Just as I'm finally ready to depart for Libya, travel warnings go from bad to catastrophic.
The United States government is now saying “the potential for violence and kidnappings targeting Westerners in Benghazi is significant.” The British Foreign Office says, “We are aware of a specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi. We advise against all travel to Benghazi and urge any British nationals who are there against our advice to leave immediately.”
I cannot possibly defy these kinds of warnings. Following through on my plans at this point would be like going to the beach after a tsunami warning is issued. After processing this information, if I were to go there and get myself kidnapped or killed, I'd deserve a Darwin Award. I may not be right about everything, but I'm not dumb enough to earn myself a Darwin Award.
So what I'm going to do instead is cover the Syrian civil war from Lebanon. I think it's a worthwhile substitute. That gruesome civil war has been spilling over the border for a while now. Lebanese are rushing into Syria to fight against Bashar al-Assad while Syrians are fleeing in terror across the border to Lebanon. What happens in Syria affects Lebanon and Iran, and what happens in Lebanon and Iran affects Israel, and what happens in Iran and Israel affects the United States. The current disaster in the Levant is just as important, if not even more so, than what's going on in North Africa.
The general public may perceive Lebanon and Libya to be equally dangerous, but they aren't, at least not for me, and not now, for a couple of reasons. First, no one is targeting Westerners in Lebanon at the moment. And second, I know Lebanon better I know any country in the world aside from the United States. I can handle myself there even if all hell breaks loose.
When I made the decision to go to Libya, things were dicey. I can handle dicey. I've been to Iraq seven times, I covered the Israeli-Hezbollah war from the front line, and I made a beeline for Georgia when Russia invaded. But Libya has apparently transformed itself from dicey to deathtrap since I made the decision to go there, and it took so long for the government to approve my visa that I couldn't go during the relatively “safe” window of opportunity that I had in November and December.
The absurdly long visa delay and the crap security conditions are related, I think. Libya just doesn't have a functioning government. Its bureaucrats don’t have it together any better than its security personnel.
This is the first and only time I have ever had to pull the plug on a trip, so believe me when I say I didn't make this decision lightly. I really did want to go. I didn't expect to enjoy myself there, but there was no doubt in my mind that a journey to post-Qaddafi Libya would be just as searing an educational experience as my first trip nine years ago.
Anyone who donated to my Libyan Kickstarter campaign and thinks I'm making the wrong decision, that I should go to Libya in spite of the rapidly deteriorating conditions, can have their money back. Just send me a message and I will take care of it.
And to those of you who understand and can still support me, thank you so very much.