WASHINGTON — At the height of Libya's civil war, Chris Stevens dashed off to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi by cargo boat to help shape an assortment of Libyan politicians and militias into the cohesive unit that would defeat Moammar Gadhafi. A year-and-a-half later, the 52-year-old ambassador died as Islamists attacked a U.S. consulate in the same city.
Stevens' death deprives the United States of someone widely regarded as one of the most effective American envoys to the Arab world. In his unfailingly polite and friendly manner, Stevens brokered tribal disputes and conducted U.S. outreach efforts in Jerusalem, Cairo, Damascus and Riyadh. He cheerily retuned to Libya four months ago, determined to see a democracy rise where Gadhafi's dictatorship for four decades flourished.
"It's especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city that he helped to save," President Barack Obama said from the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday.
Stevens was among four Americans who died Tuesday night after the consulate was attacked.
A native of Northern California, he was dispatched to Benghazi in the midst of heavy fighting in April 2011 to set up America's central office for coordinating military strategy, financial assistance and political work with the Libyan opposition.
"He was loved by everybody," said Ahmed al-Abbar, a Libyan opposition leader.
As Libya's post-war challenges persisted, Stevens jumped at the opportunity earlier this year when Obama asked him to be the next U.S. ambassador in Tripoli.