In the wake of bin Laden's death, control of al Qaeda fell into the hands of practically the last remaining Islamic "theologian" who still believes in violent jihad against civilian infidels, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the world's war on al Qaeda continued. Since al-Zawahiri's promotion, he lost one of his best friends to the war, Abu Yahya al-Libi, his sub-commander in Libya, and so al-Zawahiri decided to honor the 9/11 anniversary this year by calling for strikes against Americans inside Libya in retaliation for Abu Yahya's death. But just as his predecessor over-played his hand by killing thousands of civilians, al-Zawahiri overplayed his hand—not by killing thousands of civilians, but by killing exactly the wrong one.
I mentioned, almost a year ago, how weirdly random it was that Cablegate, which ostensibly had nothing to do with Tunisia, because of newspaper reporting that happened in passing to draw attention to something about Tunisia's internal politics that wasn't even new, against all odds resulted in Tunisia, then Egypt, then Libya overthrowing their military dictatorships; there was no reason to think history would turn out that way, but it did. And here we are, a year later, and something just as random and unpredictable has happened: al Qaeda's allies in Libya had no way of knowing that US Ambassador Chris Stevens was going to be in Benghazi that night. His public schedule had him arriving the next day, for the dedication of a cultural center. He drove out the night before for a small, personal business meeting—and by sheer historical accident, drove into the consulate mere hours, at most, before al Qaeda attacked it.
Had they known he was there, I doubt that the Libyan al-Qaeda-allied milita would have attacked the building, abu-Libi or no, 9/11 or no. The Islamist militias are—or were, and I'll get to that in a second—headquartered in a tiny little town that's practically a suburb of Benghazi, so trust me when I say that they knew who Chris Stevens was. Everybody in Benghazi knew who Chris Stevens was. According to local Benghazi lore, it was Chris Stevens, personally, who persuaded NATO to intervene. It was Chris Stevens, the Benghazis say, who was the first outsider to take Qaddafi literally when he threatened to kill every single man, woman, and child in Benghazi during the Arab Spring. The people of Benghazi are in almost universal agreement that, if Chris Stevens had not been the US ambassador to Libya, every single one of them would be dead now. And, entirely by accident, one of Libya's two main Islamist militias, the one associated loosely with al Qaeda, killed that guy.
A British reporter (coincidentally) named Chris Stephen was in Benghazi the other night, to report on an all-day protest against not just Islamists, and not just against Islamist militias, but also against militias in general. He says that when night fell, the crowd sent the women and children home, because they had decided to simply end the militia problem in Benghazi once and for all. They over-ran six different militia bases, including all five Islamist compounds, including running unarmed directly into machine gun fire at the one where the Islamists dug in because that was what it took. According to Reuters, five protesters died, and more than 60 were wounded, but they succeeded: every militia headquarters in Libya's largest and second-most important city has been seized and enthusiastically, cheerfully turned right over to the Libyan army.
The new government of Libya has been negotiating for months to get the various resistance groups, tribal militias, ethnic militas, political militias, religious militas (all told, hundreds of them) to either stand down and return their seized heavy weapons to the Libyan army or to join the Libyan army and submit to elected authority. Negotiations dragged on, making minor progress after two militias opened fire on each other a few months ago in a local dispute. But no serious progress was being made, because each village, each tribe, each ethnic group, each local mosque wanted something in exchange for submission to the central government—more jobs, cash aid, a new school or water treatment plant—basically most of them thought they were entitled to be bribed to lay down their arms, they were holding the state (dare we say it) hostage to the idea that they could, if they wanted to, kill a lot of people if they didn't get what they wanted.
Thanks to al Qaeda over-playing their hand once again on an 11th of September, the militia blackmailing of Libya appears to finally be over. The civilians who ran to the front armed only with wooden, cardboard, or plastic toy guns to slow down Qaddafi's advance on Benghazi are on the march again, and with their support the President of Libya just gave the militias an ultimatum. It's a tempered, temperate ultimatum. They can keep their weapons. They can keep their structure and membership. But each and every single one of them will accept a Libyan army officer as their superior, and swear allegiance to the elected government of Libya, or be destroyed. And after what the protesters of Benghazi did this weekend, it's no bluff. The Libyan civil war is over, and (as in the last election) the Libyan people have come down on an enthusiastically pro-democracy side, unambiguously in favor of peaceful trade with the west, not jihad. Thank you for repeating your predecessor's greatest mistake, Ayman al-Zawahiri!