The Middle East has a propensity for producing both the tragic and the absurd, two qualities that converged in appallingly consummate fashion with the attacks this week that killed U.S. diplomats in Libya and threatened American embassies across the region.
The deaths of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three of his colleagues at the American consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday represent a profound tragedy on many levels. First and foremost is the loss of such brave and dedicated individuals, who served their country in a place wracked by chaos, uncertainty and violence. Stevens had a well-deserved reputation as a diplomat with a rare understanding for this complicated region, but in the tributes to his valor, let those who died with him—and the thousands of others who have served alongside them—not be forgotten. Their willingness to put their lives on the line for their country reflects their commitment to making the world a better place, something that those who would do them harm lack the capacity to recognize, much less achieve.
What comes after Gaddafi’s fall is much more important, and much more uncertain. Now it should be said that Obama’s strategy means that one of the key factors in the emergence of suicide terrorism — a foreign occupying military, typically of a different religious background than the occupied — isn’t present in Libya. But because Gaddafi essentially built Libyan society around himself, the rebels will have to start almost from scratch in constructing a new Libya. And it’s far from a safe bet that the one that will emerge will be the kind of democratic, pluralistic state that would be ideal.