Ambassador Chris Stevens: The American Who Loved Libya (1960-2012)

Courageous and optimistic, he knew the country he was assigned to like no other diplomat. His tragic death leaves an enormous hole in the American foreign service—and in Washington’s fitful dealings with the Arab world

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Ben Curtis—AP

U.S. envoy Chris Stevens attends meetings at the Tibesty Hotel where an African Union delegation was meeting with opposition leaders in Benghazi, Libya, April 11, 2011.

“Salaam alaikum. My name is Chris Stevens, and I’m the new U.S. ambassador to Libya.” With those words Christopher Stevens—the 52-year-old diplomat who was killed along with three other Americans in a September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya—began an online video introducing himself to the people of Libya. Though he only took up his position in May, he wasn’t new to the region. An Arabic and French speaker, Stevens had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, and after working in international trade law in Washington, served in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia during his 21 years with the State Department.

But it was in Libya—where he also served as the number two U.S. diplomat from 2007 to 2009—where Stevens made his mark. His experience and credibility in a country that had long been off-limits proved invaluable during the chaotic Libyan revolution, and his work helped convince the Obama Administration to provide conclusive support to the besieged rebels. That made Stevens’s death all the more ironic—as President Barack Obama said after the attacks “it is especially tragic that he died in Benghazi because it is a city he helped to save at the height of a revolution.”

(MORE: Slaying Highlights Libya’s Post-Gaddafi Struggles)

It’s telling that less than three hours after Stevens’ death in Benghazi, Libyans had started an Arabic-language Facebook tribute page for him. On it they shared photos of the ambassador, for example, slouching down with Libyans eating local food with his hand. They also posted pictures of themselves holding candles lit in his memory.

By all accounts, Stevens wasn’t one to sit at a desk. He preferred being out of Washington and preferably out in the field. An avid hiker who grew up in California, he would often escape the embassy to roam Libya’s Roman ruins. “We served together in Syria,” says principal deputy Secretary of State Liz Dibble, “and I remember him describing a trip he took to Saladin’s castle. This was way off the beaten path in a country that was way off the beaten path.”

But if those discoveries were solitary – or done with an ever-changing lady friend – Stevens was known for his gregariousness. “He could be a party boy from time to time,” says Janet Sanderson, who first served with him in Cairo in the 1990s. “He was extremely popular and very personable. He was a lot of fun to be with. He loved sitting around talking politics until 2 a.m. and drinking endless cups of coffee and tea.”

He used his people skills to set the stage at meetings or in speeches, drawing people in. “He could hold his audience in the palm of his hand,” recalls Sanderson. “He could hold his audience on the Hill. He was great at explaining complex political environments. And he had the answers to the questions lawmakers asked, even before they asked them. Like on Libya: who were the rebels? Could they be unified? He knew all the factions, the whole landscape.”

Stevens’ knowledge of the Hill perhaps came from serving as a Pearson fellow, a yearlong exchange program for Foreign Service officers on the Hill, in Senator Richard Lugar’s office. Lugar was the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

In Cairo, Stevens made a name for himself as a tennis player. “He was this tall, blond guy,” says Sanderson. “He cut quite a figure in Cairo. It was only his second tour but he was the go-to tennis player when the ambassador wanted to impress visitors and play tennis.”

(MORE: Egypt, Libya: Fundamentalisms Unleash Havoc)

Stevens was ambitious without being cutthroat. “Type A with California laid over it,” says Dibble. He was the first in his Foreign Service class to make chief of mission. And he was fearless. As the U.S. was evacuating its embassy staff from Tripoli during the height of last year’s revolution, Stevens was negotiating to get dropped off by barge in Benghazi so he could work with the opposition leaders to help form a new government. He knew Benghazi perhaps better than any U.S. diplomat. “Oh, we had to go through all sorts of machinations to get him to Benghazi,” recalls Sanderson, who recently left her post as deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. “But he took to it like a duck to water. He became so integral on the ground.”

He was known particularly for his calm under fire. “Even when things were sort of crazy and we’d be talking on the phone he could make me laugh,” says Sanderson. Adds Dibble, “he never ran, never rushed. I never saw him flap or get fussed.”

