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Questions to Republicans Reflecting Chris Stevens' Values: The Perspective of a Friend

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Message Veena Trehan
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As a friend of Chris Stevens' in the early 1990s, I spent time with him as he transitioned from corporate law to the State Department. Like so many others, I have been inspired by his exemplary values, which are largely absent from the current political process. Below is my perspective on Chris' values and priorities.

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What do we stand for?
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Over the past three years I've seen politicians like John McCain and Mitt Romney try to ally themselves with the four Americans slain in the attack. I've seen fake images of Chris and a "60 Minutes" segment based on a source that was entirely discredited. I've observed an unrelenting focus -- and increasingly State Department hyperfocus -- on the Benghazi attacks through the House hearings, now acknowledged as targeting Hillary Clinton. This has reached fever pitch with a Stop Hillary PAC attack ad that used images and what appeared to be words of the four individuals who died at Benghazi to question Hillary's involvement. The ad was deeply criticized by the families of the victims, including Chris' mother Mary Commanday, who called it an "insult" to her son that would have merited a lawsuit.

I, too, decry its misleading, stomach-turning opportunism. Yet for me, it also raises issues of the legacy of our acclaimed former American Ambassador to Libya, and the questions in turn he might ask.

As background, I knew Chris when he was training to become a Foreign Service officer. He had abandoned what could easily have been a successful legal career that would have drawn on his extraordinary people skills and sharp intellect. Yet he was deeply committed to pursuing his passion for public service, which included serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco. When he graduated at the top of his Foreign Service class, he specialized in an area that he knew would be critical from a geopolitical perspective.

Two decades later the Republicans' focus on Benghazi, ignoring the wide gap between the values and priorities espoused by Chris and their own actions. Were he to ask questions today, I believe he would have plenty for the Republican leadership.

First, Chris viewed individual differences as an opportunity for exploration, a cause for celebration, and a basis for cooperation. I've thought, in the past, that he was one of the few individuals who didn't see class or culture. Now I believe it was the opposite. He didn't socialize with people despite these differences, he relished in bridging such divides. Those personal connections shaped political opportunities to build a world of justice and peace.

I believe Chris would have many questions for Republicans in the presidential race and in Congress about their misogynistic and racially and ethnically divisive rhetoric, and the purposes for which it is being used.

Second, Chris was a man with a deep love for the Middle East and North Africa, an area encompassing 12 of the 15 most water-stressed nations. I believe he would seek to have all leaders, including Republicans, acknowledge and promote climate science (as global leaders in Copenhagen and in the recent G7 meeting did), and he would push for corresponding action. I believe he would also want to understand Republicans' priorities for the upcoming U.N. Climate Summit in Paris.

Third, Chris committed to a challenging life pursuing political solutions. I believe he would likely celebrate the enormous diplomatic strides forward by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. He might well question Republicans' efforts to undermine major diplomatic breakthroughs.

Lastly, I've always believed Chris was a humanist. Underlying his political work were his personal connections to global citizens and a commitment to improving their plight. I believe he would question a situation in which millions of Syrian refugees' most basic needs are not met, and work to end human-rights violations by the US and its allies.

Our continued focus on Chris Stevens is worthy of the American Ambassador. He embodied empathy and an interest in others, particularly foreign citizens; personal humility; and willingness to labor hard for peace and justice. That should, and does, live on through those who knew him. The attack ads and indefensibly partisan committee hearings stray far from further promoting his example, I believe. These represent a desecration of his legacy, rather than the continued celebration and inspiration of an extraordinary American.

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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.
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