Philip Habib

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Philip Habib
Habib and grand nephew Gregory Cohen in his offices at the State Department in 1976
Born Philip Charles Habib
(1920-02-25)February 25, 1920
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died May 25, 1992(1992-05-25) (aged 72)
Puligny-Montrachet, France
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California
Residence Belmont, California
Nationality American
Ethnicity Lebanese American
Citizenship United States
Alma mater University of Idaho,
B.S. 1942 (forestry)
University of California, Ph.D. 1952
Occupation Diplomatic service
Years active 1949–1978, 1979–1987
Employer U.S. Government
Organization Department of State
U.S. Army (1942–1946)
Known for Shuttle diplomacy
Religion Catholic[1]
Spouse(s) Marjorie W. Slightham[2]
(m.1943–1992, his death)[3]
Children 2 daughters
Parents Iskander & Mary Habib
Awards Medal of Freedom,
(Diplomacy, 1982)[4]
Légion d'Honneur
(France, 1988)[5]

Philip Charles Habib (February 25, 1920 – May 25, 1992) was a Lebanese-American career diplomat, known for work in Vietnam, South Korea, and the Middle East.[6] After his death, The New York Times described him as "the outstanding professional diplomat of his generation in the United States."[7][8]

Early life[edit]

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Habib was raised in its Bensonhurst section by Lebanese Maronite Catholic parents.[7] They owned a grocery in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood, where Philip gained many of his diplomatic skills as a straight-talking troubleshooter.[1] Habib graduated from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn[9] and worked as a shipping clerk before starting his undergraduate study in forestry out west at the University of Idaho in Moscow.[6][9] As a college student on the Palouse, he was well-regarded by his peers and was an accomplished poker player.[10][11][12] After graduating in 1942 from the UI's College of Forestry (now Natural Resources),[9][12] he served in the U.S. Army during World War II and attained the rank of captain. Discharged from the service in 1946, Habib continued his education via the G.I. Bill in a doctoral program in agricultural economics at the University of California in Berkeley, and earned a Ph.D. in 1952.[5] There he came across a flyer advertising the U.S. Department of State entrance exam, which he sat for and passed.[7]

Foreign service career[edit]

Beginning in 1949, his foreign service career took him to Canada, New Zealand, South Korea (twice), Somalia, and South Vietnam. He held the State Department position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 1967–1969 and was part of the Vietnamese peace talk delegation in 1968. Habib acquired increasingly important posts, serving as Ambassador to South Korea (1971–1974), Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1974–1976), and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (1976–1978), during which time he was the chief mediator for the US between Israel and Egypt in the Camp David Peace Accord.[13] According to some reports, he intervened to save the life of South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-jung during a kidnapping in 1973.[14] Kim later became the first opposition leader in South Korea to become president and also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his reconciliation efforts with North Korea.

While he was the Ambassador to South Korea, Habib was the main impetus behind the building of a new Ambassador's residence, a noteworthy neo-classic Korean architectural design. The residence was later named Habib House in honor of his efforts.

Habib retired from the foreign service after suffering a third heart attack. In 1978 he accepted a teaching position (as "Diplomat-in-residence") at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, but soon returned to public service in 1979, as a special advisor and, in 1981, as a special envoy sent to defuse the Lebanese Civil War by President Ronald Reagan.[3] Habib negotiated a peace that allowed the PLO to evacuate from the besieged city of Beirut. In 1982, for his efforts he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest official honor given to a U.S. citizen by the U.S. government.[4] He was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Senator Charles H. Percy, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.[13][15]

Early in 1986, Reagan sent Habib to the Philippines to convince President Ferdinand Marcos to step down. In March 1986, Reagan appointed him as a special envoy to Central America with the intention of furthering U.S. interests in the conflict in Nicaragua.[16] Administration hard-liners intended to use his fame and stature to advance a military solution, namely further funding of the Contras.[17]

However, Habib took his job seriously. Deciding that the Contadora Plan had run its course, Óscar Arias, the newly elected president of Costa Rica, drew up a plan that focused on democratization. While he viewed the Arias plan as riddled with loopholes, Habib took it seriously and worked to help revise it. "Phillip Habib became my ambassador to the rest of the Central American presidents," said Arias.

On August 7, 1987, the five Central American presidents, much to the shock of the rest of the world, agreed in principle to the Arias plan. Because further negotiating would require Habib to meet directly with Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, President Reagan forbade him to travel. Believing he no longer had the confidence of the president, Habib resigned.[18][19][20]

Death and legacy[edit]

While on vacation in France in 1992, Habib suffered a heart attack in Puligny-Montrachet and died on May 25 at age 72.[21]

Former Secretary of State George Shultz spoke at his funeral in Belmont, California, and characterized Habib as "...a man who really made a difference."[1] He was buried nearby at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco.[22] Speakers at his memorial service in Washington at the National Cathedral the following week included two former Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and Cyrus Vance, and a future one, former colleague Lawrence Eagleburger .[8]

At the time of his death, Habib was one of the University of Idaho's most famous and respected graduates; he co-chaired the university's centennial fund-raising campaign several years earlier, as well as several class reunions.[23] He moderated its Borah Symposium, an annual foreign affairs conference, in 1986,[24][25] and received the university's highest honors for alumni in 1969, 1974, and 1983.[26]

In 2002, John Boykin's biography of Habib, "Cursed is the Peacemaker" was published, focusing largely upon Habib's mediation between Israel and Lebanon during their war in 1982.

