Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

When Tripoli was the State Department’s ‘Post of the Month’

State is the monthly in-house magazine of the U.S. Department of State. Every issue features a “Post of the Month” which shows life and the American embassy or consulate’s activities in a particular city or country. (I had a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun with the feature a few years back in The Weekly Standard). In September 2010, the State Department decided to feature Tripoli, Libya. Some of the insights:

Today, the Defense Attaché’s Office is cultivating a growing relationship with the Libyan military. Cooperative programs have included military leadership visits and exchanges, working-level discussions with U.S. Africa Command staff, familiarization trips to U.S. military facilities, International Military Education and Training programs, a U.S. Coast Guard ship visit and technical advising for Libya’s C-130 transport aircraft fleet.

That was a wise long-term investment.

The Embassy also worked to line up U.S. investors.

American companies have returned in large numbers, focusing on infrastructure development, consulting and program management, and the oil and gas services industry. In February, the embassy hosted the first U.S. government-led trade mission to Libya in nearly 40 years, with participation by 25 U.S. companies specializing in energy, infrastructure, health care, telecommunications, transportation and other key economic sectors. In May, the United States and Libya signed a bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which will pave the way for closer engagement on commercial issues.

It will be interesting to see what happens to those investments, and whether the Transitional National Council holds grudges against those companies that sought to ingratiate themselves to dictator Muammar Qadhafi’s regime. Sometimes, if liberty is the first investment, the dividends last more than 11 months.

When it comes to the re-opening of the U.S. embassy, State writes, “The recent warming of bilateral relations comes against the backdrop of a long and complicated relationship.” Only under Hillary Clinton would it be possible for the State Department not to acknowledge that Qadhafi’s transformation of Libya into a terrorist state is the reason for such complications. Nor did the State Department report honestly on the restrictions suffered by American diplomats.

At least life in Tripoli was decent for America’s pampered representatives:

It is not easy setting up a new mission, but Embassy Tripoli employees still find time for fun. In addition to bargaining for antiques in the souks of the old quarter, staffers usually head to the gorgeous beaches near Tripoli on weekends. Archaeological tourism is popular; Libya is home to some of the most impressive Phoenician, Greek and Roman ruins in the world. Desert tourism to Tuareg outposts in the South such as Ghat and Ubari offers Saharan lakes, pre-historic rock art and a glimpse of caravan routes that have changed little in hundreds of years. Recreation options include tennis courts, a stadium for jogging and walking and a “sand” golf course. Those needing a real break can quickly fly to Tunis, Malta and points further afield in Europe.

If only Libyans could be so lucky. Maybe now they can, and perhaps the State Department will do some soul-searching about its embrace of dictator-chic culture.

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