Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman recently published an opinion piece addressing recent events in Libya for Politico. You can read the text of his article here on Politico.com or below.
"I have visited Libya twice in the last six months: Tripoli in December, and Benghazi last week. I might as well have visited two different planets.
"My visit to Tripoli in December was full of dark threats and ominous portents. The fear was palpable. One Libyan official told me that if you so much as dared to speak of Qadhafi's paranoia and quirks you would be killed. Qadhafi's thugs had taken to harassing our embassy personnel. It was a harbinger of worse things to come -- violence and vicious threats directed not at foreign officials, but at Libya's own citizens. Then in March, Qadhafi launched attacks on peaceful protesters and threatened to hunt them down 'like rats.' The international community had no choice but to respond.
"Last week in Benghazi, though, I saw what Libya could become -- and it was clear as day why it is in the U.S. interest to see the Benghazi vision for Libya succeed over Qadhafi's. The collective sense of joy and opportunity was unlike anything I have experienced in my diplomatic career -- and that includes my posting in Budapest in 1989.
"Everyone, from rights activists, to businessmen, to members of the Transitional National Council (TNC), projected a sense of exhilaration. Civil society organizations of every stripe seemed to pop up almost before my eyes. Citizens seemed astonished and delighted that they can at last speak their minds, and plan for a different Libya than the one they have endured for the past 40-plus years.
"In the many years I have worked in the Middle East, I've never been to an Arab city so grateful to the United States. Libyans in Benghazi know how brutal their former ruler is. They are profoundly appreciative to have been spared what would have undoubtedly been a massacre of enormous proportions in mid-March, had NATO not intervened. Imagine walking in the main square of a teeming Arab city and having people wave the American flag, clamor for photographs with a visiting American official, and celebrate the United States as both savior and model.
"Enthusiasm aside, the challenges facing Libya are great, and the struggle against Qadhafi is not over. The TNC seems sincere in its commitment to building an inclusive, democratic Libya that is a partner with us -- but they and their supporters have a lot of work to do to turn their good words into action. And they are working to build functioning, accountable institutions from scratch, in the midst of an ongoing conflict.
"What happens in Libya matters for the whole region, so it's strongly in our interest to see the Libyans standing up to Qadhafi succeed in winning the freedom they demand. The Arab world is in upheaval. The fear threshold has been crossed and people, particularly young people, will no longer put up with the old order. Two leaders have already fallen in peaceful revolutions -- but the consequences of these popular movements, particularly for American interests, are still being determined.
"We have an enormous stake in the outcome of these changes. The countries of the region may develop more democratic, inclusive and pluralistic systems -- or they could descend into civil and sectarian conflict. Arab states could emerge with more legitimate governments, capable of tackling their daunting socio-economic challenges, or they might fall further behind, and their young people may turn to despair and possibly extremism. Either Arab governments will rest on the strong foundation of their people's consent, or they will slide into fiercer coercion -- a recipe for instability counter to both their interests, and ours.
"Leaders in Syria and Yemen are trying to hold back the wind -- just like Qadhafi. Dictators across the region and globally must not be deceived that force can solve their problems.
"In Egypt and Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, the fate of Libya is much closer to home: as Qadhafi clings to power through violence, refugees are streaming into these post-revolutionary states -- burdening their fragile democratic transitions. Should Qadhafi survive, he'll have every reason to try and sabotage the democratic changes underway in his neighbors.
"Just a few years ago, Qadhafi's Libya was a state sponsor of terrorism. But today, the Libyans I met in Benghazi are working to build a new Libya -- one that will use its oil wealth for the benefit of its people, a responsible and stable international partner that will work with the U.S. to fight terrorism and advance democracy and prosperity across the region. We must help the Libyans ensure that their tale of two cities ends well, with a better future that will serve their interests and ours."