Diplomacy can be a Risky Business in Parts of World

George Bruno (Ambassador to Belize, 1994-1997), Edward E. Shumaker III (Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, 1997-2001), and Richard N. Swett (Ambassador to Denmark, 1998-2001)

Guest commentary as it appeared in the September 16, 2012 issue of the Nashua Telegraph.


We have all watched with horror the recent events in Libya that took the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens, our envoy in Tripoli.

Americans across our country have shaken their heads in disbelief that a man who devoted his life to helping the Libyans achieve their freedom should have been viciously murdered
in the very city he helped protect.

The cruel irony has not been lost on his countrymen. And yet, this would be an even harsher irony were we to turn away from the indispensable path of diplomacy as a result of the deeds that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton properly called a “small and savage” band of thugs and terrorists. It is our fervent hope that this will not happen.

Stevens was no ordinary diplomat. Few of us can match the degree of devotion and passion that he brought to his service.

And yet, in many ways, he was no different than the thousands of talented people who work as Foreign Service officers, Peace Corps volunteers and U.S. Agency for International Development workers who represent our nation abroad.

All are committed public servants. As former ambassadors, we deeply appreciate the commitment and sacrifices they make to represent our country.

Of course, Stevens served in one of the most risky neighborhoods of the globe. And, despite the fact that his embassy, like many others in this dangerous world, was more bunker than welcoming chancery, he did not shy away from engaging with his host country in close and crucial ways, even when times got rough.

From his professional beginnings in the Peace Corps to choosing a life dedicated to public service as a Foreign Service officer and later ambassador, he never let concern for his safety interfere with his diplomatic responsibilities, a key part of which is engaging with the local population.

The recent violence reminds us of the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in the late ’90s, as well as the attacks that occurred on our embassy in Copenhagen while our colleague Dick Swett was serving there during the Kosovo war. We are grateful that none of us had to face the bodily violence and harm that took Stevens’ life.

Remarkably, he is the first U.S. ambassador to be lost in the line of duty in many decades, but the fact remains that many of our diplomats willingly face risk and uncertainty as they represent us in uncertain and unstable parts of the world. For all of us, he is a powerful role model and hero.

Stevens was a “courageous and exemplary representative of the United States,” as President Barack Obama put it. Or as Clinton said: “He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation. He spent every day since helping to finish the work that he started. Chris was committed to advancing America’s values and interests, even when that meant putting himself in danger.”

He helped to build bridges between the United States and our global neighbors who struggle with turmoil within their borders. He sought ways to help promote the cause of freedom, a just society, peaceful relations and common values shared by us as Americans, many Muslims and others around the world.

We live during an age when patience and respect between peoples have been diminished. We raise a common voice to condemn violence as a method of problem solving.

Violence against diplomats is especially abhorrent, since they, of all people, are in the business of promoting understanding
and peaceful resolution of disputes.

Out of the chaos and pain of Stevens’ murder, we hope our nation will continue to pursue his work by striving to bring communities together through diplomacy. We understand, as often said, that peace, freedom and democracy come at a high price, sometimes paid very dearly.

We express the hope that those vicious criminals responsible for the wanton attacks upon our diplomats will be brought to justice in a manner commensurate with the standards of a great nation committed to the rule of law. This will be a powerful example to the entire world.

If we can do that, then Stevens’ blood will not have been shed in vain.