Laurence Pope ’67 arrived in Libya last Thursday as senior envoy of the U.S. State Department, and has since been occupied meeting leaders of the Libyan congress, interim government, and U.S. diplomatic officials.
As chargé d’affaires, Pope will lead U.S. diplomatic efforts in Libya and fill the role played by the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in a September 11 terrorist attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, a city in northeastern Libya.
“Since I arrived on October 10, I have been meeting the Embassy staff, and calling on the government and other diplomats,” Pope wrote yesterday in an email to the Orient. “My first visit was to the Foreign Ministry, as is traditional, and yesterday I met with Congress President Mohamed Megarief who is the interim chief of state. He spent many years in exile as a courageous opponent of Qadhafi, and it was inspiring to meet with him as the leader of a free Libya. I hope to see the Prime Minister designate later today.”
The Libyan congress elected human rights lawyer Ali Zeidan interim prime minister on Sunday night. Pending approval of his cabinet picks by congress, Zeidan will help guide the country through a period of political unrest, and the Telegraph reported that forming an elite military and police corps will be his top priority.
The New York Times reported that even before the September 11 extremist attack on the U.S. embassy, the Pentagon and State Department were preparing to build a special team of U.S. forces to augment counter-terrorism operations in Libya, citing a Pentagon document which states that “the Libyan commando force will ‘counter and defeat terrorist and violent extremist organizations.’”
“The United States and the international community in general are eager to support the democratic process here in every way we can,” wrote Pope. “There is a problem of insecurity, as many of the militias who fought the revolution still have not laid down their arms…Our top priority at the moment is to work with the Libyan government to investigate the murder of Ambassador Stevens and to bring the terrorists responsible to justice.”
Pope was recalled to the post after 12 years of retirement and a thirty-one-year career in the foreign service.
Before retiring to Portland in 2000—the year that President Clinton nominated him to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait—Pope served as U.S. ambassador to Chad, director of Northern Gulf affairs, associate director of counter terrorism, and political adviser to the commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, according to a statement from Victoria Nuland, a spokesperson for the state department. Pope will serve as chargé d’affaires in Libya until a new ambassador is appointed.
After hearing the news of Stevens’ death, the Press Herald reported that Pope told his wife, Elizabeth, that he wanted to help out with the U.S. effort in Libya.
“I volunteered for the job here on an interim basis because I hoped to be useful. It was a case of the old fire horse, retired in the barn, hearing the fire bell ring one last time,” wrote Pope. “I have always believed that it is an honor to represent our country abroad in any capacity—and besides, my wife Betsy told me I should go. I will go back to writing obscure scholarly books and fishing for brook trout as soon as I can.”
Pope graduated from the College with a major in philosophy. A member of the hockey team and Beta Theta Pi, Pope admits that he “was an undistinguished student at Bowdoin.”
His father, Everett Pope ’41, was a decorated World War II veteran and sat on the College’s governing boards for 27 years, notably as chair of the board of trustees from 1984 to 1987, according to a July 2009 Bowdoin news release announcing his death.
Asked if he had any advice for Bowdoin students interested in pursuing a career in diplomacy, Pope cautioned of the risks inherent to his line of work.
“I would certainly encourage Bowdoin students to think about a career in the Foreign Service. I am surrounded here by dedicated people who know that they are involved in important and meaningful work,” wrote Pope. “It isn’t always an easy life, it can be hard on families, and there is risk involved, but it ought to attract our very brightest and best—people like Chris Stevens.”