As a retired U.S. diplomat, I grieved when I heard the news from Libya about the deaths at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. I lost friends in the 1998 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, and before that, worked with colleagues who had been held hostage in Tehran in 1979-80. I did not know any of the dead personally, but can imagine the shock and sorrow of their families and friends. Ironically, terrorists often attack diplomats because they are easy to reach and because of the symbolism of attacking representatives of a government, especially ambassadors.
Whenever a diplomat dies as a result of violence, we should remember that the role of the diplomat is to make peace and forestall conflict—they should be remembered as children of God. Cries for vengeance dishonor the mission of diplomacy and the work of the deceased. The unvoiced truth about diplomats is that we are all expendable sometimes, all vulnerable to violence. Most diplomats, especially U.S. diplomats, know this, and are reminded of it before they embark on every overseas assignment, since they are required to take a security awareness training seminar that focuses on threats and how to avoid and reduce them. Some diplomats receive even more thorough training depending upon their assignment.
Over the course of my career, I occasionally worked in embassy buildings that were attacked by groups armed with Molotov cocktails, paving stones and rocks. My reaction was always to seek to dialogue with the attackers. Sometimes, dialogue is not possible in the immediate aftermath of an event like the attack on the Benghazi consulate but our leaders and Ambassador Stevens’ successor should focus on dialogue with all Libyans to improve their understanding of the U.S. and tolerance for our differences, as we should improve our understanding of Libya and the ways Libyans differ from us.
In the meantime, let us mourn for the dead and offer consolation to their families and friends.