Stay the Course in Diplomacy

FILE - U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens stands in the lobby of the Tibesty Hotel where an African Union delegation was meeting w
FILE - U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens stands in the lobby of the Tibesty Hotel where an African Union delegation was meeting with opposition leaders in Benghazi, Libya in this April 11, 2011 file photo. Libyan officials say the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans have been killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

On September 11, 2012, America lost four brave men in a fatal attack against our nation in Benghazi, Libya. Three of these heroes were veterans, and the fourth was one of our most gifted diplomats, Ambassador Chris Stevens. As with so many Americans, these men made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in service to our nation.

While we need to get all the facts about what happened that fateful evening, we cannot take our eyes off the ball and the reason these remarkable Americans put themselves at risk. Just like our men and women in uniform, they were defending our nation, our values, and securing our interests in a strategic part of the world.

As a military officer, I worked with many diplomats and development experts throughout my 30 years of service, and I am proud to have stood with them. Our diplomats are critical partners for our military in confronting threats from non-traditional enemies. Their jobs are in many ways preventive, working to stop conflict before it occurs.

Our credo in the military should always be, "Send us in last." War is costly and, as former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said, "Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers." It's not only cheaper in terms of taxpayer dollars, but more importantly in the lives of our service men and women.

Our diplomats need to be on the ground, and this means taking risks. While we must do all we can to mitigate risks, we can never completely eliminate them. The five diplomatic security agents who risked their lives going into a burning building to find their fallen comrades are some of America's bravest. We owe our diplomats, and those who protect them, a great debt of gratitude.

I had the great privilege of working with a legend in U.S. diplomacy, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, during the conflict in Bosnia in the 1990s. I saw firsthand the true art of diplomacy in the way Holbrooke negotiated an end to that horrific conflict and prevent further bloodshed.

That's what our diplomats do every day around the globe. It's not a job in "pinstripe suits" as the old, tired stereotype goes. Diplomacy is critical to advancing our foreign policy, making us safer at home, and reducing the likelihood and need for military engagement.

We have to stay the course, and we cannot withdraw from the world because of an attack. That would be playing into the enemy's hand. Instead, we must stay strong and resilient in our convictions as Americans always do, and stand our ground to promote our values and our national interests. That is how we can best honor the memory of those who gave their lives in Benghazi, and continue to keep our nation safe in a very dangerous world.

Lt. General Donald L. Kerrick, USA (Ret.), served as the Deputy National Security Advisor to the President from 2000 to 2001.