Geography affects the security of North Africa in another way. Insurgent groups and terrorists are finding haven in the semi-arid region of the Sahel, the vast transitional zone that stretches across North Africa and separates the Sahara Desert to the north from grassland savannahs. Uprooting those insurgents requires operating in one of the harshest environments on Earth. Troops from tropical sub-Saharan countries are ill-suited to the conditions of the Sahel.
Countries undergoing a dramatic political transition need sustained international support. Democratization in North Africa, like efforts to build effective governments in crisis states like Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan, pose a riddle: Which is more important in thwarting insurgencies – security or economic and social development?
It is close to a false choice. Both are equally vital in creating the space for new governments to take root and civil society to flourish. Benghazi is only the latest consequence of unrealistic security expectations that the international community – in this case the United States – imposes on fledgling governments.