Stevens was also known for mentoring younger Foreign Service officers. “From our perspective as we’re coming up the ranks when folks get to be ambassadors, they become very very serious and sometimes lose a little bit of the vitality and idealism and optimism that they had when they were younger,” says Aaron Snipe, a spokesman for the Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs who was friends with Stevens. “Chris had that optimism and he took that with him.”

Echoed Dibble, “He felt that he could make a difference, without being Pollyanna ish about it. He did it one step at a time. I think he’d probably be embarrassed by what people are saying about him. I think he’d probably say he was just being himself, doing his job. His outlook in life was ‘the glass is half full’ in any situation, no matter how tough. And he has served in some of the toughest places that we have.”

The American diplomatic community will mourn Stevens, who became the first U.S. envoy to be killed in the line of duty since 1979. But the world may miss him more. Libya and the other nations remade by the Arab Spring are in the midst of historic change. “He had a dream of making a difference in Libya and I think he was,” says Dibble. “I think he had a lot of hope for Libya, for this tremendous transition it’s going through.” The new democracies of the region need to rebuild free societies out of the ashes of autocracy, while shunning the temptation of religious extremism. Stevens could have helped that process along. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it: “The world needs more Chris Stevenses.” And it needs them now more than ever.

MORE: Before Libya: U.S. Ambassadors Killed in the Line of Duty

21 comments
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Susan J. Barretta
Susan J. Barretta

The State Department has a long history of incompetence and has blown it again.  How can we forget how shredded US embassy documents in Tehran were pasted together?!?  Or the bugs in the US embassy in Russia?!?

With all due respect, perhaps Chris Stevens, who knew Libya "like no other" apparently did not know it well enough.  The utter lack of security on an important anniversary;  the knowledge by the attackers of safe places indicating an insider; the loss of papers revealing the names of Libyans in support of peace efforts; not to mention the tragic deaths involved indicate a misguided optimism that was based on denial rather than brutal reality. 

I do not get it.  When I worked for aerospace companies I could not get up and go to the bathroom without locking up any classified papers or computer media on my desk.  And in this day and age, why isn't this information stored in encrypted form? 

Now Libya will suffer for not only the loss of this wonderful man and other embassy staff members who loved Libya but experience the wrath of  the US - all because the State Department, the CIA, and all this US "security" did not have a firm grasp of the reality of the situation. 

It is sickening to visit online forums and see people in a supposed "Christian" nation advocating "carpet bombing" Libya.  It is also sickening to think about US "security" and what a waste it all is - all the airport scanning and groping and toenail clipper confiscation, for instance.  What the hell is all that for?!?  This whole tragic state of affairs  is a brutal reminder that 100% security can never happen no matter how much money we sink into it.

Garzhad
Garzhad

 Supposed "Christian" nation? It hasn't been that way for a long time; less then half the population is Christian anymore. While I agree with the gist of your post, keep in mind the internet is full of idiots, racists, and people that use anonymity to spread all kinds of hate, and what you see on forums does not in anyway reflect the opinion of the people of the entire country, or even a small part of it.

Verónica López
Verónica López

This is so incredibly sad. I read 3 other diplomats were killed as well. I wonder what their names were.

alanphillips
alanphillips

 

WHO IS CURRENTLY IN CHARGE?

The Arab Spring hasn’t paid off with our embassies being attacked and our ambassador in Libya recently killed with several of his staff. Egypt, governed by the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi for the most part are not friends of the United States. Israel, today remains under increased threat from Iran and other Arab regimes. A president who is unwilling to meet in New York with Netanyahu yet desires apparently to meet with Morsi from Egypt. One must look deeply within himself and question the allegiances of the president and ask if Valerie Jarrett and others are making foreign policy decisions for this nation? Personally when it comes to world affairs I look forward to the decision making experience and expertise of former Governor Mitt Romney.

We are finishing a war in Afghanistan and a constant onslaught from international terrorism. Human and financial costs continue to mount even though we have declared an exit intention. Supposedly we are training native Afghanistan citizens to take over defense and policing, yet these same ranks of trained protectors have produced from their numbers some killers of our own brave American defenders. Iran is developing nuclear weapons to be used against Middle Eastern allies in intimidation and threat. North Korea remains war like and adventurous bellicose and seemingly unrestricted. Syria continues to kill its citizens supported by China and Russia who threaten America. Our foreign policy seems based upon ambivalence and fuzziness is encouraging our adversaries to warlike actions. ARE WE BETTER OFF IN FOREIGN POLICY?

