Not many folks in Miami have been to Libya. I have been there twice, once in 2011 just before the civil war, and again in 2013, after the war was over. I was a petroleum engineer consultant to oil companies run by Libya, so I interacted with Libyans everyday. I was there when the civil war first erupted in February 2011 and came back in 2013, after the war was over By mid 2013, peaceful conditions had been established
In 2013, I worked in Tripoli, Libya. Frequently, I would walk to Martyrs’ square for shopping or a meal. There, in the Plaza, would be plywood replicas of coffins, each with photo of a Libyan who died in the 2011 civil war. An end of a civil war is both joyous and terribly sad. Streets leading up to Plaza were filled with the new flag of Libya. Books critical of Gaddafi were shown in front of many stores. No one would have dared display such books in 2011. Libyans could enjoy the freedom of expression which we take for granted.
I was very interested in how Libyans viewed President Obama. I never had to ask, the Libyans told me soon after I told them I was an American. From taxi cab drivers to people in restaurants, and those Libyans I worked with, I heard the same message, “Obama saved us.” Or sometimes, it was “Sarkozy and Obama saved us and the people of Benghazi.” The French President Sarkozy was just as much a hero to the Libyan people as Obama. It never went much beyond this, and I heard little praise for Secretary Hillary Clinton. Perhaps, because they did not know the role she had played in defending the Libyan opposition.
Gaddafi was a violent and ruthless dictator. Protesters gathered in Martyrs’ square to protest his government in February 2011. Soldiers with machine guns sprayed bullets from helicopters into the square to disperse the crowds.
Benghazi to Americans is where four Americans died as a result of the attack of their Embassy. Benghazi to Libyans is a city that the Americans and French saved from destruction. There was no city that Gaddafi hated more than Benghazi. In February 2011, groups opposed to Gaddafi had over run an armory, and now the protesters had weapons and would shoot back. Everyone in Libya knew Gaddafi’s next step would be a massive aerial bombing of Benghazi.
If the US did not push through the “no fly” policy in the UN in early 2011, Gaddafi would have leveled Benghazi, first from the air and then with ground soldiers. I remember how he shouted from Martyrs’ square how the protesters had committed treason and the punishment for treason was death. How many of the 670,000 Libyans would have died in early 2011, if Americans and French planes had not prevented the Gaddafi’s armored division and mercenary soldiers as they approached Benghazi?
I do not want to belittle the deaths of four Americans, nor the numerous warning signs of violence. The group responsible for the destruction of our Embassy is not representative of the Libyan people.
When the Embassy fell, there was a genuine feeling among the Libyans that they were to blame, and they had let their dear friends die. After the attack, I received emails from my Libyan friends, showing the flowers Libyans had placed at the Embassy. One posting from a Libyan summed it up perfectly, “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry.”