An intriguing look at U.S. diplomats in the greater Middle East.
On Sept. 11, 2012, Islamist militants killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in raids on the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. Those horrific attacks were only two of more than 400 “significant” attacks on “U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel” since 2001. In his first book, Richter, a former Los Angeles Times reporter in the Washington, D.C., bureau, profiles four diplomats—Stevens, Ryan C. Crocker (ambassador to Afghanistan, 2011-2012), Robert S. Ford (ambassador to Syria, 2010-2014), and Anne W. Patterson (ambassador to Egypt, 2011-2013)—who chose to serve in some of the most dangerous locales of the immediate post–9/11 years. The author, whose reporting has taken him to more than 60 countries, effectively relates the admirable, often inspiring efforts of the four diplomats who did their best in the most trying circumstances; they were indeed “the best people for the worst places.” Richter shows Crocker using a sleeping bag in his Kabul office, Ford traversing the deadly streets of Najaf, Iraq, without a bodyguard, and an Egyptian magazine calling Patterson “The Ambassador from Hell.” Stevens paid the ultimate price for his service, and Richter’s depiction of his demise is both captivating and heartbreaking. The author slips on occasion. Crocker returned to Washington from a Middle East trip in December 2001, not December 2002, and Iron Maiden’s “2 Minutes to Midnight” is a song, not an album. Elsewhere, the author undermines his argument for a U.S. role in “steady[ing] these countries” when he admits that the nations in question are “weak and failing societies” riddled with corruption, incompetent governance, and ethnic and religious infighting. Still, Richter does a service by showing the diplomats’ accomplishments to readers. He also includes a helpful timeline and a 12-page cast of characters.
“There are no ticker tape parades for diplomats,” a State Department official once said. This book gives them the recognition they deserve.