THE BLOG
05/08/2013 03:59 pm ET | Updated Jul 07, 2013

With Re: Benghazi -- We've Met the Enemy and It Is Not Us!

Of course, the comic strip Pogo thought otherwise; in the 1960s, the enemy rather frequently did tend to be us.

So too, in the 1980s and 90s, we wasted an enormous sum to prove a partisanly-constructed independent counsel law could provoke allegation of high crime or misdemeanor and criminal obstruction in ways that undermined the presidential office, the separation of powers, and our commitment to individual rights.

The Obama administration has avoided much of this legal misdirection, but the repeated attempts to mine the tragic killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomats comes close. Today, on Capitol Hill, the baseless allegation of presidential disregard or deliberate endangerment of these brave foreign service officers will be canvassed yet again.

And yet again, the tea party organizations will inflame their base to a boil in an effort to melt away mid-second term support for President Obama or besmirch the diplomacy of prospective 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.

Yet again, the enemy will be claimed to be us, while the real enemies of freedom in North Africa -- rival tribes, left over Gaddafi cronies, and insidious terror copycats of al Qaeda -- will go unchecked in their effort to scrap the democratic rule of law and its greater promise of stability and equal treatment.

Senators McCain and Graham have legitimate beefs with inadequate allocations of resources for security, mainly State's under appreciation of embassy warnings (a Washington-centric-problem of some vintage over many subjects), but they hopefully will not join in the right-wing attempt to discredit with overheated claims of White House disregard for Chris or those who daily assume extraordinary risk to strengthen the USA and efforts to resolve conflict in non-violent ways.

Let me suggest that, rather than working ourselves into further political division which does make us our own enemy insofar as it exposes our internal weaknesses to seriously dangerous external foes, the hearing take a step back and appreciate the nature of the missions undertaken by Chris at presidential direction and whether we honor Chris' efforts by being distracted into the triviality of partisan rancor. To facilitate this calmer, more objective appraisal, herewith my commentary invited by the Center for Civic Mediation a handful of days ago as part of a posthumous award to the late Ambassador.

I began by noting that the State Department magazine itself of December 2011 was far too triumphalist than the conditions on the ground warranted. Consider how the lead article begins "by early April (2011) with Benghazi firmly in rebel hands (that is, those who had rebelled against Qaddafi) ... a dozen Intrepid U.S. diplomats equipped with armored vehicles and communications gear set sail from Valletta, Malta and its ancient harbor fortress and cruised into the blue Mediterranean beyond the breakwater. The Libya of April was a dramatically changed place from the Libya of February."

As it turned out, it was anything but dramatically changed. Senators McCain, Graham, and the well-seasoned Senator, now Secretary, Kerry would surely have known differently from the classified materials, which raises the interesting query whether our overly positive publication of counter-intelligence did more to confuse us rather than our terrorist opposition.

More than anything else, the attack of 9/11/12 reveals a bureaucracy's tendency to believe its own press.

Of course, Chris too saw the classified record before he and 11 other intrepid diplomats that April 2011 went to Benghazi to ascertain the capabilities of those seeking to displace the ruthless and self-centered, and self-dealing regime of Gaddafi. Chris had joined me in my residence and at our embassy in Malta to learn what we knew as we outfitted his travel.

The magazine report says the Libya of April was far different than that of February. I was familiar with the Libya of February 2011 because on or about the 15th of the month, it fell to me, as the U.S. ambassador in the closest European nation -- the Republic of Malta -- to undertake to rescue roughly one hundred U.S. personnel who were caught behind the shooting lines.

Get them out was the secretary's instruction.

As discussed in a recent book, "Lift Up Your Hearts," the shooting preempted commercial flights and commercial sea going routes were precluded.

Before he set off on his envoy duties, I regaled Chris in my living room of how it was a personal friendship with a Maltese businessman that led to the rental of a catamaran that got our people out and several hundred foreign nationals as well -- 338 altogether. Further evidence that in moments of crisis, America seldom only thinks of itself.

