A U.S. Envoy Who Plunged Into Arab Life
by Steven Erlanger - The New York Times
September 15, 2012
[TRUNCATED with EMPHASIS ADDED by FT]
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 thedailybeast.com. 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.”
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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.