Sunday, September 16, 2012

A U.S. Envoy Who Plunged Into Arab Life

by Steven Erlanger - The New York Times

September 15, 2012


J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya who was killed in an assault on a diplomatic mission there last week, was happy to gossip, but was revered for listening. A northern Californian with a toothy grin, he had a passion for the Arab world and its language, and he went out of his way to use it, whether with officials or shopkeepers, in an effort to show respect.
In his willingness to allow others to be heard, even when he had an important message to impart, Mr. Stevens was an unusual American diplomat, friends and colleagues say. He allowed himself to be governed by the habits, proprieties and slower pace of the Arab world.

With the State Department on high alert for security threats, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks ... Mr. Stevens plunged into Arab social life. He traded personal risk for personal contact.

His comfort with his environment and his distaste for displays of security, some quietly suggest, may have led to a touch of overconfidence that cost him his life. ...

What the United States lost was not only one of its foremost Arabists, a man who built a bridge to the tribes and militias that toppled the Libyan dictator Khaddafy ... it also may be losing ... a style of diplomacy already on the decline: the street-smart, low-key negotiator who gets things done by building personal relationships.

Mr. Stevens, 52, was known as Chris, but he often signed letters and e-mails to friends as Krees, the way many Arabs pronounced his name. His affection for Arab culture and street life, whether in Syria, Libya or the Palestinian territories, made him many friends and impressive networks of contacts.

Precisely what happened the night he was killed is unclear. But for an American ambassador to have so little security on the anniversary of Sept. 11, especially in a part of Libya known for its radicalism, is bound to raise questions, and in some sense, only adds to the irony of his death in a country he loved, and that for the most part, loved him back as an ally and a friend. ...

American diplomats, given a presentation on the Israeli settlements by the Palestinians, often responded with exasperation ... complaining that the Palestinians didn’t understand how much we do for you behind the scenes with the Israelis. ... Mr. Stevens was different, he would say, ‘Tell me more. Tell me more of what America can do to help and why.”

Mr. Stevens was not above diplomatic gossip, said Mr. Morris, who now blogs for The International Herald Tribune. Recounting the private meeting of Cécilia Sarkozy, then the wife of the French president, with Colonel Qaddafi in 2007 to try to secure the release of some jailed Bulgarian nurses, Mr. Stevens noted that the Libyan leader had opened his robes and was naked underneath. ...

As a diplomat, Mr. Stevens also got very high marks from his superiors. ...

The French writer and activist Bernard-Henri Lévy, who made early contact with the rebels in Benghazi and helped persuade the French to intervene, knew Mr. Stevens then, and related a meeting Mr. Stevens had in April 2011 with Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the council. “I was struck by the mix of human warmth and professional diplomacy,” Mr. Lévy said, and “by his great capacity to listen and his strategy to speak last.”

David Welch, a retired senior State Department official, knew Mr. Stevens from a first posting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1992 and helped promote him. “He was one of the best of his generation,” Mr. Welch said.

Roya Hakakian, an Iranian-born writer who met him then, said that “he displayed the quintessential sunny innocence of Americans.”

Late last year, as Mr. Stevens waited for his confirmation hearings, they met in Washington, she wrote in They spoke about the radicalization of the Libyan opposition and her concern that there would inevitably be a lashing out at the United States. She cited the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 as inevitable, given the revolutionary narrative.

“Chris’s face was unusually flushed as he listened,” Ms. Hakakian wrote. “He was far more hopeful about the future.” He seemed hurt, she said. “Chris had fallen in love with Libya’s revolution. At the end, those very forces whose influence he thought would be curbed had claimed his life.”

The complete article may be found at:

FreeThinke’s response:

Obviously just another fatuous, imbecilic, starry-eyed idealist like Danny Pearl and Nicholas Berg so in love with their ardent misperceptions, and so arrogantly cocksure of their foolish beliefs that both lacked even the faintest grasp of reality.  

Being a nice guy in a world dominated entirely by fangs and claws is no help to anyone -- least of all oneself. 

When you bed down with poisonous snakes and scorpions it's idiotic to imagine you'll wake up to see another day.

