Some wonder why the administration does not push the Libyan government harder to take action against the suspects or the Ansar al-Sharia militia, which joined the assault. Others say Obama should launch a unilateral U.S. raid, like that which killed Osama bin Laden.
In fact, there are good reasons for prudence. The Libyan government and much of the population views the United States favorably because of its help in overthrowing dictator Moammar Gadhafi; a strike could squander that rare goodwill in an Arab state. It could also further destablize a moderate regime that already is struggling to keep the country's economy functioning and complete the construction of a new democratic political system.
Libya's government doesn't act against Ansar al-Sharia or arrest terrorist suspects because it can't. Two years after the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime, the country is still mostly controlled by a patchwork of militias that organized during the revolution and never disbanded. Militia members have taken control of key oil terminals, reducing exports to 15 percent of capacity.
What Libya needs from Washington is not a special forces raid but much more help in building a state. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, 28 experts, including former American diplomats, scholars and businessmen, urged a more active policy that would expand beyond seeking justice for the Benghazi attack. They urged U.S. technical support for the drafting of a new constitution that safeguards human rights, help in developing a long-term strategy to create an independent judiciary and training programs for security forces.
After helping to liberate Libya, the Obama administration and its European allies were too quick to walk away, leaving a shattered country to find its own way. If they wish to avoid another Arab state descending into chaos, they need to come back.