Last March the frustrations of the Libyan people came to a boiling point. After living under the iron fist of Moammar Gadhafi for 42 years, Libyans took to the streets to free themselves from the oppressive dictator, even as he waged war against them—knowing that was his only hope to stay in power.
I supported the efforts of the Libyan people to peacefully transition to freedom and democracy, and last summer I was one of the few Republicans to authorize the President’s use of force against Gadhafi loyalists to avoid the unnecessary slaughter of innocent civilians. However, as with any foreign affairs issue, especially in the Middle East, I recognize that there are a number of complexities to take into consideration. The downfall of Gadhafi was a tremendously positive event for those struggling for freedom and democracy in Libya and throughout the region. However, as America’s Armed Forces became involved in the operation in Libya, I shared the concern of many Americans that through military action the United States could be facilitating a power vacuum that could be filled by al-Qaeda or other similar terrorist organizations. The consistency and philosophy of the rebel forces were not, and are not, fully known to us, making them easy targets of opportunity for exploitation by such terrorist groups.
There has been evidence of progress toward democracy in Libya—elections for a temporary 200-seat parliament tasked with forming a government were held earlier this year. However, the transition has been turbulent and marred by violence from armed militias and as part of regional and tribal disputes. Much of the violence has been centered in Benghazi. Assaults have included rocket-propelled grenades hitting the offices of the International Red Cross in May, a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a vehicle carrying Britain’s ambassador to Libya in June, and a bombing just outside the perimeter walls of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi just one day earlier.
Most recently, America’s Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, the other two Americans who lost their lives on that day and all of the American personnel on the ground in Libya were performing noble and valuable work in an extremely difficult and dangerous situation.
The horrific events at our consulate in Benghazi on September 11 were a continuation of a dangerous pattern of unrest largely aimed at the United States.
While the terrorist strike against the American consulate in Libya has been the most costly in terms of American lives, it was by no means an isolated incident. On the same day we saw aggressive protesters scale the wall of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, bringing down the American flag and replacing it with a black flag. Two days later the grounds of the American embassy in Yemen were stormed by protestors who burned the American flag.
These actions are unjustifiable and inexcusable.
Onslaughts against American consulates and embassies raise serious national security concerns for our diplomatic and military personnel abroad. We must take every precaution to ensure their safety and well being.
Another important concern raised by these events is the safety and security of America’s steadfast ally Israel. The United States and Israel share many common ideals, which have been the basis of a unique relationship between our two nations. We both place great emphasis on, and have a great respect for, democracy, human life and individual freedom. It is of the utmost importance that we continue to support Israel and work alongside them to confront the many challenges plaguing the Middle East. The United States and Israel must stand together.
There is still much to be learned about who perpetrated these attacks and what their exact motivations were. However, one thing is clear—as we have done in the face of terrorism throughout our nation’s history, America must stand strong as a nation. We must do so by protecting our people and defending our nation, and by fulfilling our mission to promote freedom and democracy around the world.
The United States is the greatest force for liberty and prosperity the world has ever known and the actions of a radical few will not change that.
We have nothing to apologize for, and those responsible must be held accountable.
Rivera is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.