Nice guys don't finish last -- they're far more apt to finish early.



  1. I wholeheartedly disagree with your conclusion, FT.

    Chris Stevens was exactly the kind of person we want in our diplomatic corps. We can debate the wisdom of our policy viz the Libyan revolution, but Stevens didn't make that policy, he carried it out.

    I have lived around the world, and in normal circumstances, Ambassadors and diplomats like Stevens make all the difference in the world for us. We need foreign service people who can project our values while still understanding and enjoying the cultures they are bringing our values to.

    John Bolton may be a smart man, but a diplomatic corps full of such prickly people would be a disaster.

  2. I don't believe in "diplomacy." It think it's bullshit.

    I believe in Peace Through Strength -- an overwhelming, undeniable amount of STRENGTH which we have GIVEN UP in favor of soft-headed notions of being able to BEFRIEND, BEGUILE and BEFUDDLE barbarians into seeing things "OUR" way.

    Nuts to that!

    It's another version of the same kind of arrogant presumption on "our" part that motivated Christian Missionaries to make attempts to "Convert the Heathen," and the British to build their ill-fated empire.

    Don't forget this smarmy, soft-headed article appeared in The New York Times -- a crypto-MARXIST RAG of very longstanding.

    I'm shocked at your response, SilverFiddle. You've taken the LIBERAL view as your own.

    ~ FreeThinke

  3. I suppose I agree with SF.

    Only the "good" die young. The rest of us cynical b*satrds live to a ripe old age.

  4. The problem is that if we wanted our values to prevail in Libya, we needed 10,000 like minded patriots settling down around Libya building a combined future, taking Arab wives and having "mixed" culture children. Millions of them.

  5. Meanwhile, here's how America will respond to the Obamateur Hour this November.

  6. AHA!

    SALVATION through MISCEGENATION, eh, Thersites?

    I've always thought that myself, -- ME -- "The Arch-Racist-in-Residence!" -- or so the chronic critics and captious crusaders would like everyone to believe, which only shows what little THEY know.

    Assuming the ultimate inevitability of One Blended Human Race where blue-eyed blonds, brunettes and redheads with porcelain complexions or freckles no longer exist, and all features have flattened, broadened, softened and darkened, HERE is what we might expect:

    When the race has all turned beige
    And all the hair is woolly blond
    And all the slanted eyes are blue
    Folks will still find excuses not to be fond
    And want to screw
    And torture, maim and kill,
    Because our nature is depraved
    And thrives on envy and ill will
    And suffers from addiction to rage.

    The short will hate the tall
    The idiots the bright
    The fat pray for the fall
    Of the slim with bodies tight.
    The bad will loathe the good
    Just because they're knaves
    And postpone doing what they should
    Until they reach their graves.

    ~ FreeThinke

  7. Plato, "Statesman"

    STRANGER: But in those who were originally of a noble nature, and who have been nurtured in noble ways, and in those only, may we not say that union is implanted by law, and that this is the medicine which art prescribes for them, and of all the bonds which unite the dissimilar and contrary parts of virtue is not this, as I was saying, the divinest?

    YOUNG SOCRATES: Very true.

    STRANGER: Where this divine bond exists there is no difficulty in imagining, or when you have imagined, in creating the other bonds, which are human only.

    YOUNG SOCRATES: How is that, and what bonds do you mean?

    STRANGER: Rights of intermarriage, and ties which are formed between States by giving and taking children in marriage, or between individuals by private betrothals and espousals. For most persons form marriage connexions without due regard to what is best for the procreation of children.

    YOUNG SOCRATES: In what way?

    STRANGER: They seek after wealth and power, which in matrimony are objects not worthy even of a serious censure.

    YOUNG SOCRATES: There is no need to consider them at all.

    STRANGER: More reason is there to consider the practice of those who make family their chief aim, and to indicate their error.

    YOUNG SOCRATES: Quite true.

    STRANGER: They act on no true principle at all; they seek their ease and receive with open arms those who are like themselves, and hate those who are unlike them, being too much influenced by feelings of dislike.


