A HANDFUL OF conservatives in Congress, including Senators Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Representative Jeff Landry of Louisiana, are calling for a halt to US aid in Libya following the attack that killed four Americans. This knee-jerk reaction should be — and almost certainly will be — resisted for a number of good reasons.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who lost his life in the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, sacrificed his life to help the Libyan people build a brighter future. Cutting off aid to the mission he cared so much about would be a terrible way to honor his legacy.
The violent assault on the US consulate does not represent mainstream Libyans any more than a YouTube video insulting the prophet Mohammed represents the sentiments of mainstream Americans. In the wake of the attack, ordinary Libyans staged a counter-demonstrations to show their support for the United States and mourn Stevens’s death. Photos of one rally in Benghazi show young men and women holding up signs stating: “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans,” and “Sorry people of America. This is not the behavior of our Islam or our Prophet.” Defeating extremists in Libya requires bolstering a credible Libyan government that is capable of keeping them at bay — something newly elected Libyan leaders are desperately trying to do.
Even if a wide swath of the Libyan public dislikes or distrusts the United States — as may be the case in Egypt — pulling American aid funding would only weaken our leverage and harm our own national security interests.
The lion’s share of US funding in Libya — some $40 million — is earmarked for nonproliferation and disarmament. Indeed, Glen Doherty, the Winchester native and former Navy SEAL who died Tuesday’s attack, reportedly had been contracted to track down shoulder-fired missiles looted from the Libyan army in the chaos surrounding Moammar Khadafy’s overthrow.
The State Department only plans to spend about $13 million in 2012 for economic support to Libya’s people, the vast majority of which is earmarked for refugee resettlement, according to the Congressional Research Service. State Department and Pentagon officials hope to spend an additional $11.8 million on developing Libyan special forces to combat terrorists and protect the border.
State Department officials notified Congress of their plans to spend that additional money on Sept. 4, days before the attack. Congress has until Sept. 19 to raise an objection. If conservatives are dead set on cutting off aid to Libya, they could try to persuade the chairmen of the relevant appropriations committees to put a hold on this money. But they ought to realize how foolhardy such a move would be.