Last week, four American diplomats were killed when armed men attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attackers' apparent motivation was that someone, apparently American but with an uncertain identity, posted a video on YouTube several months ago that deliberately defamed the Prophet Mohammed. The attack in Benghazi was portrayed as retribution for the defamation, with the attackers holding all Americans equally guilty for the video, though it was likely a pretext for deeper grievances. The riots spread to other countries, including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, although no American casualties were reported in the other riots. The unrest appears to have subsided over the weekend.
Benghazi and the Fall of Gadhafi
In beginning to make sense of these attacks, one must observe that they took place in Benghazi, the city that had been most opposed to Moammar Gadhafi. Indeed, Gadhafi had promised to slaughter his opponents in Benghazi, and it was that threat that triggered the NATO intervention in Libya. Many conspiracy theories have been devised to explain the intervention, but, like Haiti and Kosovo before it, none of the theories holds up. The intervention occurred because it was believed that Gadhafi would carry out his threats in Benghazi and because it was assumed that he would quickly capitulate in the face of NATO air power, opening the door to democracy.
That Gadhafi was capable of mass murder was certainly correct. The idea that Gadhafi would quickly fall proved incorrect. That a democracy would emerge as a result of the intervention proved the most dubious assumption of them all. What emerged in Libya is what you would expect when a foreign power overthrows an existing government, however thuggish, and does not impose its own imperial state: ongoing instability and chaos.