A wonder so few diplomats have perished at posts


ENVOY'S DEATH IN LIBYA: Can't expect a wobbly government to command instant order

IN the 5th century, the man who scourged Europe and effectively ended that stage of Roman history, Attila the Hun, died while enjoying the fruits of victory, with a beautiful woman of course (what was war about, after all? Remember the Iliad). He had killed millions. But curiously, he honoured the concept of diplomatic immunity.

So did everyone until the seizure of the American embassy in Teheran in 1979, 15 centuries later. I had a friend in high Republican circles whose only brief in Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign was to hang around Parisian bars where Iranians lounged, and to describe what Teheran would look like with a mushroom cloud over it, were the hostages not freed by the time Reagan moved into the White House.

The second-ranking American hostage was a close friend of ours and his wife became head of the wives' organisation to keep alive their spouses' fate. Just before their release, she knew the truth but was sworn to secrecy. We could only guess the news from her palpable excitement.

In 1972, Cleo Noel, Jr, from a small town in Oklahoma, after gaining his PhD, achieved his dream of an ambassadorship -- to Sudan.

A year later while attending a diplomatic event in the Saudi embassy, he was seized and held hostage by Palestinian terrorists.

He had pencil and paper to write goodbye notes, and permission to press for his own release.

An offer was suggested, big enough to be tempting to the Black September captors. "That will be too late," he poignantly replied. He didn't have two hours, and was shot dead.

There were to be consequences for Sudan, hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid.

Now, as for Ambassador Chris Stevens, that he died rather instantly was God's mercy; that our two governments moved on; that it was a predictable result of the heavy arms Gaddafi loyalists still hold; and that although the Libyan government could have done more, one cannot expect a wobbly new government of a state disabled for 43 years to command instant order.

The wonder is that so few American diplomats have not perished at their posts in the Middle East and South Asia, especially since Israel's Messiah took charge. In fact, one, our envoy to Pakistan over 30 years ago, died in a plane crash intended for the then dictator-in-residence.

As for Stevens, "In his willingness to allow others to be heard, even when he had an important message to impart, Stevens was an unusual American diplomat, friends and colleagues say. He allowed himself to be governed by the habits, proprieties and slower pace of the Arab world."

His Arabic was fluent and he often referred to himself as "Krees" to reflect the common pronunciation of his name.

But there is exciting news. The Pew polls show that overwhelmingly, the American public does not support an attack on Iran, does not support American support for a unilateral Israeli attack, and it's almost as true for the Israeli public. The president of the United States will not see the Messiah until after the election. And I doubt he'll see any Israeli leader unless they send one who isn't a liar, as the former president of France called the present suicide bomber in Jerusalem.

The polls show Barack Obama and Mitt Romney neck and neck. It just "ain't necessarily so".

Look at the underlying attitudes and the polls in key states like Pennsylvania. And think of Obama's second Inaugural -- the most famous one in American history is Lincoln's second -- "to bind up our nation's wounds" -- shortly before his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. And if Israel's ambassador wishes to be seated, my guess is it will be the appointee of a new Israeli prime minister.

The next six weeks, prior to Nov 6, may feature the best American campaign ever. Meantime, American emissaries throughout the world are seeing security tighten up to presidential levels. Chris Stevens did not die in vain.

W Scott Thompson is emeritus professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, United States

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