Libya has been in a "very fragile" state of security for a while, and the U.S. and international community failed in paying the country consistent and adequate attention so that it would grow stronger since the killing of its longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011.
That's according to Fran Townsend, a former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush and current CNN contributor who spoke Wednesday morning in the wake of the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Stevens was killed in an attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi on Tuesday.
Libya "really needs the attention and support of the international community," Townsend said. "Unfortunately it will now get the attention it needed before this tragedy."
"I think we [the United States] have supported the freedom movement [throughout the region], especially in Libya," Townsend said. "We supported the strikes. We were a part of the effort by NATO. But it's not enough, right? It's not enough to help people actually get their freedom, overthrow a government. You're going to have to come in behind them and help them as a fledgling democracy."
"The first indication of a working democracy if that it can protect its own people. And Libya is struggling. I was there. To take in the military elements, the ministry of interior and border guards [are] trying to get the equipment they need. And the attention of the international community, quite frankly, has turned elsewhere.
"There are hot spots in Syria," she said. "There are hot spots around the world where we're engaged. Our attention with the Iran nuclear program and everyone has said Libya fell off people's attention. And I must tell you, if we don't want to see these sorts of tragedies, we need to have a longer attention span and commit ourselves to helping fledgling democracies get up and running and be able to protect their own."
She counted Stevens as a friend and said she spent time with him just two weeks ago.
"I was in Tripoli on a business trip," she said. "He was not only a friend, but I think to give our viewers some context, Chris Stevens had a particular sort of affinity for Benghazi," she said. "He [was] in D.C. in 2007 when I was in the White House...He was there with me when I traveled to speak to Moammar Ghadafi. [Stevens] knew the rebels in Benghazi. He felt very comfortable there.
"This was not your typical starched shirt ambassador. This was a guy who was a real professional who rolled up his sleeves, who wanted to help the Libyans get the freedom that they have fought for. It's an extraordinary loss, not only for the State Department - and obviously Chris' family - but for the country."
CNN asked, "By all accounts Chris Stevens was a very special man with a very special affinity to Libya. He was a key part in the American role over there over the last year and a half as the rapid changes were happening in the Arab Spring. What does his death then today signify to you?"
"You could tell in talking to people both in the Libyan government and at the U.S. Embassy that there have been real concerns," she answered.
Townsend said there is a city called Derna, east of Benghazi, where there's a growing extremist element.
"People [talked] to me about that while I was there, that this group - this al Qaeda, Islamist, extremist group - is gaining strength in numbers, and they were moving west."
Stevens offered to take Townsend to Benghazi. She couldn't go because she wasn't going to be in the country long enough, she said.
"I give him tremendous credit," she said. "He was willing to go there to talk to folks and to try to help them. But one individual alone, even with the Embassy staff - I don't want to misstate it - it's a terrific staff, very strong, who were very inspired by Chris Stevens' commitment to Libya. But it needs more. It needs a whole government approach.
"It's what we talked about in Iraq. You can't simply go in and break stuff and overthrow a government, pack up your stuff and go home and leave your diplomats there," she said. "You actually need to do more in terms of commitment of the international community to help build institutions."
Gadhafi, who was killed by Libyans, "didn't permit civil institutions," Townsend said. "He was an autocratic dictator and we knew that. So when he was overthrown, the new government was going to need long-term support," she said. "They have their own money from oil. They needed help building civil institutions."