Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cairo and Benghazi

Here is a statement delivered by Secretary Clinton on the events of yesterday. I urge you to watch the whole thing:

Her expressions of anger, loss, and resolve reflected my own feelings very well.

It was a subdued day today at work, as you might imagine. Lots of people during breaks gathered around the televisions, watching cable news for the latest information on yesterday's events. Being all of eight weeks into my new career, I obviously didn't know the diplomats killed in Libya. But after hearing their biographies and listening to some veteran officers today, I know the type. Peace Corps or military service volunteer, posted to an area on a first assignment and continuing to invest a life to become an expert in a part of the world. From language, to history, to culture and politics, the time and training combine with care and motivation to turn an officer into a "hand," someone who can be called on to accurately give context and advice, and take action when things go sideways on the other side of the world. 

Ambassador Stevens was just such a person. From his Peace Corps work in Morocco through his career, he became our go-to diplomat in Libya. What a friend the Libyan people lost yesterday. I think about him, and FSO Sean Smith. Assigned to The Hague, and on a TDY (temporary duty assignment) to Libya, leaving behind a wife and two kids. They will never get their husband and father back. Two others were also lost, but their names and stories are not yet released.

And then I think about the members of my A-100 class. People who came into the Foreign Service with Peace Corps and language skills, that are being posted soon around the world. Some of us will move from region to region and bureau to bureau. Some of us will find "home" bureaus, and end up becoming Asia hands, or Africa hands. Some of us are going places that we already know are trouble, and are HAPPY to go. Others of us will be in places that right now seem safe, but could explode tomorrow. Ask anyone who was mildly disappointed with a two-year tour in "boring" Egypt in 2010. You just never know, and if you are totally risk-averse, you should choose a different career. I said earlier I know the type. I know it because I saw them in my A-100 class. Happy to go to dangerous, unaccompanied posts. People I know will be targets for our enemies now and in the years to come because they will be so damn good at their jobs. I can only hope I will be one of the good ones, too.

It's been a hard day. If you are in my line of work and didn't think about Ambassador Stevens, FSO Smith and the other two officers, then you are in denial. A black flag associated with al-Qaeda was raised over our embassy in Cairo, and a consulate was sacked and an ambassador and three others killed in Benghazi. When I was in the Navy Reserves in the early 90's I knew I could be called to danger but I also knew I would have weapons and training with which to defend myself. Our diplomats get called to dangerous places without those defenses, and still they go. 

Our little family spread across the world has lost four of its members. They will be missed. We will carry on.


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