September 26, 2012
The story goes that John Christopher Stevens was a young lawyer in an international trade firm who one day put his head down on his desk and declared, “I can’t do this anymore.” It was more than a young man bored with the mundane parts of a law practice: He wanted to make a difference in the world and joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1991.
He returned to the Arab world, where he had been a Peace Corps volunteer, with momentous consequences for the people of Libya.
His success in every assignment made him, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, a legend among Arabic specialists in the Foreign Service. He felt honored that his service with Libyan freedom fighters was rewarded with the appointment as ambassador to a new Libya.
Stevens’ death in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was particularly tragic, as President Barack Obama said, as Stevens helped save Benghazi from the murderous revenge of then-dictator Moammar Gadhafi during the civil war.
The first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979, Stevens’ death was widely mourned in Libya, and the new government — obviously, not entirely in control of its own cities — pledged to work with U.S. authorities to bring his killers to justice.
The deaths of Stevens and three staff members, and wounding of others, also should remind Americans of the debt of gratitude owed to diplomats who represent America abroad, often in very difficult circumstances.
Diplomats are often seen as “soft targets” for terrorists. Earlier in Libya, the British ambassador was attacked and two of his bodyguards were injured.
“In embassies from Caracas to Kabul, I’ve watched in action some of the most impressive Americans I’ve ever had the honor to know,” wrote conservative commentator David Frum. They are “on the front lines of global conflict, doing the nation’s work, often at great personal risk.”
The people of Libya also lost a friend in Chris Stevens.