Hours after violent protests and forced entry into American diplomatic sites in Egypt and Libya, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed in an attack as he was leaving the city of Benghazi. Two others died in the attack and a U.S. consular official was also killed during the earlier assault on the consulate in Benghazi.
Ambassador Stevens was being driven to a safer location when gunmen opened fire. The consulate in Benghazi was only recently reopened, as the United States renewed the approval of visas to Libyans on August 26th.
Benghazi was formerly a name synonymous with atrocity prevention, as the basis for the passage of Resolution 1973 in the U.N. Security Council. Ambassador Susan Rice and other United States officials pressed forward with intervention in Libya as Col. Moamar Qaddafi’s tanks pushed towards the city, with the former dictator promising “no mercy” on the occupants. Just last year, the square in Benghazi was filled with Libyans thankful for the action taken to protect them.
A recent report from the U.N. mission in Libya cited political signs for optimism, but warned of an inability of the central government to crackdown on violence by militias and former rebels. That lack of control was on full view today. The Libyan government has said that its security forces attempted to protect the consulate, but were unsuccessful. Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif also claimed that the attackers were remnants of the Qaddafi regime.
The events of the last twenty-four hours will likely have several lasting effects. First, one of the main pragmatic arguments for intervening militarily in Syria has taken a hit, as the idea that the Syrian rebels will be inclined to promote Western interests once in power has been undermined.
Second, a renewed interest in the security of U.S. diplomatic missions will likely take place. Currently, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security provides for the safety of American officials, while the host country is responsible for providing physical security to the perimeter of embassies under Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Convention. Already, President Obama has ordered “all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe.”
Finally, the relationship between the United States and the Egyptian and Libyan governments will likely hinge on the response of their leadership. The Libyan government, including President Mohammed el-Megarif, has swiftly condemned the attack. Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Kieb has said that Libya is “determined to take action against those who murdered Amb. Stevens & other innocent people.” President Morsy of Egypt has yet to issue a statement on the assault on the U.S. Embassy.