In America we are struggling economically with less hope for the future, loss of jobs, a better life for our children, equity in our homes, retirement and annuities, foreign debt ballooning, banks not lending to any longer to main street. Cities forced to deal with bankruptcies, less policing, crime increasing, child sexual abuse, streets less safe and foreboding along with wholesale abortion. ARE WE BETTER OFF IN THE SECURITY AND SAFETY OF OUR CITIZENS?

We are also experiencing a loss of constitutional freedoms in the public square. The freedom to worship as indivdually directed by Divine Providence as a guaranteed right seems threatened. Individuals are  Freedom of environmental protection by agencies with our lakes, streams, seas, and oceans. We witness Freedom of speech succumbing to the threats of hate speech and biased remarks. We seem to lack freedom to participate in decisions regarding taxation, guaranteeing no further assessments without true elected leader representation. Do we witness quasi bureaucratic representation resulting in needless and onerous regulations which enfeeble and weaken the smaller corporate efforts among us.

Is America wandering aimlessly through its journey without a master plan that leads to success and prosperity. Do we thoroughly understand the rhetoric about healthcare found in Congressional binders in Washington, D.C.. Do we have a functional budget approved by the national legislative body?. Should our elections be financed through super pacs and the nameless faceless wealthy of our citizens? Does the current American President understandthat many of the voters who will vote in the upcoming electorate? Does the C.E.O. know and understand American history and its ordinances?

America has ongoing challenges in the present and future. Most challenges will be decided by the old and enduring question, ARE YOU BETTER OFF NOW THAN YOU WERE FOUR YEARS AGO? Answer to this writer is no.

Alan G Phillips, Sr                                                                                                                                                                                          

 

USASnews
USASnews

Washington:

Those are the Crimes legalized by islam.

The islamic ego always does anarchy rebellions tyrants all negative spirits from the past.

That is the proof how Wrong islam is to be punished.

Earl Lad Victorino Geonanga
Earl Lad Victorino Geonanga

To: Time Magazine

May i present to you a way to end this present religious

conflict happening around the world

 

Based on the explanation of Maestro Erano Evangelista in the

website: www.thename.ph

 

The current condition in the world is such that Christians

are fighting against Muslims and Muslims against Christians.  Now we also see that it is between Muslims in

Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other countries  

These conflicts and suicide bombings, in some parts of the world, has

resulted in ghastly sufferings.  Let us

also ask the Muslims who do they believe in?

 

   In the book of “The

Noble Qur’an in the English Language,” page 994, written by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin

Khan, Islamic University AL-MADINA AL-MUNAWARRA.

 

   Descent of Jesus,

son of Mary:

"I wish to remind the reader here

that Jesus, son of Mary will be returning to this world before the Day of

Resurrection.  He will return to become a leader of the Muslim nation as

has been revealed in the Qur'an:

(Chapter 43:61-64)… and as

narrated by Abu Huraira: Allah's Messenger said: "By Him (Allah) in whose

Hands my soul is, surely (Jesus) son of Mary, will shortly descend amongst you

(Muslims) and will judge mankind justly by the law of the Qur'an (as a just

ruler) and will break the Cross and kill the pigs and abolish the Jizya (a tax

levied upon the non-Muslims who are under the protection of a Muslim

government.  The Jizya Tax will not be accepted by Jesus and all mankind

will be required to embrace Islam with no other alternative).  Then there

will be abundance of money and nobody will accept charitable gifts."

(Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 3, Hadith No. 425)

 

   Many people, in different

nations, call on Jesus and anxiously await his return, as do the Muslims. 

What did Jesus say in the Holy Bible (the book that Muslims also believe in)

regarding

the killings perpetuated by Muslims?

 

   Read in:

"All

this I have told you so that you will not go astray.” 

John 16:1 (NIV)

 

   Maestro Evangelista says: Jesus reminded that he had

before warned everyone so as not to make a mistake.   What mistake?

