Analysis: Softly, softly approach to Libya could pay long-term dividends

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UNFASHIONABLE as it may be to say it, British and US foreign policy in Libya has chalked up some success since the end of the civil war.

And the Foreign Office’s urgent warning is a symptom of progress, not failure.

Nato was the midwife of the revolution that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, installing a rough-and-ready democracy, but the approach of London and Washington since then has been very different to that seen in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The US has kept a low-profile, all but banning its security companies from moving to Libya, while London has kept things similarly low-key.

This lack of security was the undoing of US ambassador Chris Stevens, who died with three diplomats when the lightly-defended US consulate in Benghazi was overrun last September, but the tears among some in the city who had got to know him were very real.

London and Washington appear in tandem in deciding Libyans can be encouraged and supported, but that in the end, their route to democracy must remain their own. Many Libyans, after a history of resisting colonisation, are surprised that Nato, having done so much of the heavy-lifting of the revolution, has not demanded a slice of their oil revenues. In the long term, this is likely to pay dividends in a country whose people hope its oil revenues will leave its cities a cross between London and Dubai. In the short term, it leaves extremists keen to get the West out.

Violence in Benghazi, some of it the work of elements of the former regime, is likely to continue for some time. But in leaving Libyans to sort out their own destiny, Britain and the US may end up winning hearts and minds.