Winning Arab trust is no easy task. While Arabs often say they respect Americans as individuals, many also cite decades of American military ventures – notably wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and support for Israel as grounds for distrusting the US government.
Just 21 percent of people in four Arab countries, plus Pakistan and Turkey, believe the US supports democracy abroad, according to a July poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington. Libya isn’t among the countries polled, but skepticism of US foreign policy is echoed here. Many Arab autocrats, including Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, have spent years portraying the US as their peoples’ enemy.
“In every speech he made on TV, he had to say something bad about the US or Israel,” says Salmin Eljawhari, a dental student and civil society activist in Benghazi. “I think there’s a generation who started to hate Israel and the US.”
Stevens, by all accounts, was fascinated by the Arab world. Tall, with a broad smile and shock of blond hair, he served in the Peace Corps in Morocco, studied Arabic, and entered the foreign service at age 31 after a brief career as an international trade lawyer.