The US-Libya diplomatic crisis

The Benghazi tragedy, in which four Americans were killed in Libya sheds light on shaky relationships.

by Nasser Mussa

As a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Libya occupies an important geographic and economic position in the Middle East and produces 1.6 million barrels of oil per day. Given its oil reserves, Libya plays a critical role in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly in the North African region where new governments are emerging and embracing democracy.

Ever since Moammar Gadhafi overthrew the pro-western regime via a military coup in 1969, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Libya have remained in gridlock for more than three decades. Following his successful coup, Gadhafi quickly nationalized oil companies and ordered the U.S. Wheelus Air Base to be closed, which only added to the hostility.

With Gadhafi’s support for extremists and terrorist groups in the region and abroad, attacks alerted media attention to the issue. In 1986, a bomb exploded in West Berlin’s La Belle disco, killing two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish woman. Just days later, the current U.S. president Ronald Reagan blamed Gadhafi and carried out retaliation bombing in Tripoli. Although some efforts were made to break through and solve the problem, both sides failed to reach decisive agreement.

Nevertheless, the 2011 events in which the Arab Spring swept across the region changed Libya forever. Following the bloody civil war, Gadhafi was ousted by North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies and U.S. airstrikes, which played critical roles. Despite this dramatic change, diplomatic relations with the West still remain murky and the region appears to still be chaotic.

With its tumultuous history, Libya presents a challenging scenario to the next U.S. president. Despite the copious media attention during the fall of Gadhafi, the U.S. still has to deal with a country that is in a state of transformation. In the wake of its dictator, Libya should certainly be a priority in our nation’s foreign policy.