Libya Opinion: The Lesson of Ambassador Stevens' Last Act --- "The Gravest Mistake Would Be to Write Off Libya" (Chorin)
President Obama pays tribute to US Ambassador Chris Stevens
In The New York Times, Ethan Chorin, a co-founder of the Avicenna Group, a nonprofit organization working on Libya’s medical facilities, offers information about the last day in the life of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and draws a lesson from the events:
On Wednesday morning, my colleagues and I were to meet in Benghazi with J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, to discuss a plan for a new division of emergency medicine at Benghazi Medical Center, the largest and most modern hospital in eastern Libya. The meeting never took place. The night before, militants laid siege to the American Consulate in Benghazi, killing the ambassador and three other Americans. The ambassador was taken, without a pulse, to the hospital we hoped to upgrade.
The draft agreement we were working on was the kind of visionary effort to improve life in Libya that Ambassador Stevens liked — in this case, a collaboration between doctors in Boston and Benghazi, brokered by a nongovernmental organization that a Libyan-American and I had organized after the recent revolution. Our goal was a center that could also serve as a training facility for all of eastern Libya. It was the kind of public-private and Libyan-American partnership that Ambassador Stevens believed could help Libya move beyond decades of stagnation and despotism.
On Tuesday night, even as the men who would kill him were closing in, Ambassador Stevens told us by phone how happy he was that the project was nearing fruition. He told us it was important to show our government’s support for such initiatives, and we made plans to meet with the medical center’s director general, Dr. Fathi al-Jehani, at the hospital the next morning. Dr. Jehani himself had been a target of violence for his forward-thinking views.
About half an hour later, I called the ambassador’s security detail to discuss the visit, only to hear the words “we’ve got a problem here” — with an alarming expletive inserted. The line went dead. And we were left to listen helplessly as the sounds of distant violence carried across the city to our hotel room — a long rocket-propelled grenade volley, and machine-gun fire that continued for the better part of an hour.
Ambassador Stevens arrived after midnight at Benghazi Medical Center, where we were to have met. Its emergency room staff, which included Libyan expatriates who had returned from well-paid jobs abroad, worked for 45 minutes to try to resuscitate him. It was no use.
The tragedies of this situation simply compound one another....
[Ambassador Stevens] knew Libya, and he believed that it could become one of the first full success stories of the Arab Spring — that Islamic radicalism there could be nipped in the bud if Western governments acted decisively to put the country on a path to stability and social progress.
Now, his death may derail the very processes he championed....
The gravest mistake would be for the United States to write off Libya as an irredeemable terrorist haven, or for politicians in Washington to regret having intervened in support of Libya’s rebels. Libya is still far better off today than it was under Qaddafi. The grip of fear has been broken. Election posters festoon the country. Election schedules have been met. And there is a rich expression of individual opinions.
Nevertheless, the Libyan people need support to consolidate gains, and to continue a fight against largely foreign-financed radicals who wish to hijack the revolution in the name of intolerance. And the United States must help the Libyans do that. The loss of Ambassador Stevens will, I hope, goad the Libyan government into matching its discipline about election schedules with far bolder steps to crack down on extremists and disarm the country’s militias. And Libya should press the American government for even more support in that effort, even as it encourages American organizations to find common cause with their Libyan counterparts to improve the lives of Libya’s citizens.