Expert: One Year After Benghazi, Former Diplomat Argues for Stronger Ties with Libya
On Sept. 11, 2012, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked and four people died, including Ambassador Stevens. Since then, the U.S. has pulled back diplomatic staff, tightened security and canceled programs.
Mietek Boduszynski, an assistant professor of politics and international relations at Pomona College, served as the first U.S. Embassy public affairs officer in Tripoli following the Libyan revolution in 2011 until earlier this year. He is available to discuss with reporters U.S.-Libya relations, Libya’s potential and why he believes that the U.S. is missing a tremendous opportunity. He is also available for comment on the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya and what it says about the current debate over intervening in Syria, or the 1990s interventions in the Balkans and the lessons each of these might hold regarding Syria.
Boduszynski offers these insights on Libya:
“There has to be a balance between Embassy security and the need to engage in Libya. It was right to tighten security and draw down programs after such a horrible event, but it’s clear that the politics in Washington are paralyzing our diplomatic operations as much as security worries on the ground. I cringe every time politicians have seized on the Benghazi issue to relentlessly attack the administration, because it meant that in Tripoli we could not seize the opportunity to engage the many Libyan groups and individuals eager to build ties with America. The administration has, in turn, seemingly lost sight of our strategic opportunity in Libya.
“From afar, Libya’s problems may easily be confounded with those of Egypt and other Arab Spring countries. However, the U.S., and the West more generally, is making a major mistake in neglecting to build and nurture a broader relationship with Libya. We have a strategic opportunity to build a broad and deep relationship based on mutual respect and to genuinely support the development of democracy.
“One big difference between Libya and the other Arab Spring countries is the tremendous reservoir of goodwill that exists among both the Libyan government and people toward the U.S. owing to our support of the 2011 Libyan revolution. There is none of the populist nationalism that stirs up anti-Americanism in Egypt. There are no attacks on U.S.-funded NGOs; no daily barrage of anti-American press. I experienced this goodwill over and over again as a U.S. diplomat in Libya, and especially after the Benghazi attacks, when the outpouring of support, sympathy, and condemnation among Libyans from all walks of life was incredible.
“Yet, it can’t all be up to the government. U.S. universities, foundations, and other organizations could play a vital role in building ties with the new Libya. No doubt, security is a precondition for educational and cultural exchanges to flourish. But even as the U.S. and other Western countries focus on building Libya’s security sector, they should take steps to ensure that their relationship with the new Libya does not neglect to build ties in vital areas such as higher education, scientific research, the arts, culture, and health.
“Not devoting resources and attention to ensuring a broader relationship with Libya and Libyans at this critical time would be an affront to the promises of the Arab Spring and 2011 Libyan revolution. With the right support, it could become a prosperous, stable, democratic country. “
Boduszynski served as a Foreign Service officer from 2004-2013, receiving three U.S. State Department’s Meritorious Honor Awards. Prior to his posting in Libya, he worked as a cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassies in Albania and Kosovo, and as a science and technology officer at the U.S. Embassy in Japan. In Tripoli, his responsibilities included coordinating the U.S. Embassy’s cultural and educational outreach programs.
Now a professor of politics and international relations at Pomona College, Boduszynski has expertise in democratization, U.S. Foreign Policy, public diplomacy, the Arab Spring, Libya, the Balkans, and Japan. He is also the author of Regime Change in Yugoslav Successor States (2010). To reach Prof. Boduszynski, contact Cynthia Peters in the Pomona College Communications Office, (909) 621-8515 or Cynthia.Peters@pomona.edu.