Opinion Brief

Do Libyans want us to stay or go?

After Islamist militants killed American diplomats, the U.S. is pulling out of its Tripoli embassy. But Libyan leaders and others are begging Americans not to abandon them

Libyan leaders are scrambling to contain the damage to its relations with the U.S. over the assault on the American Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. As the U.S makes moves to vacate its Tripoli embassy, Libyan authorities say they have arrested four suspects in the killings, thought to be the work of Islamist militants who used a protest over an anti-Islam video as cover for a pre-planned attack. Pro-U.S. demonstrators in Benghazi, where Stevens was a popular figure, held signs in Arabic and in English with messages such as "Sorry People of America," "No No No to Al Qaeda," and "Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi nor Islam." As Libyans struggle to implement democracy after decades of Moammar Gadhafi's dictatorship, do they want America's help or not?

Libyans want, and need, the U.S. to stay: The "brazen assault" in Benghazi prompted the U.S. to evacuate most of its embassy personnel, says Jamie Dettmer at The Daily Beast, which triggered a pullout by pro-democracy groups that get U.S. government funding. That's alarming Libyan democracy activists, who say the attack "is not the real Libya." They're fighting the same Muslim extremists we are, and they don't want us to let the violence reduce our "commitment to the Arab Spring."
"Libyan activists to America: Don't leave us"

Obviously, a dangerous contingent doesn't want us around: Most Libyans like America, says Murtaza Hussein at Salon. That includes 90 percent of the people in Benghazi, according to polls. Still, there has been a "power vacuum" in Libya since Gadhafi was ousted with the help of the U.S. and other Western allies in the 2011 war. "Religious extremists, armed militias, and opportunistic criminals have been given free rein in some parts of the country," and we now know they'll resort to "horrific violence" to get us to leave.
"Blame anarchy for Benghazi"

The U.S. and Libya have to make a choice: Libya's "transition to security" has been in trouble for months now, says Christopher S. Chivvis at Foreign Policy. This tragedy might mark its unraveling into an Iraq-like "nightmare scenario." But it could also be an opportunity to turn things around. To do that, the country's leaders must work more aggressively toward building a solid state, and the U.S. has to double down, providing everything, even military support, needed "to ensure the situation does not spiral out of control, squandering the investment" we made in toppling Gadhafi.
"Libya's downward spiral"

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