Thursday, May 30, 2013

Remembering US Ambassador Chris Stevens

US Ambassador Chris Stevens

John Christopher Stevens was a legendary revolutionary hero to the Libyan people before most Americans ever heard his name.

Stevens, whose death at the hands of Islamic terrorist is now a political football in Washington, was not your typical diplomat who ran things from behind a desk, but was known to mingle among the people and meet informally with tribal elders, earning their respect by not only speaking their language and eating their food, but delivering on the promises he made.

Relatively unknown and unheralded when alive, Stevens served in the Peace Corps teaching English in Morocco where he learned Arabic and acquired a taste for the local cuisine, then joined the State Department, doing embassy duty in a number of Arab countries until Gadhafi renounced terrorism and renewed relations, when he served as an assistant to the US Ambassador in Tripoli.

Stevens was aware of the efforts to repatriate the remains of Richard Somers and the Intrepid crew because he was included in the early correspondence between those seeking repatriation and the embassy. While Stevens was in Tripoli the State Department sought the restoration of Old Protestant Cemetery, where the Intrepid graves are located, and nominated the cemetery as a World Heritage site.

Shortly after the revolution began, Stevens was sent to Benghazi to make contact with the rebels and determine their motives and intentions. Arriving in the hold of a cargo ship, he met with the rebels and determined they were mainly freedom fighters, though there were some extremists who sought to impose an Islamic state. While a minority, the Islamists were the best fighters and were part of the deal.

Reversing a long standing policy of support of foreign dictators who backed US interests, Stevens recommended the United States support the rebels America’s decision to intervene militarily and attack Gadhafi’s forces just as they bore down on Benghazi.

As a student of history Stevens certainly saw the parallels between his situation and that of William Eaton, the American counsel to Egypt in 1805 who helped capture the eastern port city of Derna and led a rag tag army of rebels fighting to topple a tyrant in Tripoli. While Eaton’s promise was co-opted by the diplomatic moves of government, Stevens saw it through, and finish the historic march to liberate Tripoli.

The revolution was difficult, but creating a new government and an open society is harder, and as a reward for his revolutionary success, Stevens was named US Ambassador to Libya. On Memorial Day 2012 Stevens led a delegation of embassy personnel to pay their respects at the graves of the Intrepid sailors at Old Protestant Cemetery. While not familiar to most Americans, the Libyans knew him as a hero much like French General Lafayette was an American revolutionary war hero.

As ambassador Stevens went out among the people, met and dined with them, and got to know them personally. On September 11, 2012 Stevens was in Benghazi to visit his former guide who had opened a school. He visited the school and made arrangements to meet a Boston medical doctor, Dr. Thomas Burke, who was in Benghazi to establish an emergency medical service that could have possibly saved Steven’s life that night if it was operating.

A Libyan who sent a recent photo of Old Protestant Cemetery, included the sentiment, “I would like to give you my belated condolences on the loss of Ambassador Chris J. Stevens. He was a much liked and respected by most Libyans. What happened to him in Benghazi was tragic and shameful. 40,000 people marched in Benghazi against his killers a week after his death.  He will be missed.”

While the politicians in Washington play the blame game over the circumstances of Stevens’ death, Americans can do something in his memory by supporting the things Stevens was working on when he was killed - the education of Libyans, especially women, and helping to establish such basic social services as emergency medical assistance.

Towards that end, Chris Stevens’ sister and Dr. Burke have set up a foundation that needs support - the J. Christopher Stevens Fund to promote intercultural understanding between Americans and the people of the Middle East, especially educational programs, student exchanges, libraries and the Peace Corps. [ http;// -  

And you can also help convince the American government and US military that the same radical extremists who killed Stevens are also grave robbers who are now the most dangerous threat to the remains of the American sailors at Old Protestant Cemetery, remains that should be repatriated home before they are desecrated.