NEW YORK – As the United States struggles to understand last September’s attack on its diplomatic mission in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, a formal investigation has not even been opened in Libya – and likely never will be. The country’s leaders face myriad challenges – from a vocal federalist movement in the East, aimed at usurping the central government’s prerogatives, to a wave of assassinations targeting security officials – which leaves them few resources to allocate to a case that poses no immediate threat to their domestic standing.
Instead, they are focusing on rebuilding the state that former leader Muammar el-Qaddafi destroyed. They have been grappling with the need to create effective administrative institutions and foster an independent judiciary. While the National Transitional Council (NTC), the interim governing body that replaced Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime, failed to lay the groundwork for a modern state, it is too soon to pass judgment on the elected leadership that took power in November 2012.
The litmus test will be progress on security. The Benghazi attack, and the lack of a credible Libyan response, demonstrated that the country is neither governed by the rule of law nor in a position to impose it. The new government must change this situation by disbanding militias and integrating their members into official Libyan security forces.
For starters, the government must stop coddling the militias, and focus on building the national army – something that the NTC neglected. To be sure, persuading the militias to transfer their loyalties to the state will not be easy, especially given the fighters’ strong, often ideological connections to their individual units. But it is a crucial step toward establishing order and enhancing the newly elected government’s legitimacy.