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One evil for another

Sep 26, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

The Secretary of State spoke with power and poignance on the death of Ambassador Stevens

Civilized people of all nations were both stunned and angered at the news that an international diplomat of great effectiveness and distinction, Chris Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, was killed in an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli earlier this month. Three U.S. service members also died in the embassy violence.

The reason given by the attackers, who probably were al-Qaida troublemakers intent on fomenting endless unrest wherever they can in the greater Middle East region, was "outrage" over the YouTube video made by an anonymous nincompoop that mocked the Islamic religion and its core figure, the Prophet Muhammad.

When the bodies of the four men were returned to the United States at Andrews Air Force Base, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were there, and both gave brief remarks.

There are lots of speeches by public officials, and most of them go in one ear and out the other of the listening public if they are even heard at all. But Secretary Clinton's words carried a particular poignance and power that not only reflected the disgust reasonable people around the world felt in reacting to the consulate attack, but also placed the violence against the backdrop of what had happened in the recent past. It clarified the senselessness of the attack beyond the immediate indignation.

Here is some of what the secretary of state said. A slight amount of editing has been done to condense the language in unimportant parts of the speech:

"Today, we bring home four Americans who gave their lives for our country and our values.

"I was honored to know Ambassador Chris Stevens. I want to thank his parents and siblings ... for sharing Chris with us and with our country. What a wonderful gift you gave us. Over his distinguished career in the foreign service, Chris won friends for the United States in far-flung places. He made those people's hopes his own.

"During the revolution in Libya, he risked his life to help protect the Libyan people from a tyrant. And he gave his life helping them build a better country.

"In the days since the attack, so many Libyans, including the ambassador from Libya to the United States, have expressed their sorrow and solidarity. One young woman, her head covered and her eyes haunted with sadness held up a handwritten sign that said thugs and killers don't represent Benghazi, nor Islam.

"The President of the Palestinian Authority sent me a letter remembering Chris's energy and integrity -- and deploring, and I quote, 'an act of ugly terror.' Many others from across the Middle East and North Africa have offered similar sentiments.

"This has been difficult for our country. We've seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.

"It is hard for the American people to make sense of that because it is senseless. And it is totally unacceptable. The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob. Reasonable people and responsible leaders in these countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts.

"And we will keep taking steps to protect our personnel around the world. There will be more difficult days ahead, but it is important that we don't lose sight of the fundamental fact that America must keep leading the world. We owe it to those four men to continue the long, hard work of diplomacy.

"If the last few days teach us anything, let it be this; that this work and the men and women who risk their lives to do it are at the heart of what makes America great and good.

"So we will wipe away our tears, stiffen our spines and face the future undaunted."

Those are important words for the world to hear, in particular, the secretary's appeal to logic in saying that the nations involved in the "Arab spring" uprisings that brought new births of freedom "did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob."

May those words be heard and remembered.

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