Indeed, security worsened in the months after Libyans went to the polls to pick a national assembly last July in voting that was widely proclaimed as free and fair. Americans became sharply aware of that in September, when, on the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Islamist extremists overran U.S. diplomatic outposts in Benghazi, an eastern city that had been the capital of the anti-Gadhafi uprising. Four Americans were killed, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens.
U.S. officials acknowledge that the way the anti-Gadhafi campaign unfolded, with no American or European forces on the ground to establish order after the government fell, is in part responsible for the uncertainty in that country now.
“When the Gadhafi regime collapsed, and there was, essentially, for a period of time no governmental control, it was in that environment that extremist organizations and criminal organizations took advantage of that situation to establish themselves and in some cases re-establish themselves,” said Army Gen. Carter Ham, the head of Africa Command, the U.S. military group that’s responsible for that continent.
Those groups remain unchallenged by Libya’s inexperienced police and security forces and have spread across North Africa, Ham said. Collecting intelligence on them is one reason the United States has asked neighboring Niger for permission to open a base for pilotless drone aircraft.
In its latest travel warning, issued Monday, the State Department warned Americans to stay away, describing the country as unpredictable.
Egypt has been spared the kind of widespread insurgent violence that’s plagued its neighbor but it’s still beset by political and social upheaval, despite elections that everyone agrees were the first honest ones in its history.
The Obama administration had endorsed the removal of leader Hosni Mubarak when it became clear that he’d lost the support of his people and the military. Now analysts wonder whether Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, isn’t slowly doing the same.
Unemployment levels grow monthly, the official inflation rate is 9.3 percent and the value of the Egyptian pound is falling. Crime and general mayhem seem out of control. Soccer fans routinely defy police, shut down bridges and set fire to rival clubs’ headquarters, simply because they can. Police able to respond to more routine matters are difficult to find. Rape is common at public demonstrations. Dissatisfaction is palpable in the streets.
In a nation where $200 a month is a bounteous wage, fruit is a luxury for a huge swath of the population. So are tomatoes.
Morsi’s approval rating has plummeted, according to the polling firm Baseera. Immediately after his election last summer, it stood at 75 percent; last month it was 49 percent. Yet Morsi’s political opposition remains divided going into parliamentary elections scheduled for next month.
In May 2011, Obama spelled out lofty goals in a speech that’s considered his defining remarks on the Arab spring.
“There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope,” he said. “But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable and more just.”
Those goals aren’t much different from what Bush articulated from the White House 10 years ago this Tuesday. But they may be just as far off.