Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who Chris Was To Me

You undoubtedly know that in Benghazi, Libya on the evening of September 11, four members of the Foreign Service family were killed during an attack on our consulate.

Two have not been named, pending notification of their families. One was Sean Smith, an Information Management Officer normally posted to The Hague but who volunteered for temporary duty there. And the other was our Ambassador to Libya and my friend, Chris Stevens.

There is the old line about six degrees of separation. That everyone in the world is separated (sometimes from Kevin Bacon) by only six people. But there are never six degrees of separation in the Foreign Service. The line about there being fewer diplomats than military musicians is true. And so I doubt there is ever more than two degrees of separation in the Service. If you don’t know a person, you certainly know someone who does. 

But with Chris, there was only one. We served together for more than a year and he was my friend.

There are certainly people who knew Chris better than I do. Many people have served with him over the course of his career with the State Department, and he was the kind of guy it was hard not to like. In fact, one of my friends went to Libya to serve with him at his request…how could you say no to a guy like that? I know her heart today, like mine, is broken.

You have read all of the official accounts of him. He was a gifted diplomat, a former Peace Corps volunteer who devoted much of his career to the Middle East. A devoted friend to Libya who went there first as an envoy to the rebels and then as their Ambassador once they had escaped Ghaddafi’s oppressive regime. He was devoted to his work and to his country.

But all of those reports talk about Ambassador Stevens, with all the lofty connotations of a person in that position.

To me, he was still Chris.

Chris was the political chief in Jerusalem when I arrived there as a freshly-minted Junior Officer. Shortly after my arrival, he assumed the position of Deputy Principal Officer, or DPO. DPOs are the consulate’s version of a DCM, or Deputy Chief of Mission. These are the folks who are second in charge at an Embassy or Consulate right after the Ambassador at the Embassy or the Principal Officer at a Consulate. And because the Consulate in Jerusalem is autonomous, meaning that unlike other consulates, it reported directly to DC and not to the Embassy (because our consulate in Jerusalem is our mission to the Palestinians. We don’t have our embassy there because the final status of Jerusalem is an issue for negotiation between the Israelis and Palestinians, and we don’t want to prejudice those negotiations). So basically, Chris was our Deputy Ambassador.

The duties of DCMs and DPOs are many, but one of the most important is that they serve as a mentor to the Junior Officers. So Junior Officers often get to know their DCMs very well. And such was the case for me with Chris.

For me, Chris wasn’t the Ambassador at an important mission. He was the guy who invited all of us JOs over to his place for pizza to talk about our concerns. He was the guy who would have parties at his awesome apartment with its amazing view of the city to display the photography of one of our Marines.

And he was the guy whose couch I would sit on and rant (or occasionally cry) about whatever the frustration of the day, week, month, or year was (and in Jerusalem, there were many). Sometimes he would listen patiently, sometimes he would tease, and sometimes he would offer solutions.

I have heard rumblings that his death is being used back in the states as a tool to score political points. Shame on those who are doing it. I am glad I am not there to hear it.

Chris’ life and death are not a tool for political gain. They are a testament to what we do as diplomats. We are the ones who are in not just the dangerous places you hear about in the news, like Afghanistan and Iraq, but equally dangerous places around the globe. Places where we lack the protection provided by the presence of our military. And yet we go there, because to not be in those places is for America to give up on relations with those places. It is for America to give up on peace with those places, on partnership with those places. We go to places where the military is not in hopes that they never have to go there. In a very real way, we place ourselves in front of the front line in the hopes that our words will spare American lives.

Chris and I hadn’t stayed in close touch, though we were friends on Facebook. The last time I talked to him was to congratulation him on his Ambassadorship because he deserved it.

He was a great guy, and I really liked him. And I will miss him.


Meredith said...

Such a lovely tribute - Surely his memory lives on in officers like you and Hannah - you all are his legacy and that provides some comfort I hope.

Aaron said...

Your pain and sorrow are shared in every U.S. Consulate and Embassy around the world.

I have friends in Cairo right now, and their safety is foremost in my mind. Let's all pray for a fast resolution to this current situation.

Misplaced Texan said...

Thank you for sharing your memories of Amb Stevens. Thinking about you and others who knew him.

wanderingbrowncoat said...

I've added a link to this post in my blog. If you'd prefer I remove it, please let me know.

Tom said...

I found this post by chance, started reading... and feel deeply touched with your memories... You diplomats are so brave!