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The Promise Of A Pro-American Libya

Oct 7, 2011 | Blog

The Wall Street Journal

October 7, 2011

Last Thursday we arrived in Tripoli to the promise of a free Libya. We saw a city that is surprisingly secure and orderly. We visited al-Jdeida prison and spoke freely with detainees—a testament to the commitment of the Transitional National Council (TNC) to democracy, transparency and the rule of law. At the end of the day, we walked through Martyrs’ Square, where Libyans cheered and thanked America and our NATO allies.

We also observed many of the serious challenges that remain. We spoke with some of the 28 militias that are still deployed across Tripoli. We saw the enormous task of rebuilding a country after 42 years of tyranny and seven months of war. And we visited a hospital where we met a few of the 60,000 Libyans who have been wounded in this conflict and will require significant future care—a population that is still growing amid the ongoing fighting in Sirte and Bani Walid.

In short, the Libyans we met want to build a secure, prosperous and democratic nation that rejects violent extremism, allies itself with America and our allies, and promotes the peaceful ideals of the Arab Spring. It is in our national interest for Libya to consolidate the gains of its revolution, and in the critical months ahead we must deepen our support for the Libyan people.

The most meaningful support the U.S. could provide at this time is to help Libya care for its many wounded citizens. From our visit to the hospital, it is clear that Libya does not have the capacity to care for such a large number of wounded, many requiring advanced treatment and prosthetics. Indeed, this is such a priority that the TNC told us they would be willing to draw on the more than $150 billion in Libya’s frozen assets to reimburse the U.S. for the costs of this humanitarian assistance. To this end, we should consider deploying a hospital ship, such as the USNS Comfort, to Libya or Malta. Another option could be to transport Libyans in need of advanced care to U.S. medical facilities in Europe.

We can also help Libya lay the foundation for sustainable security. This requires safeguarding the immense stockpiles of weapons and dangerous materials that exist across the country. It also requires bringing Libya’s many militias under the TNC’s civilian authority, and working toward their demobilization, disarmament and reintegration into Libyan society. We and our allies should encourage this peaceful process as much as we can, and oppose external efforts to pick winners who would advance factional or ideological interests through force.

Many Libyans recognize that they need a new civilian-led national army and police force. The TNC has asked the U.S., perhaps together with our Arab partners, to help train this new security force. American involvement in a small training mission could help Libya build a professional security force that contributes to national unity and forms the basis of our future security cooperation. Here, too, the TNC offered to reimburse the costs of our efforts.

American support is also important for Libya’s democratic transition. The TNC wants to cooperate with the U.S., especially with our nongovernmental organizations, in the monitoring of national elections (which could be held soon), the drafting of a constitution, and the development of civil society.

Another area where we can play a vital role is in helping Libya reform its justice system. That the TNC invited us into al-Jdeida prison is evidence of its commitment to treating detainees humanely, with maximum transparency. Yet we continue to hear credible reports that Libyan militias are mistreating and taking revenge against detainees, especially African migrants. American assistance could help Libyans achieve their goal of creating a transparent and accountable system to deliver equal justice.

Finally, now is the time to expand our economic ties with Libya and help the Libyan people take part in a more open regional economic order. This could include reactivating and building upon our existing Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, working toward the goal of a bilateral free trade agreement, helping Libya meet the requirements for accession to the World Trade Organization, and gradually turning the “no-fly zone” over Libya into a “pro-fly zone” that fosters civilian air travel.

Americans have had their disagreements over the U.S. intervention in Libya, but the sources of those disagreements are now fading into history. What remains is an enormous opportunity for the U.S. to build a partnership with a democratic and pro-American Libya that contributes to the expansion of security, prosperity and freedom across a pivotal region at a time of revolutionary change. This is a worthy goal that should unite Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the president, America and our allies. Libyans will build their own nation. But they desire and deserve our support. And it is in our interest to help them succeed.

Mr. McCain is a Republican senator from Arizona. Mr. Graham is a Republican senator from South Carolina. Mr. Kirk is a Republican senator from Illinois. Mr. Rubio is a Republican senator from Florida.