusions of grandeur, Moon declared his ambition to rule the world, according to his obituary in the Washington Post; Time quoted him in 1976 as saying, "The whole world is in my hand, and I will conquer and subjugate the world." Some of his flights of fancy -- such as his claim to be the Messiah -- proved too much even for his supporters. "[On] any given day there's about 84 Messiahs roaming around the world. [The question is] who has the best practices," says Antonio Betancourt, the director of the office of peace and security affairs at the Universal Peace Federation International, a Unification Church-affiliated organization, who says he's been with Reverend Moon since 1974.

Moon often sought to parlay his religious and business interests into political ones. He met privately with then Russian President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in 1990. But North Korea was more difficult. In the late 1980s, North Korea and the communist militant group the Japanese Red Army plotted to kill Moon, according to Betancourt and church documentation. Undeterred, Moon sought an audience with North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, hoping to "prevent war from occurring on the Korean peninsula," Moon wrote in his autobiography. "Reverend Moon, foreseeing that the wave of collapse beginning in the Soviet Union would stretch all the way to North Korea, believed it was his mission to take care of the situation," wrote Bo Hi Pak, a top aide to Moon, in his book Messiah: My Testimony to Rev. Sun Myung Moon, published in English in 2002. According to Betancourt, who says he been to North Korea roughly 17 times, former Costa Rican President Rodrigo Carazo Odio, a friend of Kim Il Sung's, helped arrange the meeting, which took place in Pyongyang in 1991.

Moon writes somewhat breathlessly about Kim Il Sung, whom he apparently saw as a charming, good-natured man who just happened to run one of the world's most repressive police states. "We were like brothers who were meeting for the first time after a long separation," Moon wrote in his autobiography. In 1991, North Korea had yet to test its first nuclear weapon, and Moon claims he proposed North Korea agree to a declaration of denuclearization. Kim "responded with candor," wrote Moon, quoting the North Korean leader as saying, "Think for a moment. Who am I going to kill by making nuclear weapons? Kill my own people? Do I look like that kind of person?"

The Unification Church claims that the summit helped defuse tension on the Korean peninsula in the lead up to the Korean nuclear crisis of the early 1990s, when Pyongyang announced that it planned to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). "We averted war," Betancourt told me. "If Reverend Moon hadn't engaged there would have been a war between North and South Korea, and the United States would have been involved."

Whether that's true or not, Moon did use his foothold in the country, as he had in China, Uruguay, and Japan, to expand his business empire. The summit led the way for Moon to open Pyonghwa Motors, North Korea's only joint-venture automobile factory, and the first, if not the only joint-venture allowed to put up billboards in Pyongyang.

Moon continued to expand his business ties after the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994. For Moon's 80th birthday in 2000, Kim Il Sung's son and heir Kim Jong Il reportedly sent a greeting card and an unspecified amount of rare wild ginseng, according to Unification Church officials. In 2009, Pyonghwa Motors even recorded a profit. A Moon-affiliated organization also owns the Potonggang Hotel in Pyongyang, one of the nicest hotels in the country open to foreign visitors. (One reviewer on the travel site Trip Advisor enthused "It really looks like a hotel!") Moon was even allowed to build a church in North Korea, where visiting Unification Church delegates can pray in when they visit the country. The amount of money Moon invested in North Korea is unknown; Betancourt guesses $50 million.

The Unification Church appears to have maintained good contacts with Pyongyang; Moon's son Hyung Jin was one of the few foreign guests at Kim Jong Il's December funeral. As for North Korea, now ruled by the twentysomething Kim Jong Un, it seems no closer or further from collapse than it has been for decades. What's clear, though, is that unless he does turn out to be the Messiah after all, Reverend Moon won't be around to see what happens next.

Alex Wong/Newsmakers