    STRANGER: The quiet orderly class seek for natures like their own, and as far as they can they marry and give in marriage exclusively in this class, and the courageous do the same; they seek natures like their own, whereas they should both do precisely the opposite.

    YOUNG SOCRATES: How and why is that?

    STRANGER: Because courage, when untempered by the gentler nature during many generations, may at first bloom and strengthen, but at last bursts forth into downright madness.

    YOUNG SOCRATES: Like enough.

    STRANGER: And then, again, the soul which is over-full of modesty and has no element of courage in many successive generations, is apt to grow too indolent, and at last to become utterly paralyzed and useless.

    YOUNG SOCRATES: That, again, is quite likely.

    STRANGER: It was of these bonds I said that there would be no difficulty in creating them, if only both classes originally held the same opinion about the honourable and good;—indeed, in this single work, the whole process of royal weaving is comprised—never to allow temperate natures to be separated from the brave, but to weave them together, like the warp and the woof, by common sentiments and honours and reputation, and by the giving of pledges to one another; and out of them forming one smooth and even web, to entrust to them the offices of State.

  8. Who Killed Khadaffi?


"Who killed Khadaffi?"
"I," said the Sparrow,
"With my bow and arrow, 

    I killed Khadaffi."

    "Who saw him die?"
"I," said the Fly,
    With my little eye,
I saw him die."


"Who caught his blood?"
"I," said the Fish,
"With my little dish, 

    I caught his blood."

    "Who'll make the shroud?"
"I," said the Beetle,
    With my thread and needle, 

    I'll make the shroud."

    "Who'll dig his grave?"
"I," said the Owl,

    "With my little trowel, 

    I'll dig his grave."

    "Who'll be the imam?" 

    "I," said the Rook,
    "With my little book,
I'll be the imam."

    "Who'll be the clerk?"
"I," said the Lark,
"If it's not in the dark,
I'll be the clerk."

    "Who'll kill the stench?"
"I," said the Linnet,

    "I'll fetch it in a minute,
And bury it in a trench."


"Who will sing praises?"
"I," said the Dove,

    "I and my love,
We will sing praises."

    "Who'll carry the coffin?"
"I," said Sheer Spite,

    "If it's not through the night,
I'll carry the coffin."

    "Who'll bear the pall? 

    "We," said the Wren,
"Both the cock and the hen, 

    We'll bear the pall."

    "Who'll chant the Sura?"
"I," said George Bush,
As he sat on his tush,
I'll chant with bravura."

    "Who'll toll the bell?"
"I," said the bull,

    "Because I can pull,
I'll toll the bell."

    Then the birds with sweet strains
Had great fun pulling taffy,
Spraying turds that made stains
On dead Mohmar Khadaffi.

    ~ Non-Traditional

  9. Diplomacy has its place, IMO.

    However, don't these words speak volumes?

    “Chris had fallen in love with Libya’s revolution. At the end, those very forces whose influence he thought would be curbed had claimed his life.”

    In my view, he fell in love with the charisma of Araby. See Rafael Patai's The Arab Mind. He said something like "The West has always been fascinated by all things Araby."

    The problem with Araby, of course, is those later verses of the Quran and those later verses of the Haditha. See THIS.

    I did note how drawn Hillary's face looked on Friday. Was she broadsided, or was she acting?

  10. Diplomacy most definitely has a place, and Chris Stevens was a good man representing our country. Your commentary, FreeThinke, denigrates his work and his memory.

    If you've never fought for anything bigger than yourself and outside of yourself, you can't know what it feels like.

    It had to be one hell of a rush to help those grubby bastards topple Khadafi.

  11. Of COURSE Sevens was a "good" man, Kurt. That is not the issue.

    He was also incredibly naive as only a dyed-in-the-wool liberal possessed with Messianic Zeal could be.

    This article was posted not to dishonor the poor schnook's memory but to present the sanctimonious, saccharine, agenda-driven attitude of Erlanger's article in the NEW YORK TIMES.

    He was wildly enthusiastic about HIS fantasy of what the Arab World was like.

    Very sadly REALITY caught up with him and he was KILLED.

