Remembering Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens
The fanatics who assassinated America’s ambassador to Libya in Benghazi on Tuesday night are not only criminals—they are imbeciles.
A brilliant young diplomat as well as a courageous man of action, Christopher Stevens was one of Libya’s best friends and an important behind-the-scenes contributor to its liberation.
In the common struggle to free Libya, our paths crossed several times—in Paris, Benghazi, and finally Washington.
The first occasion was in Paris, on March 14, 2011. Embattled dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s forces were marching on Benghazi, tasked with spilling “rivers of blood.” France appeared alone in its support for the Libyan revolutionaries. All seemed lost at the moment when I asked Mahmoud Jibril, the emissary from Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) who had negotiated France’s recognition of free Libya with Nicolas Sarkozy several days before, to return immediately to Paris to meet with Hillary Clinton, who was in Paris for a meeting of the G8. Christopher Stevens was at that meeting. Deeply moved, as he told me later, by Jibril’s plea for assistance, the diplomat was among those who urged Clinton to describe to President Obama the call for help that he had just heard. The rest is history.
A month later, beginning on April 9, Stevens and I crossed paths again, this time in Benghazi, where he was not yet ambassador, but already the representative of the United States to free Libya. He had tackled his assignment head-on. He was among those who were pushing for a stronger commitment by the United States, both in the air and, through the special forces, on the ground. I recall that one morning we discovered with a shared burst of laughter that both of us had been scheduled to meet at the same time with the chairman of the NTC, who was not yet up on the fine points of protocol. I remember vigorous discussions, frank but always respectful, on the prospects for a Libyan version of the Dayton accords, which Stevens seemed to favor (of this I am not completely sure, but that was the impression I got), whereby Libya would be divided into a confederation of autonomous regions. I remember his grace, his bright smile, and a tribute to his native San Francisco that he delivered one day on the road to Brega—resounding, very literate, and refreshingly incongruous in the context of the moment.
I saw him again a year later in Washington, when the story of Libya’s liberation was nearing its end. I had come to interview Hillary Clinton about the war in which our two countries had fought side by side. And Christopher Stevens was there once again. We ran into each other in an elevator, and warm greetings were followed by a long conversation in the State Department cafeteria, where he told me of his appointment as ambassador. He had the same youthful air, the same enthusiastic manner of speaking. He was convinced that a new chapter had opened in the long history of America’s relations with the Arab world, which in the Libyan fight had seen the United States as friends not of dictators, but of ordinary people. It was his intention to help write that new chapter.
The country he had so ardently defended and the city of Benghazi, which he had helped to save and he so loved, proved his undoing. Ten years after the death of Daniel Pearl, another American who respected Arabs and Muslims and who admired, like Christopher Stevens, the wisdom of true Islam, Stevens fell victim to the same fanaticism, the same blind and tragic barbarism. The United States has lost an ambassador. The Libyans have lost a companion and a friend. This time, the imbeciles have won.