In 2006, Habib was featured on a United States postage stamp, one of a block of six featuring prominent diplomats.[27]

Warren Zevon song[edit]

Warren Zevon wrote the song "The Envoy", from his 1982 album of the same name, in honor of Habib. He later claimed to have received a letter of appreciation from Habib on U.S. State Department stationery.



  1. ^ a b c Myers, Laura (June 2, 1992). "Habib 'really made a difference'". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Associated Press. p. 1A. 
  2. ^ "Profile - Philip Habib, Mideast envoy". Nashua Telegraph. UPI. May 8, 1981. p. 27. 
  3. ^ a b Avrech, Mira (August 10, 1981). "When Philip Habib talks peace—with his hands—Israel and the Arabs pay heed". People. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Habib awarded highest civilian medal". Tuscaloosa News. Associated Press. September 8, 1982. p. 35. 
  5. ^ a b "Philip Habib; U.S. envoy, trouble-shooter". Los Angeles Times. staff and wire reports. May 27, 1992. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Molotsky, Irvin (May 28, 1981). "Man in the News; Tireless trouble-shooter for the U.S.". New York Times. p. 3. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Manegold, Catherine S. (May 27, 1992). "Philip C. Habib, a leading U.S. diplomat, dies at 72". New York Times. p. 21. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "Habib remembered as a blunt diplomat who defied clichés". New York Times. June 11, 1992. p. 22. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c "Seniors". Gem of the Mountains, University of Idaho yearbook. 1942. p. 274. 
  10. ^ Watterson, Sylvia (August 9, 1982). "Habib always held his cards close to chest". Spokesman-Review. p. 6. 
  11. ^ "UI alum Habib dies at 72". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. May 26, 1992. p. 1A. 
  12. ^ a b Trillhaase, Marty (April 25, 1987). "Habib recalls 'poor and happy' UI days". Idahonian (Moscow, Idaho). p. 10. 
  13. ^ a b "Habib's mark: quiet competence". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press. August 21, 1982. p. 3A. 
  14. ^ Ranard, Donald A. (August 24, 2009). "Saving Kim Dae-jung: A tale of two dissident diplomats". The Boston Globe. 
  15. ^ Feinsilber, Mike (August 22, 1982). "Habib plays it low-key, even in his hour of triumph". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. p. 3, part 1. 
  16. ^ "Habib's new stand is in Nicaragua". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI. March 8, 1986. p. 3, part 1. 
  17. ^ Necessary illusions: thought control in democratic societies
  18. ^ "Habib resigns; frustration on Latin talks cited". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press, (Los Angeles Times). August 15, 1987. p. 3A. 
  19. ^ "Latin policy spat tied to Habib resignation". Pittsburgh Press. Associated Press. August 15, 1987. p. A1. 
  20. ^ "Habib resigns as special aide; rift is reported". Toledo Blade. (New York Times). August 15, 1987. p. 1. 
  21. ^ Rubin, Sydney (May 27, 1992). "Diplomat Philip Habib dies". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. p. 2A. 
  22. ^ "Golden Gate National Cemetery: Philip Habib". Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Diplomatic trouble-shooter Philip Habib dies". Spokesman-Review. (New York Times). May 27, 1992. p. A2. 
  24. ^ "Philip Habib to chair Borah Symposium". Spokane Chronicle. November 20, 1985. p. A5. 
  25. ^ Devlin, Sherry (March 19, 1986). "Diplomat Philip Habib will moderate Borah Symposium". Spokane Chronicle. p. A3. 
  26. ^ "UI officials laud famous grad". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. May 27, 1992. p. 2A. 
  27. ^ "SIX DISTINGUISHED DIPLOMATS HONORED ON U.S. POSTAGE STAMPS" (Press release). United States Postal Service. 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2008-07-17. "Philip C. Habib (1920-1992) was renowned for his diplomacy in some of the world's most dangerous flash points. An authority on Southeast Asia, a peace negotiator in the Middle East, and a special envoy to Central America, Habib was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1982." 
    and ed. William J. Gicker (2006). "Distinguished American Diplomats 39¢". USA Philatelic (print) 11 (3): 14. 

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Robert S. Ingersoll
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
September 27, 1974 – June 30, 1976
Succeeded by
Arthur W. Hummel, Jr.