    We ought to stay the hell home and mind our own God-damned business and STOP trying to reshape the world to fit OUR ideas of how it OUGHT to work.

    He who sticks his hand into a hornet's nest is NOT going to make FRIENDS with the hornets.

    Only a unique individual of Gertrude Bell's character and disposition could manage that, and even HER remarkable, herculean efforts and magnificent courage which were instrumental -- even crucial -- in the founding of "Irak," as the British then called it, came to naught in the long run.

    The Middle East is a cauldron over flowing with boiling diarrhea.

    Let's get the hell OUT of there and let the Devil take the hindmost.

    Practicing "diplomacy" on Arabs is about as useful as trying to psychoanalyze monitor lizards or convert vampire bats and tarantulas to Christianity.

    Decent people like Chris Stevens make the mistake of assuming that everyone "at root" is the same.

    If you want to go die for a Glorious Cause, please be my guest.

    I prefer to live and do what good I can within my own sphere of influence and leave the rest up to God. And yes I DO think the world would be a better place if others thought that way too.

    ~ FreeThinke

  12. That dialogue, FJ sounds remarkably like something Jesus Christ might have said to a young seeker after Wisdom and Truth.

    ~ FT

  13. Before you can conceive it, your heart must believe it.

    The world is a little worse off for Ambassador Stevens' death.

    I know you can't understand this FT, which is why I don't hold it against you.

    Helping another people, becoming immersed in their culture, watching a dictator fall, being a part of something so outside of your upbringing...

    It's funny, but it's the conservatives that brought that about in the 80's in Central America. The "liberals" were fighting it the whole way.

  14. We are so immersed in the liberal versus conservative , conservative versus liberal construct that often we overlook the bigger picture. Which is of course doing the right thing.

    FT is correct, in my never humble opinion. Why is it our business to bring our values to other countries and expect they should understand and accept them. History has shown it does not work by far note often than it does.

    Time to vacate the boiling cauldron and come home. Bringing our aid with us.

  15. I don't disagree with you, RN, but Ambassador Stevens didn't make the policy, he just carried it out the best he could, which is why I take issue with FT's comments here.

  16. FT,
    Decent people like Chris Stevens make the mistake of assuming that everyone "at root" is the same.


    There, in a nutshell, is the crux of the problem.

    I'll add this: people can be good people on a personal level, but something else entirely when political power is at stake.

    On a personal level of my own, I'll never forget the moment that I understood that many of my assumptions about Islam were terribly in error. The book that opened my eyes was The Sword of the Prophet. EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK!

  17. RN is exactly correct:

    Why is it our business to bring our values to other countries and expect they should understand and accept them. History has shown it does not work by far note often than it does.

    Self-governance in freedom comes from the bottom up and not from the top down!

  18. Thanks, RN and AOW both.

    Silver doesn't seem to understand that my comments were not about US POLICY in LIBYA, they are about the fallaciousness of STARRY-EYED IDEALISM.

    Many liberals I know personally are VERY decent, kind people -- some are perfect sons-of-bitches -- the same is true for the conservatives I know.

    "Goodness" is NOT the issue. WISDOM most certainly IS.

    The late Mr. Stevens may have been GOOD at HEART, but he was anything but WISE.

    He "fell in love" with ARABY for GOD's sake.

    How NAIVE and STUPID could one get?


    ~ FT

  19. Here's something else....

    We see politicians and media casting the blame on the movie. This kind of blame casting obfuscates that the problem is "sensitive" Muslims.

    The fault lies with that "sensitivity."

    Did not Stevens know that part of the Arab mindset? He should have!

    I just hope that various individuals with whom he believed he had bonded didn't turn on him -- at least, while he was alive.

    Pity that he can't speak to us from beyond the grave. I'm sure that he would have something important to say! I would listen carefully to that something important even if it didn't support what I personally believe.

  20. It's not "sensitivity," AOW -- it's INSANITY.

    ~ FT

  21. The problem is that if we wanted our values to prevail in Libya, we needed 10,000 like minded patriots settling down around Libya building a combined future, taking Arab wives and having "mixed" culture children. Millions of them.



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