About the Author: Sean McCormack serves as Department Spokesman and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.
We just landed in Rabat, Morocco -- having worked in four cities in one day. (I was talking to a journalist on the plane ride about our two consecutive days of three stops each day, when he pointed out we had, in fact, made a four country swing today.) We left Tripoli just before 2 a.m. on our way to Tunisia for a little sleep and meetings in the morning. Next stop was Algiers, Algeria, for an afternoon of meetings and an Iftar dinner with President Bouteflika. Rabat, where we landed just before 10 p.m., promised more meetings and another Iftar dinner. Accounting for the two-hour time difference between here and Tripoli, that makes a four-stop day.
A couple more things from Tripoli: first, Secretary Rice and Col. Qadhafi continued their meeting with interpreters and note takers present for more than an hour. Just as that meeting was winding down, he invited her to the family's kitchen for dinner. Staff quickly left and entered, creating an atmosphere that sounded something like a busy restaurant kitchen around eight o'clock on a Friday night. Eventually, the Secretary made it back to the hotel for a midnight press conference with the foreign minister and two television interviews: CNN and CNBC (transcript forthcoming). After a drive out to the airport we were "wheels up" just before 2 a.m.
Second, on arrival to Tripoli, we landed at Mitiga Airport, which in a previous incarnation was known as Wheelus Air Base. If you've ever been on an Air Force base with buildings constructed in the 1950's or '60's, you could easily recognize the rows of multi-story enlisted and officer billeting that lined the road out of the airport. I had read about the fact we once had a base in Libya, but I was surprised to find myself landing at it and driving through it. Later, as we pulled up to the blue and white C-32 jet (the Air Force's version of the Boeing 757) with the stars and stripes on the tail sitting at the former Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli, Libya, I thought that now I understood the meaning of "the new normal," even if it was going to take me a while to get used to it.