Tragedy. Accountability. Irony. Determination. Persistence. Unity. Those six words embody how I view what happened, and how I think we should move forward.
Tragedy - There is no other way to describe the unjustified attacks on our diplomatic posts, and the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel. Indeed, the Libyan government is "shocked and embarrassed" by the attacks, according to a senior State Department official. There is no justification; no excuse; and, no sympathy for those who would assault and torch a consulate because they don't like a movie. Our condemnation is universal and unequivocal. And if this was a planned and coordinated terrorist attack, rather than the actions of an unruly mob, then even more questions need to be answered.
Accountability - Let us be absolutely clear. We will not rest until we bring the perpetrators to justice and hold them accountable. The government of Libya has correctly agreed to cooperate with the United States in efforts to track down the terrorists.
Irony - I believe my reaction to the assault in Benghazi was similar to the majority of Americans. As Secretary of State Clinton said this week, "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?" The revolution in Libya which brought down former dictator Muammar Qaddaffi would never have been successful without the efforts of the U.S. armed forces, and the front-line diplomacy of people like Christopher Stephens, who liaised with the rebels in Benghazi before becoming Ambassador. It is painfully ironic that the one Foreign Service officer who knew the Libyan people best, honored their culture, history, and society, and wanted to help them through the transition to democracy, was the one murdered by the Islamic extremists. Still, I don't think it was ironic, at all, that the violence happened on the anniversary of 9/11, because early evidence points to the attacks being planned and coordinated.
Persistence - I know it is easy to see Tuesday's horror and feel an initial reaction to pull back. I can even hear the question ringing in some corners of Congress: Why should we help a country where this could happen? But, even as we mourn our lost diplomats, we must take the long view and look to our values and interests to guide us through these troubled times. And, helping Libya consolidate its security, promote freedom, and develop its democracy without doubt remains in our national interest and the interests of the region. While it is certainly difficult to navigate the turbulent waters of the Arab Spring, we must persevere and not permit the terrorists to consolidate the forces of hatred and ruin another developing nation.
Determination - It takes a brave and dedicated person to embark on a career in the Foreign Service – leaving behind everything familiar and loved in order to serve our country overseas, often in extremely dangerous places. They speak for our nation in posts all over the world, setting an example of excellence as they represent our values to societies near and far. As a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I have worked with our diplomats in all corners of the globe and have seen a consistent dedication to professionalism and respect for the cultures of other countries. America’s Foreign Service officers have my deepest gratitude and admiration, and we should honor the victims by redoubling our support for U.S. diplomats abroad.
Unity - When Americans are attacked abroad, it is a time to come together and stand with the victims to offer our sympathy and support. It is not the time for political attacks or recriminations. Regardless of who is president and whether we are in a national campaign, let us learn from this week's events and avoid the excessive rhetoric which only undermines our collective resolve and national unity.
On Tuesday, I was in New York to honor the memories of those killed on September 11. I never imagined that on this September 11, our nation would soon be grieving the loss of four more Americans murdered at the hands of terrorists. But, as we did in the difficult days after 9/11, we must remain united and committed to policies which reflect our values and interests in Libya, throughout the Middle East, and around the world.
Engel is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.