Ambassador Chris Stevens: The American Who Loved Libya (1960-2012)

BENGHAZI, Libya (TIME World) Sept. 12, 2012 – Courageous and optimistic, he knew the country he was assigned to like no other diplomat. His tragic death leaves an enormous hole in the American foreign service–and in Washington’s fitful dealings with the Arab world.

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Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya who was killed in the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. (Photo EPA)

“Salaam alaikum. My name is Chris Stevens, and I’m the new U.S. ambassador to Libya.” With those words Christopher Stevens–the 52-year-old diplomat who was killed along with three other Americans in a September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya–began an online video introducing himself to the people of Libya. Though he only took up his position in May, he wasn’t new to the region. An Arabic and French speaker, Stevens had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, and after working in international trade law in Washington, served in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia during his 21 years with the State Department.

But it was in Libya–where he also served as the number two U.S. diplomat from 2007 to 2009–where Stevens made his mark. His experience and credibility in a country that had long been off-limits proved invaluable during the chaotic Libyan revolution, and his work helped convince the Obama Administration to provide conclusive support to the besieged rebels. That made Stevens’s death all the more ironic–as President Barack Obama said after the attacks “it is especially tragic that he died in Benghazi because it is a city he helped to save at the height of a revolution.”

MORE: The Killing of the U.S. Ambassador Highlights the Country’s Post-Gaddafi Struggles by Vivienne Walt

The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens was a failure of security and human intelligence. The Al-Qaeda affiliated group knew who would be their target for doing the most damage to U.S. foreign policy. Chris Stevens’ love for Libya made him vulnerable. He spent the late evening in the US consulate in Benghazi, a magnificent complex of villas, but not offering the protection of the US Embassy in Tripoli.

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There had been clear signs of deteriorating security the past weeks and months in Benghazi.

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