The Middle East has a propensity for producing both the tragic and the absurd, two qualities that converged in appallingly consummate fashion with the attacks this week that killed U.S. diplomats in Libya and threatened American embassies across the region.
The deaths of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three of his colleagues at the American consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday represent a profound tragedy on many levels. First and foremost is the loss of such brave and dedicated individuals, who served their country in a place wracked by chaos, uncertainty and violence. Stevens had a well-deserved reputation as a diplomat with a rare understanding for this complicated region, but in the tributes to his valor, let those who died with him—and the thousands of others who have served alongside them—not be forgotten. Their willingness to put their lives on the line for their country reflects their commitment to making the world a better place, something that those who would do them harm lack the capacity to recognize, much less achieve.
Four years ago, when then-Senator Barack Obama was locked in a tough battle for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, he did something candidates for national office in the United States almost never do: He offered sense rather than sensationalism on Iran. Proclaiming in a primary debate his willingness to meet with Iran’s reviled president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was not as radical as it seemed; indeed, every U.S. president since Iran’s 1979 revolution has sought negotiations with Tehran. But in the context of a country still polarized by the Iraq War, Obama’s offer sounded like a rookie mistake. His Democratic rival at the time, Hillary Clinton, described Obama’s stance as “irresponsible and, frankly, naïve,” and his Republican opponents were considerably less generous. Under fire, Obama chose to double down rather than back down, highlighting his commitment to diplomacy as emblematic of his intention to reboot America’s role in the world.