Gene A. Cretz serves as U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
During her historic trip to Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the Transitional National Council’s Chairman and with the country’s senior most leaders. She discussed the critical issues of securing Tripoli’s streets, safeguarding weapons, and protecting human rights. Her biggest successes, though, were undoubtedly outside these closed-door meetings. She met with everyday Libyans that are nothing short of inspirational in their courage and limitless in their potential.
When I was appointed Ambassador to Libya, one of the most exciting prospects I looked forward to was speaking to large audiences of students and hearing their vision for their country’s future. When I arrived, I found that the Qadhafi regime’s weighty oppression had thoroughly dimmed Libyan students’ vision. His paranoid security apparatus also saw to it that I could never speak to large groups of students.
Returning to Tripoli University on the occasion of Secretary Clinton’s visit to Libya, however, finally gave me the fulfilling sense of optimism and hope that I had long expected from the campus. The vibrancy and vitality of campus life was exhilarating. A once drab, dull campus now sparkles as students have swept the streets, painted the walls, and taken pride in their environment. Even though the academic year has not yet begun, the campus had more energy than I could even have imagined. The Secretary had a spirited give and take with students on issues ranging from the role of women in the new Libya to how Libya can create a political system after being so suffocated by Qadhafi for 42 years. The sense of elation from freedom of expression finally was clear on the students’ faces as they engaged in this first ever type of forum since the fall of Qadhafi.
One of the most profound stops on the trip was a visit to Tripoli Medical Center to meet with wounded fighters — those very citizen-soldiers who left classrooms, jobs and families to defend their dignity and confront a dictator. Secretary Clinton saw an evident pride in their eyes as they talked about the sacrifices they made in defense of their country. Despite these sacrifices and the painful road to recovery that many of these fighters face in the years ahead, their smiles proved that they had, indeed, won their freedom. As the Secretary mentioned, we hope to find ways to show that the American people are committed to helping these brave fighters
The Secretary’s comments to our Libyan employees who had stood by us through difficult times and to the American employees who have worked so hard to get the mission up and running miraculously in less than a month were moving. The Secretary noted that the flag flying over the temporary embassy was the very one that flew over our previous embassy that was destroyed and that had been taken down when we suspended operations in February. The fact is that there is a new Libya. America is back and we look forward to helping these brave people on their march to democracy.
This blog can be found at: http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/travel_diary_secretary_clinton_connects_with_libyans