Seven years later I am back in Libya, this time on a much different mission, as the leader of a small private delegation, at the invitation of Colonel Qaddafi‘s chief of staff and with the knowledge of the Obama administration and members of Congress from both parties. Our purpose is to meet with Colonel Qaddafi today and persuade him to step aside.
There is no question that America should play a critical role in helping the Libyans build a new government. Sadly, in the years since my first trip, Washington has squandered many opportunities to achieve that goal without bloodshed. And unless we begin to engage with the country’s leaders — even those close to Colonel Qaddafi — we may again lose our chance to help build a new Libya.
Despite our stated goal in 2004, and that of two subsequent delegations I also led, America has concentrated on Colonel Qaddafi himself. All contacts went through him or his family, who were given too much say over American-led initiatives. But as we’ve learned through similar efforts in Azerbaijan and Armenia, the key to promoting reform in a foreign country is to identify and engage with emerging leaders.
Indeed, that’s what we intended to do in Libya. But plans for a coordinated effort between Congress and Libyan legislators to nurture a new generation of Libyan leaders never developed. A plan to bring international nongovernmental organizations into Libya to develop its civil institutions never materialized.