By U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt,
Ohio’s Second Congressional District
I was saddened to learn of the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans in an attack on our consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday, September 11.
Ambassador Stevens was on a mission of peace. He had arrived in Libya last year, amid a civil war, to help rebels replace the dictatorship of Moammar Gadhafi. By encouraging the building of a democratic government for Libya, Ambassador Stevens was advancing the interests of the United States – and the Libyan people.
It was a dangerous assignment, despite the ambassador’s familiarity with North Africa and the Middle East. A California native who had taught English while serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco, Ambassador Stevens spoke Arabic and French.
Those who stormed the U.S. consulate reportedly were armed with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and other weapons of war. We don’t have all of the facts yet, but it might be no coincidence that the assault happened on September 11 – the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America.
Those who murdered Ambassador Stevens must be brought to justice. That could take some time, and it might test the courage of political leaders – both abroad and here in America.
Meanwhile, on Friday, September 14, the body of Ambassador Stevens was returned home to America, along with the bodies of his colleagues Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. My heart goes out to their families.
Living as we do in the Internet age, maintaining embassies and consulates around the world might seem a bit old fashioned. But international relations can’t always be handled via e-mail or over the phone.
Diplomacy requires training, skill, and judgment. Our ambassadors must be able to size up what the person across the table is saying – and have the ability to interpret not only what was said but also how and why it was said. That’s why we need Americans in the room in dangerous areas of the world.
And so we must continue to maintain diplomatic outposts. Unfortunately, our embassies are sometimes targeted by violent groups opposed to democracy and other American ideals. We should review security at all U.S. embassies and consulates. And we must remain vigilant.
Rioting mobs have taken to the streets recently outside many of our diplomatic missions in Africa and the Middle East. News reports indicate that some of these protests were incited by the Web posting of a trailer for a film, said to have been made in America, that is offensive to Muslims.
That’s regrettable. But no bit of video, no piece of paper, and no speech through a bullhorn justifies the murder of American diplomats.
I’m a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and during a meeting Friday, September 14, we discussed events in the Middle East. Sometimes I travel abroad as part of my job representing Ohio’s Second Congressional District. International trade and global security are topics of discussion when I meet with foreign leaders.
Over Mother’s Day this May, I visited Afghanistan to check on the well-being of our troops, including moms and grandmothers. I also met with the top U.S. general there, as well as with our American ambassador and Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai. It was the fifth time I traveled to Afghanistan.
I’ve also visited Iraq while our troops were in combat there. I have traveled to these war zones to honor the willingness of these brave Americans to serve our country, and to show Ohio’s gratitude to them and to their families for the sacrifices they make.
We are also fortunate to be represented overseas by the men and women in our diplomatic service. They face their duties armed only with a message from the United States of America and the ability to listen closely. They understand the risks to which they are exposed.
Chris Stevens, 52, had been trained as a lawyer, and he reportedly was one of the best and brightest ambassadors in service to our country. He was a man of courage and goodwill.
May Ambassador Stevens and his fallen colleagues rest in peace, and may God continue to bless America with such patriots.