December 4, 2020

Faculty member mourns sibling, US ambassador to Libya

David Commanday last heard from his stepbrother J. Christopher Stevens, the deceased U.S. Ambassador to Libya, via email about a month ago. In the message, Commanday said Stevens downplayed Libya’s instability. Stevens was one of four Americans killed when gunmen opened fire at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.

“He told everybody how much he loved the people there. He really thought it could be a great country,” said Commanday, conductor of the Young People’s Symphony at Webster University’s Community Music School.

Stevens’ death came more than a year after his return to Libya. In 2011, he was one of the first American diplomats to arrive in the country. The diplomats’ arrival occurred as conflict developed between Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and the Libyan rebels, according to The New York Times.

Stevens had served as deputy chief of mission in Tripoli, Libya, from 2007 to 2009.

Commanday said Stevens provided guidance to the Libyan people. During a Sept. 12 press conference addressing the consulate attack, President Barack Obama said Stevens worked hard to support democracy in Libya.

“At the height of the Libyan revolution, Chris led our diplomatic post in Benghazi,” Obama said. “With characteristic skill, courage and resolve, he built partnerships with Libyan revolutionaries and helped them as they planned to build a new Libya.”

Commanday, now 58, was 22 years old when his father married Stevens’ mother. Stevens was 16 at the time. Commanday said even as a teenager, Stevens was a good listener.

“It wasn’t hard to get close to Chris,” Commanday said. “He made everybody feel like family. … He took pleasure and interest in everybody he encountered.”

Following the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime and the creation of a transitional Libyan government, Stevens was named ambassador to the country in May 2012. Commanday said Stevens understood a great deal about Arab perspectives on the world.

“I think Chris earned respect,” Commanday said. “It was simply a matter of hearing what someone had to say.”

Commanday worried about Stevens over the years. Commanday said his stepbrother had been posted in several dangerous areas on multiple occasions.

Stevens spent 21 years in the Foreign Service. He also spent time as a Peace Corps volunteer in North Africa. Stevens spent much of his diplomatic career in the Middle East.

“I think Chris was an idealist and I think he was deeply committed to American ideals,” Commanday said. “He was excited that the Libyan people had set themselves free from a dictatorship and wanted a democracy.”

Commanday said Stevens was excited about the United States’ role in fostering economic development and improving the quality of life for the Libyan people.

Commanday said dialogue and understanding is key to reducing tension in the Middle East. He said the world needs more communicators like Stevens for that dialogue to be possible.

“The last thing Chris would like to see is the United States disengaging from Libya or the Middle East, certainly not over him.”

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