I served as a
At the time of the attack, on Sept. 11, 2012, I was the public affairs officer at the Tripoli embassy, responsible for broadening our relations with the new Libya by forging ties between Americans and Libyans. That kind of bond-building had been virtually impossible during the 42 years of
U.S. Ambassador J.
Successive polls have shown that Libyans hold very positive views of the U.S., thanks to America's support for the 2011 revolution, and Ambassador Stevens was determined to build on that goodwill. That was good foreign policy. As a largely pro-American Arab and Muslim country, Libya represents a tremendous strategic opportunity for the U.S. Building a strong bilateral relationship would help to reduce the appeal of extremism and further American interests in countless areas, security included.
But, in the wake of the attacks, security at
We tried to do what we could, but given their history of living under a paranoid dictator, Libyans were understandably wary about phone conversations. And with such a scaled-down staff, there simply weren't enough bodies to carry out the full range of diplomatic functions.
Diplomatic engagement was reenergized with the arrival of a new ambassador this summer and the announcement of a U.S.-British-Italian plan to provide much-needed military training for Libyan troops. But intense political scrutiny in Washington has continued to prevent the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli from striking the right balance between mission and security.
As we have seen in other parts of the world, once an embassy becomes a fortress, it is hard to change course. Extreme risk-aversion becomes the norm among decision-makers responsible for security in both Washington and the field. As a result, embassies are cut off from their operating environment.
In November, on what has become known in Libya as "Black Friday," some 40 unarmed protesters were killed by militia members in Tripoli. Focusing on the past events in Benghazi instead of finding ways to help Libya overcome such security challenges is a disservice to the goals of the 2011 Libyan revolution and the support America and its allies provided to it.
Thousands of U.S. diplomats do their jobs every day, conscious of the dangers they face but accepting of the risks that come with the job. Excessive security that interferes with their jobs doesn't serve our interests abroad or make us safer at home. The politicians who play political football with Benghazi should be ashamed of themselves.