 

They will

put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when

anyone who

kills you will think he is offering a service to God.

John 16:2 (NIV)

 

   Jesus knew that a time will

come when there will be great misunderstanding among many

people regarding his true person, his

sayings and his works.

   Presently, these killings are often reported in the newspapers and

radio programs; even the place and time of its actual occurrence can actually

seen on cable TV, satellite television programs, and the internet!

 

   Why?  What is the reason for the killings?

 

   The killers say that they do it as a service and

praise for Jesus and God!

 

   What is the real cause that they kill other people?

 What did Jesus really say about it?

 

They will

do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 

John 16: 3 (NIV)

 

   Jesus said: The reason for the killings between the

opposing religions and nations is that they do not know the real God and the

real Jesus. 

To prove it: If you would ask people how many gods are there; they will answer:

there is only one God!  They are united.

 

When asked about His name, they will give you many names, and they

will fight over it.

 

   It only shows that they don't

really know God.  This is one of the reasons for the curse and the

fighting in the world.

 

   If one would ask about the

person of Jesus, some would say that he is a “son of God”; that he is also a

god (to the Christians); and to Muslims, he is the son of Mary and only a

prophet; to others and other religions, a son of God, but a man also.

 These are the revelation and facts that show that they don't really know

Jesus.  That is why the killings persist up to the present.

 

   Question: How do we solve this problem?

 

     Answer: Maestro

Evangelista says, to finally end the killing between the religions and peoples

at present, he will reveal and introduce to the world the true God and the real

Jesus through the Holy Bible.  When this is done, the killings will end.

 When the people learn of and call upon the real name of God and true

peace will finally be attained.

 

May your News group study www.thename.ph to know the real Name of God and the real

Jesus in the Bible and realize how great its impact, once the truth about God

and Jesus be known - in ending this religious conflict in the Middle East and

in different parts of the world.

 

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

It's still early, but I think it's telling that we aren't hearing about continuing protests in Libya while Cairo continues

USASnews
USASnews

Those are the Crimes legalized by islam. The islamic ego always does anarchy rebellions tyrants all negative spirits from the past.

That is the proof how Wrong islam is to be punished.

Hatem Negm
Hatem Negm

We are very sad about what happened to Mr. Chris, we reject violence in all kinds, I hope this accident does not affect the relationship between USA and the Arab World, We love USA and we believe that  this country is a great country and try to make peace around the world, God bless Mr. Chris's soul, he die like a hero.

Nick Werle
Nick Werle

he wasnt smart enough to establish security!

JohnOBX
JohnOBX

This is what I don't get:

It's an anniversary of 9/11.  

It's an Islamic country where there has been a bit of unrest recently.  One might go so far as to say "turmoil" or "upheaval."

It's an American consulate.  Any American "outpost" is historically a target for protesters, extremists, agitators, and terrorists.

So how in the name of all that is rational do you have ONE (1) guard on duty?  One.  Why isn't EVERY embassy/consulate in the middle east and North Africa staffed with a Marine guard?  And by "Marine guard" I of course mean many Marines.  Guarding.  

How can one guy provide security, work the metal detector, check incoming packages, and all the other things a security staff does?

One.  It boggles the mind.  One might go so far as to say "b*tsh*t insane."

NotASoulToBeFound
NotASoulToBeFound

I grieve for the people whose lives were ripped away from them.  I *also* grieve for the crazed tribalists who would kill people who had done nothing--or had even been their deepest friend, had they known it--because of the actions of someone those innocents hadn't known and whose actions they'd known nothing about.  It is a sad testimony to a culture (tribalism hybridized with Islam) that they would kill mindlessly and randomly over an insult to the Prophet when their faith should be enough withstand any assailing of it.  They believe they are showing the strength of their faith by swift and vicious retaliation.  What this mob is saying is that their faith and the holy one who started it are not strong enough to withstand these insults. Where they should just laugh and scoff at the disrespectful for being fools, they declare *themselves* the fools by their reactions.   TRUE Islam is a faith of beauty, of kindness, of charity, of love and joy, not this.  The Prophet would weep...

Plumbline
Plumbline

John 16:2............. The time is coming when those who kill you will think that they are doing a service to God.

Zari
Zari

R.I.P., Sir