Secretary Clinton delivers remarks at the Common Ground Awards in honor of the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, at the Carnegie Institution for Science, in Washington, DC. TAPE
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
REMARKS AT THE SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND AWARDS IN HONOR OF AMBASSADOR CHRIS STEVENS
WASHINGTON, DC THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2012
I want to congratulate all of tonight’s honorees. I would like to commend John and Susan Collin Marks and everyone at “Search for Common Ground” for their leadership and commitment to ending conflict, building peace, and promoting tolerance around the world. And thank you for this opportunity to help honor a man whose life and work embodied those same values.
I’m glad that Anne Stevens, Chris’s sister, is here with us tonight. Anne and her family have shown such grace and dignity. Our country mourns a fallen hero, but Anne and her family grieve for so much more – for a son who never lost his love and longing for home; for a brother whose light and laughter always lifted their spirits; for a friend whose heart was even bigger than his grin.
In the rush of headlines, it’s easy to forget that at the center of this national tragedy was a real person with passions and principles and ambitions. With friends and colleagues and loved ones.
Chris Stevens was a true son of the West, who hiked and jogged and danced his way through the hills and forests of northern California. He loved the “cool, refreshing fog” of the Bay Area, the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the embrace of his family. He shared the restless soul of the frontier.
His mother liked to say he had sand in his shoes. Always moving, running, working, seeking out new challenges and adventures.
From the beginning, there was music in Chris’s life. The son of a cellist, Chris himself played the saxophone. Friends in Jerusalem remember his passion for Palestinian songsâ€¦ he would serenade them in Arabic.
When Chris first took the Foreign Service Exam in college, he was asked to compare American democracy with the freewheeling energy of jazz music. One of Chris’s closest friends, Steve McDonald, remembers spending hours discussing the questionâ€¦ about experimentation and improvisation, about the relationship between a brilliant soloist and a band that all have to pull together to achieve harmony. Later, Steve would come to think of Chris as a kind of “Jazz Diplomat.”
That resonates with those of us who worked with Chris, who saw his creativity and inspiration up close.
Jazz musicians – and I’ve been married to a sax player for 37 years – like to talk about “playing the changes.” Their art lies in the space between structure and spontaneity. They master the technique and then they begin to improvise.
That was how Chris worked. A young Foreign Service Officer who was with him in Libya marveled at Chris’s appetite for history and culture. He stayed up late reading old memoirs of former Libyan leaders and delighted in sharing obscure historical trivia and cracking jokes not just in Arabic, but in the local dialect.
Other colleagues remember his endless patience and talent for listening. That’s what it takes to be a successful diplomat. As one of Chris’s friends explained recently, “You develop a relationship and a personal connection, and a series of connections becomes a network. Many Americans, we start at A and work down the list to F. But A to B is not a straight line, and Chris had an instinctive feel for this, how to get things done.”
Chris understood not just the science of diplomacy but the art of it. He heard the music and the words. And the theme that ran through all his work was helping others find their own freedom.
Chris found his second home amid the shifting deserts and crowded cities of the Middle East. He climbed the Atlas Mountains, wandered through Syrian souks, and jogged through Libyan olive groves.
When the second intifada erupted while Chris was stationed in Jerusalem, the only place he wanted to be was on the streets of the West Bank. That winter, during a rare snowstorm, Chris and a young colleague drew Palestinians and Israeli border guards into a spontaneous snowball romp. A moment of “common ground” amid so much violence.
When the revolution broke out in Libya, Chris traveled to Benghazi on a Greek cargo ship, like a 19th century envoy – it appealed to Chris’s romantic side. But his work was very much of the 21st Century, hard-nosed diplomacy and relationship-building. Even when a bomb exploded in the parking lot of his hotel, he never wavered.
Chris would have been the first to say that the terrorists who attacked our mission in Benghazi on September 11 did not represent the millions of Libyan people who want peace and deplore violence. And in the days that followed, tens of thousands of Libyans poured into the streets to show just that. Hand-printed signs read, “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans.” The people of Benghazi overran extremist bases and insisted that militias disarm and accept the rule of law. That was as inspiring a sight as any we saw in the revolutions. And it points to the promise of the Arab Spring that Chris embraced so fully – by starting down the path of democratic politics, Libyans and Arabs across the region have firmly rejected the extremists’ argument that violence and death are the only way to reclaim dignity and achieve justice.
That’s why Chris was in Libya to begin with. He understood that there is no substitute for going beyond the embassy walls, building relationships, and finding common ground. He also knew that when America is absent, especially from the dangerous places, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer, and our security at home is threatened.
The State Department sends people to more than 275 posts in 170 countries around the world. Chris understood that diplomats must operate in many places where soldiers do not, where there are no other boots on the ground and security is far from guaranteed. And like so many brave colleagues, he went out of his way to volunteer for those assignments.
We will never prevent every act of terrorism or achieve perfect security. And our diplomats cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. We must accept a level of risk to protect this country we love and to advance our interests and values around the world.
But it is our responsibility to constantly improve, to reduce the risks our people face, and to make sure they have the resources they need to do their jobs. And nobody takes that more seriously than I and the security professionals at the State Department do.
A formal Accountability Review Board is investigating of the terrorist attack that killed Chris. And we will apply its recommendations and lessons learned to our security around the world. This process takes time, and I know people are eager for answers. So am I. But this is the appropriate way to establish the facts. Chris’s family, his colleagues at the Department, and all Americans deserve nothing less. When its work is complete, it is our intent to share as much of the board’s findings as possible with the public.
And as that process moves forward, we’re also taking immediate steps to bolster security and readiness at our missions across the globe. We have already dispatched joint teams from the Departments of State and Defense to review high-threat posts to determine whether there are improvements we need in light of the evolving security challenges we now face.
The men and women who serve our country overseas represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation. They are no strangers to danger. From Tehran and Beirut to East Africa and Saudi Arabia, and now in Benghazi – and many other places in between – we have seen that diplomats devoted to peace can be targeted by terrorists devoted to death. But we refuse to be intimidated. We pull together, learn, and improve. And we emerge stronger and more confident.
Our diplomats and development experts around the world are more than a team – we are a family. Chris was our brother. We honor his memory by carrying on the work he did and serving the country he loved.
Chris never retreated, and neither will we. The United States will keep leading and engaging, including in those hard places where America’s interests and values are at stake. That’s who we are. And that’s who Chris was.
May God bless Chris Stevens and grant his friends and family solace and peace. And may God bless the United States of America.
Now, I would like to welcome Anne Stevens to the stage.