A searing tale of violence, chaos, and unintended consequences in post-Gadhafi Libya.
Partisan outbursts aside, the Benghazi uprising of Sept. 11, 2012, which resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, was a development that was bound to happen. By the account of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow Wehrey (Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings, 2013), the American government had been tinkering in Libyan affairs for a long time, nominally shoring up the Gadhafi regime while funding groups opposed to it. Finally, when the dictator was overthrown and executed a little less than a year before the Benghazi attack, the door was opened to a resistance led by the Islamic State group, allowing it “to establish its strongest branch outside Iraq and Syria.” IS has been a destabilizing element ever since, and no amount of American intervention has been able to quell the chaos. Reporting on the ground, the Arab-speaking author looks at some of the players in the post-Gadhafi nation, including Gen. Khalifa Haftar and the Islamic scholar Aref Ali Nayed, who impressed U.S. diplomats with PowerPoint-driven agendas for rebuilding Libya until he got around to asking for weapons: “the specter of Iraqi dissident Ahmed Chalabi and his personal militia, the Iraqi National Congress, leapt to mind.” In 2015, Wehrey writes, American special forces entered Libya to assess the militias they had engaged with during the time of the revolution only to discover that “the roster of players had changed completely.” Even with the author’s careful guidance, readers will need a score card to keep up with this shifting cast and its various aims. For the moment, though, this careful account of the Benghazi attack itself, the central episode in this capable book, is as good as there is, untangling a complex storyline while taking care not to descend into finger-pointing.
Essential reading for anyone interested in the facts of the Benghazi attacks and in the future of a definitively troubled region.