Chris Stevens was the ultimate foreign service officer. He reveled in his job. You only have to glance at his official photograph to get a sense of the character of the man: always cheerful, always enthusiastic, always professional. Like those more high profile ambassadors – Ryan Crocker (U.S. ambassador in Baghdad and Kabul) and Robert Ford (U.S. ambassador in Damascus) – Chris Stevens loved to be on the front lines of American diplomacy.
I remember when I was President Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs and Chris was my Iran desk officer how he came to me to ask permission to start learning Farsi. We were just in the opening stages of an initiative to normalize relations with the newly-elected reformist President Khatemi, an effort which benefited greatly from Chris’s input and management. Chris told me that he wanted to be the first person on the ground in Tehran when we established diplomatic relations.
That effort didn’t work out so well, but I was not at all surprised to hear that Chris was the first American diplomat on the ground in Tripoli when the George W. Bush administration established diplomatic relations with the Qaddafi regime. Nor was it surprising that Chris became the liaison to the Libyan opposition and moved back to Benghazi to be the lead U.S. official on the ground during the effort to overthrow Qaddafi. It was therefore only fitting that he should become the first U.S. ambassador to the free republic of Libya.
The courage and determination that he demonstrated in Libya was typical of the man. He lived on the frontlines of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East, and now he has died there on the frontlines in the pursuit of liberty – a great American has given up his life for a great American cause. May his memory be blessed.
Iranian security forces are beginning to close the space for both activism and analytical inquiry.