Chris loved it; as we would reflect together: all the money spent on defense/ all the ships and defensive systems and strategic plans and it was a simple catamaran, the Maria Dolores, that brought all home safely.

Chris' love for diplomacy was not that of large abstraction, but of intimate humanity; the kind of diplomacy that comes with a heart and a mind and despite great differences in religious perspective much common ground in the hopes and dreams underneath.

To the extent, as the people of Libya today have a future of greater freedom of thought and economic fairness and possibility, it is because Chris Stevens placed his trust in their essential goodness; in the essential goodness of human beings.

It is said that war is a failure of diplomacy. It is, but the assassination of a humane and intelligent diplomat, is an even greater default, for it is the equivalent of international suicide; it is a grave, self-inflicted wound felt deeply by every person whose patriotism is imagined to give first allegiance to love of neighbor.

As recently as last month, the secretary promised to bring the malefactors to justice; that is what the chains of office require, but the demands of the Stevens family are necessarily and appropriately greater. Theirs are not the demands of vengeance, but the far more difficult requirement of healing and forgiveness and peace.

On 9/11/2011, Chris Stevens purpose was to prepare for a meeting the next day that would establish a health care initiative to improve children's health. Chris did not make that meeting. But the Stevens family in Chris' name has fulfilled the promise, by indeed bringing a health partnership between Libya and the US to life.

The award being given tonight by this center for mediation is one of healing and forgiveness; it is most appropriately awarded to Jan and Mary, Chris's parents, not just in memory of Chris' good works, but theirs.

It was triply special for me to be part of the presentation; by now, it is well known that
I would in a minute continue Chris' work were that our president's direction. The president has selected a diplomat with greater years of experience in this region than my own. But I know this, neither myself nor Ambassador-designate Jones would presume to replace Ambassador Stevens. As Thomas Jefferson said to an inquirer in Paris when asked if he was replacing Ben Franklin. Jefferson responded, I cannot replace Dr. Franklin, I only follow him.

The award to Chris Stevens -- named for a highly respected law professor at the University of Southern California (USC), Louis M Brown -- adds to why it is that Chris' individualized, person to person diplomacy is rare. I was fortunate to be a USC law student in the 70s of Louis M. Brown. Chris Stevens a tad younger nevertheless got his own law degree during the heyday of Brown's writing and influence.

When Chris and I met, we compared notes about our separate experiences after law school in large law firms. The most succinct way to express it: we both preferred foreign service -- after all, we told ourselves one evening in my garden there is very little to recommend the six minute time sheet.

Chris would have liked Lou Brown, however, for Lou pioneered an entirely different way of teaching law -- not merely as an adversary exercise, but a dedication to the prevention of difficulty.

Lou Brown taught that just as war is the failure of diplomacy; litigation is a failure as well. Lou Brown's conception of lawyering was one that elevated problem solving and avoidance; it was one, as Dean Dorothy nelson wrote, that refused to divorce the human from the professional.

Lou did not have golden hair, an infectious smile, or the general look of the beach boys:
But, he did have Chris Steven's appreciation that it was ultimately the "one to one" relationship that shapes human behavior; and whether it is a counseling decision that would otherwise go unnoticed in a lawyer's office, or a whispered diplomatic initiative affirming human rights, both had the greater chance for success than more formal, aloof programs.

Chris did not spend much time practicing law; that would not have distressed Lou because as he himself wrote while a student at Harvard Law, "show me the person who is a lawyer, but not only a lawyer and my attitude changes as the night to the day... Show me the inquiring mind. An inquiring mind cannot stop at law; it must go on and on."

Yes, an inquiring mind when combined with the soul of service does go on and on; all present to witness this award understood then and there how it went on in Brown's memory, and in the memory of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

It is that well-directed inquiring mind,that the Congress must now indulge, putting aside the tendency to lash out in bellicose manner, for only if it fully realizes that Americans of different political label ought not be seen as an "enemy," will it have any chance of pursuing a coherent and peace- loving foreign policy.

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