Corker asked if she was underestimating the challenges there, especially in the wake of the weekend’s drama in which armed men laid siege to government ministries in protest of a new law to purge officials from the Gadhafi era. Libya’s defense minister quit in protest of the protests, then was convinced by the prime minister to stay.
“It’s really not a government,” Corker said. “It’s almost remarkable that the country’s functioning.”
“I don’t know that we’ve underestimated,” said Jones. “I know we’ve had a setback these last 8-9 months without an ambassador on the ground… we’ve never won a battle we haven’t shown up for.”
Saying that Libyans will be engaged in achieving security and societal goals — “they have more skin in this game than anyone else and they know that” — the nominee said “we have to be prepared to engage with anyone who is committed to a democratic transition in Libya,” even Islamists who have “eschewed violence.”
“I’m not prepared to rule anything in or out at this stage,” she said when asked directly about the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) came into the hearing late to be the only one of seven committee Republicans other than Corker to show up.
McCain cautioned against believing support for Libya “is naive or mistake” as “even the worst dictators can be overthrown and swept into the ash heap of history where they belong.”
“If you’re gonna succeed in Libya you’re going to have to speak truth to power,” he told Jones, adding, “You’re not going to go to Eastern Libya anytime soon, not just because of Benghazi but because it’s no longer in control of the government.”
The senator added that he hopes Jones “strenuously advises” the White House and Kerry on “how to salvage what is a deteriorating situation in Libya.”
Jones said she’s buoyed by the number of emails she received from private Libyans when the White House announced her candidacy “offering their hope for the relationship to continue strongly.”
The Tripoli Post announced her nomination with a gender-centric headline: “US President Obama Names Woman As Libya Ambassador.”
Benghazi wasn’t the only thing on the mind of the nearly empty dais. Menendez asked if Jones would press the Libyan government for more information on 1988′s Pan Am Flight 103 attack, and McCain wanted her to get the remains of American sailors killed in an unsuccessful raid on the Barbary pirates returned for proper burial.
Menendez said the nomination will be on the agenda at the next business meeting of the committee. Jones will likely sail through to the Senate.
“You cannot direct American assistance without an ambassador at the location,” the chairman said. “I believe that it’s imperative to have these nominations move forward.”