By John McCain
The people of Libya have again confounded their critics. Once dismissed by many as al Qaeda fanatics in a tribal backwater, doomed to despotism or chaos, Libya voted on Saturday with a higher turnout than most mature democracies.
International monitors certified the balloting, which I witnessed first-hand in Tripoli. It now appears that Libyans gave plurality support to a centrist political party headed by a U.S.-educated technocrat, Mahmoud Jibril, who then called for a national unity government.
Of course, Libya still faces serious challenges, including drafting a new constitution with power sharing, securing the country against domestic and foreign terrorists, reintegrating fighters into society, revitalizing the economy, and building democratic institutions. The new Libyan government must urgently tackle these existential issues.
U.S. support will be critical for Libya's continued success, and it is in our interest to provide it. Libya is strategically located for global trade. It has skilled fighters and shares many of our counterterrorism interests. It has vast natural economic potential, from energy resources, to a pristine coastline, to billions of dollars in former Moammar Gadhafi assets. And it shares our democratic vision for the broader Middle East. With good governance and U.S. support, Libya could punch far above its weight, akin to U.S. partners such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Singapore.
Libyans want America to be their partner of choice, and it is time to take our relationship to the next level, starting with the many legacy issues from last year's revolution. U.S. Treasury experts could do more to help Libya locate and recover Gadhafi assets. We also need to urge foreign governments, as well as some armed groups in Libya, to turn over former regime officials to Tripoli so they can stand trial in the new justice system that Libyans are building with our support.
Similarly, Libyans seek U.S. support for the care of their many wounded fighters and civilians. No one in the world is better at providing this kind of rehabilitation and treatment than American veterans organizations, hospitals, and especially the U.S. military--skills that have come at an awful price. The Libyan government could likely pay for all of it.
Then there is the potential for security cooperation. Libya is rebuilding its military and intelligence services from scratch, reorienting them from tools of oppression toward border security, counterterrorism and other national challenges. Libyans have the will to do this, and they want help with the means.
The U.S. and its allies should invest in Libya's efforts--from training the new military to joint exercises and operations, sales of weapons and defense technology, and expanded opportunities for Libyan officers to participate in our professional military schools. This cooperation can empower Libyans to fight terrorism and protect their sovereignty. It could also establish a basis for multilateral cooperation against common threats in North Africa, the Sahel region, and the Middle East.
Perhaps the area of greatest potential is the new ties we build between our people and businesses. U.S.-educated Libyans have been at the forefront of their revolution from the beginning. It is therefore no surprise that Libyans overwhelmingly want more American investment and trade, more opportunities to visit and study in the U.S., and more exchanges across every field of endeavor. We should push our system to issue visas in a timely fashion and facilitate people-to-people exchanges. This can be the backbone of our new relationship
Libya's experience holds an important lesson for Syria. Those who once insisted that we did not know, could not trust, and should not support the Libyan people are now saying the same about the Syrian people. The two countries are very different, but the ideals that inspired both revolutions are the same. We did the right thing in Libya, and while there is no guarantee that Libyans will succeed, they have a great chance.
It is every bit in keeping with our democratic ideals--and even more in our national interest--to halt the slaughter in Syria and help the Syrian people gain the same chance to succeed that the Libyan people now have.