Anti-US attacks in Libya, Egypt, Yemen: Put security first
Violent attacks on US diplomatic posts in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere this week underscore a lesson taught repeatedly over the past decade – namely, that security is necessary to launch fledgling democracies emerging from autocratic states.
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Writing about counterinsurgency, Gen. David Richards, head of the British armed forces, notes that “political, social and economic factors may well be far more important in the longer term. However, without security, they will be difficult to improve.”Skip to next paragraph
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No single approach – at either the national or international level – to building security can fit all cases of these emerging Arab democracies. But certain observations are broadly cautionary and applicable.
First, government credibility and influence depends on the allegiance of well-trained security forces extended across each country’s territorial space. This remains an ongoing challenge in all of the countries undergoing democratic reform in the Middle East. It also presents the most obvious role for international support – akin to the work of the US Africa Command in helping African governments professionalize their militaries under civilian control.
Second, the rule of law cannot be selectively applied. The moderate and moderately Islamist governments emerging in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt have shown tentativeness in dealing with Salafist and other extremist groups. But until these governments demonstrate a commitment to protecting the rights of all their citizens and the conviction to hold all to the same code of conduct, they will lack the legitimacy necessary to maintain stability and popular support behind difficult reforms.
Third, in the Middle East perhaps more than elsewhere, events in one place cast long shadows elsewhere. The flood of arms left in Libya following the civil war to oust Col. Muammar Qaddafi provides caution in the debate about arming the rebels in Syria. At the same time, however, failing to intervene to stop the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent Syrians may erode the credibility of the US and other players as much as failing to advance the Israel-Palestinian peace process – a key grievance among Muslims worldwide and Islamist antipathy toward the West in particular.
Finally, progress on building safe, law-abiding societies hinges on personal, long-term relationships and partnerships with countries offering a helping hand. Tributes from Libyans who knew Ambassador Stevens well say he was a talented diplomat who earned trust through his steadfast commitment to the rebellion from the outset.
As the Arab Spring unfolds, exhilaration will jockey with heartache. There will be triumphs and setbacks. Development and progress will depend on the integrity of local and national politicians and the consistency of international engagement. Together, they can build the security needed to advance individual and collective aspirations across the region.