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Navigating complex and competing challenges in Libya and Iran

Ebola and a recent spate of so-called “lone wolf” attacks have dominated the headlines lately, as other security challenges unfold in relative obscurity. One example would be Libya, which UN Special Envoy Bernadino Leon yesterday this week as “`very close to the point of no return’.” Citing a multiplicity of factions, plus conflicts between and among them, Leon’s concern is that the country may soon be engulfed in a full-blown civil war.

Islamist militants in Benghazi are challenging “pro-government forces” there. And we know from recent international experience that under-governed spaces offer a propitious climate for violent extremists, allowing them time and space in which to strengthen and strategize. To the extent that the balance in Benghazi tilts towards the militants, it is an ominous development and not just for the city’s inhabitants.

Another development which seems to have slipped largely under the radar in recent weeks is the release of a September 2014 GAO Report on Combating Terrorism, entitled “Strategy to Counter Iran in the Western Hemisphere Has Gaps That State Department Should Address.” See here for a third-party overview and analysis of the shortcomings detailed in the Report which covers:

(1) State’s collaboration with other key U.S. agencies and foreign partners to address Iranian activities in the Western Hemisphere,

(2) the extent to which the strategy addresses elements identified in the act [meaning the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012], and

(3) the extent to which the strategy includes desirable characteristics of national strategies.”

While the Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the relationship between the United States and Iran appears to have evolved into some semblance of “detente” over the course of the past year, this does not eliminate the need for contingency planning and careful strategy.

Developments in Libya and possible developments with Iran beg the question of how to navigate effectively a global ecosystem marked by an increasing number of simultaneous challenges, each of which is itself complex — at a time when the frameworks and instruments that have served us well in past may be frayed, dated, overstretched/under-resourced, etc.

As the adage goes, if everything is a priority then nothing is. On the other hand, it will be small comfort if and when today’s relatively low priority rockets to the top of tomorrow’s inbox. To cope more effectively with an environment characterized by so many moving parts, especially when budgets are already stretched worldwide, requires nimble risk management and a resilient spirit on the part of both the nation and the individual — definitely easier said than done.