The world is preparing for the possibility of U.S. military action in Syria -- or for a last-minute deal that will stave off the need for war. That's a big and important story; I get why we're all fixated on it. But it's not the only one out there. Even as the promise of the Arab Spring fades, there are still places where the countries of the West can intervene to powerful effect. Without using bombs.
We're about to mark the first anniversary of the killing of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya. Obama's critics will once again seize upon the incident as proof of an administration cover-up. Some in the American media will look at who's to blame and whether they can be brought to justice. That's understandable -- especially considering that some of the prime suspects have been enjoying their freedom in Benghazi, where they've been giving interviews to the media. The weak central government in Tripoli has been noticeably reluctant to do anything about it -- probably because leading officials are painfully aware that they have neither the investigative resources nor the forces to challenge the hold of Benghazi's powerful local militias.
The U.S. Justice Department has indicted several suspects, including Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged ringleader of the attack, as well as several fellow members of his Ansar al-Sharia militia. Some in the U.S. intelligence community have apparently been thinking about taking the assassins out -- motivated by the failure of the Libyan authorities to move against these men. This past Sunday, a news show moderator challenged White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on the issue, pointing out that plenty of reporters have been able to find Khattala while U.S. law enforcement agents don't seem to be able to do the same: "The United States government does what it says, and we will do what we say in this instance, as we do in every other instance," McDonough replied. Not a very satisfying answer, to say the least.
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I'm not a politician, so I have the luxury of giving a somewhat different answer. If Americans want to live up to the admirable legacy of Christopher Stevens, we should do what we can to help Libyans build the kind of democracy they want -- and not do anything that might derail that process.
Libya is not Afghanistan, it's not Pakistan, and it's certainly not Syria. It's a country whose people, with a bit of help from the outside world, fought for eight bloody months to overthrow their dictator. It's a country whose people then voted in a fair and free election for a government led by secular political parties. It's a country where opinion polls show that a majority of the population -- a solid 83 percent, according to the latest survey from the National Democratic Institute, believe that democracy is the best form of government. And it's a place where people (in stark contrast to, say, Egypt) still have a largely positive attitude towards the countries of the West. All this means that Libya still has a real shot at becoming a strong and healthy democracy.