Remembering RPCV & Ambassador Chris Stevens (Morocco 1983-85)

[Ambassador Chris Stevens was a PCV in Morocco from 1983-85.  He served twice in Libya in three different Foreign Service capacities, first, as Deputy Chief of Mission from 2007-09;  then as Special Representative to Libya’s National Transitional Council from March 2011 to November 2011; and  finally as Ambassador from June 2012 until his death on September 11, 2012.]

Learning of Chris Stevens’ Death While Reading The Aeneid

by Tino Calabia (Peru 1963-65)

What intel the White House should have known/acted upon before the 9/11 attack and killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues in Libya is triggering partisan arguments sullying the memory of Stevens’ sacrifice.  Or so the current gamesmanship seems to this former Peace Chris with a friendCorps Volunteer.

Lots of the 200,000 Americans who, like I, have served as Volunteers never knew, prior to the violence in Benghazi, that the Peace Corps first sent young Chris Stevens to Morocco.  Later the State Department assigned him as a Foreign Service Officer to other Arabic countries and, last year, to liaise with Libyans during their struggle to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.  Chris subsequently became Ambassador to the new Libyan government.

Many of us initially learned about Chris’ Peace Corps service upon reading of his death after a mob protest at a U.S. compound in Libya’s coastal Benghazi.  At the time, I had just started reading the epic poem “The Aeneid” for a Columbia University book club discussion but stopped upon hearing about Chris.  I discovered that he served as a Volunteer in Morocco, learned the language, and grew to love the people there and in other Arabic lands where he worked as a State Department diplomat.

Early accounts of Chris’ career reported that he enjoyed mixing with Middle Eastern peoples, ever on the job building local relationships until . . . .  Until that fateful day in Benghazi when the riot broke out, and he was later found dead.

Eventually restarting The Aeneid, I came upon this Book One passage: ” . . . [W]hen a crowd of people is rocked by a rebellion, and the rabble rage in their minds, and firebrands and stones fly fast – for fury finds its weapons – if, by chance, they see a man remarkable for righteousness and service, they are silent and stand attentively; and he controls their passion by his words and cools their spirits. . . .”

A few lines later, I read that Aeneas and his crew finally could turn their ships “toward Libya’s coast.”

How ironic – Stevens, Ambassador to 21st Century Libya, was one of our finest diplomats.  Already fluent in Arabic, he loved mingling with the people, reportedly much more so than most of our diplomats do wherever they serve.

I mentioned to book club members that, from the earliest news accounts, one might conclude that the Libyan protesters who killed Chris didn’t appear to see him as “a man remarkable for righteousness and service.”  Nor in their rage did they grow “silent and stand attentively.”  Instead, they killed him.

But days later, a member cited accounts reporting that some Libyans, who protested anew in Benghazi, carried placards decrying the killing of Chris Stevens.  Many went on to demand that militias such as the militia that had launched heavy-weapons attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi be put under the control of the Libyan government, an unexpected demand placed on the fledgling government.  More surprisingly, the government acted on the demand with some success.  It thus appears that the tragic killing of Chris Stevens led to at least one unforeseen positive result.

How sad.  This turn of events is now being spun into a partisan football during the final throes of the Presidential and Congressional campaigns.

Tino Calabia began as a Peace Corps Volunteer (Peru 1963-65) then headed a Bronx antipoverty agency, directed planning projects with residents of New York’s poverty neighborhoods, and authored numerous federal studies ranging from the rights of female offenders to racial discrimination on college campuses.  He has served on national Asian American boards and also held seminars in former Eastern bloc countries for exchange students he had mentored while they lived in the U.S.  One son has served as a Foreign Service Officer in three South American countries, Iraq, and now in Japan.  His wife and another son are both members of the Council on Foreign Relations.

4 Comments

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  • The nagging result of the horrible murder of a distinguished American diplomat and RPCV is that all the work he and our governmetn have done to improve our image and standing with certain groups of people seems to have come to a resounding crash. We supported directly the Libyan toppling of Quadafi, we supported indirectly the removal of Mubarek, three of the four largest recipients of US aid over the last two decades have been Muslim countries, we freed Kuwait from Iraq aggression, we saved thousands of Muslims from Serbian assault and more. And in return they killl our Ambasador who was their proven friend. I see no progress in impoving realtions between Americans and the Muslim world. Why?

    I am an RPCV and former American diplomat.

  • 10/10 Update on Stevens’ death: “A month before the presidential election, with Mitt Romney surging in the polls, Republicans increasingly see the Libya attack as a political vulnerability for President Obama. Republicans accuse Obama and top administration officials of overlooking warning signs before the attack and trying to deflect questions about terrorism afterward.” From Oct. 10th Washington Post, print edition, p. 1 story.

    Thanks, John, for posting Melanie Kondrat’s story on her recent visit to Ouaouizerth, the town Chris Stevens served as a PCV. Your own current series on community development in the mid-’60s in South America reminded me of how tough it was for the PCVs sent to “do community development” in the Andean countries. In light of Chris’ winning ways with the people of Ouaouizerth and how he conducted his subsequent career, I’m guessing he would have found a path to success in South America whether he had been sent to teach or to work in CD.

    In any case, from Melanie’s account, Chris was clearly loved by the Moroccans he came to know then, and – from last month’s media reports about the locals who publicly decried his 9/11 death in Benghazi – Chris earned the respect of many Libyans he had come to work with as our new Ambassador.

    And yet, the political gamesmanship over who’s to blame for his death grows fiercer. With the Presidential and Congressional elections still almost four weeks away, how much worse will the partisan attacks get by Election Day?

  • We all remember President Obama declaring that Benny Laden´s elimination was a death blow to Al Queda. Hello, it is still alive and very active. We also have seen Obama try hard to convince Muslims in several countries, including the USA, that we are their friends and we are, witness our help to topple Quadafi, free Kuwait from Irag invasion, protect Muslims from Serbian genocide and make Muslim countries the largest by far recipients of our development assistance. In return we get Sept 11, the murder of our Ambassador in Libya, closing our embassies in Sudan and Tunisia, the current threat of an attack on our embassy in Cairo, Afghan troops killing their American colleagues, and more. Yes, there are many good Muslims who do not wish or cause us ill, but they are overshadowed by their violent correligious.

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