Philip Habib

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Philip Habib
Philip Habib.jpg
Habib in Lebanon in December 1982
9th Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
In office
July 1, 1976 – April 1, 1978
PresidentGerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Preceded byJoseph J. Sisco
Succeeded byDavid D. Newsom
12th Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
In office
September 27, 1974 – June 30, 1976
PresidentGerald Ford
Preceded byRobert S. Ingersoll
Succeeded byArthur W. Hummel Jr.
9th United States Ambassador to Korea
In office
October 10, 1971 – August 19, 1974
PresidentRichard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Preceded byWilliam J. Porter
Succeeded byRichard Sneider
Personal details
Philip Charles Habib

(1920-02-25)February 25, 1920
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedMay 25, 1992(1992-05-25) (aged 72)
Puligny-Montrachet, France
Cause of deathCardiac arrhythmia
Resting placeGolden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California
CitizenshipUnited States
Spouse(s)Marjorie W. Slightham[1]
(m.1943–1992, his death)[2]
Children2 daughters
ParentsIskander (Alex) Habib Jamous & Miriam (Mary) Spiridon Habib
ResidenceBelmont, California
Alma materUniversity of Idaho (B.S.)
University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D.)
Known forShuttle diplomacy
AwardsPresident's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service.png President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service (1979)
Medal of Freedom,
(Diplomacy, 1982)[3]
Légion d'Honneur
(France, 1988)[4]
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1942–1946
RankUS-O3 insignia.svg Captain

Philip Charles Habib (February 25, 1920 – May 25, 1992) was an American career diplomat active from 1949 to 1987.[5]

During his 30-year career as a Foreign Service Officer, he had mostly specialized in Asia. In 1968, he was working to prevent the escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.[6][7]

Habib later became known for his work as Ronald Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East from 1981 to 1983. In that role, he negotiated numerous cease-fire agreements between the various parties involved in the Lebanese Civil War.

He came out of retirement to take two assignments as U.S. special envoy. One to the Philippines in 1986, and another to Central America in 1986–87. In the latter assignment, he helped Costa Rican president Oscar Arias propose a peace plan to end the region's civil wars.

Habib was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1982—the highest official honor given to a U.S. citizen by the U.S. government.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Habib was the son of Lebanese Maronite Catholic parents and was raised in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood of the Bensonhurst section .[8] His father ran a grocery store.[9] Habib graduated from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn[10] and worked as a shipping clerk before starting his undergraduate study in forestry out west at the University of Idaho in Moscow.[7][10] Habib remained connected to the University of Idaho throughout his life. He co-chaired the university's centennial fund-raising campaign several years earlier, as well as several class reunions.[11]

After graduating in 1942 from the UI's College of Forestry (now Natural Resources),[10][12][13] 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.[4][13]

In 1947, recruiters for the United States Foreign Service visited the Berkeley campus. They were particularly interested in candidates who did not fit the then-current mold of Ivy League blueblood WASPs. Habib says he had never given diplomacy a moment's thought, and that he just enjoyed taking tests for intellectual challenge. He took the Foreign Service exam and scored in the top 10% nationally.[14]

Foreign service career[edit]

President Ronald Reagan Walking with Ambassador Philip Habib in 1982

Beginning in 1949, his foreign service career took him to Canada, New Zealand, South Korea (twice), 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 chief of staff for the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Talks from 1968 to 1971. 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).[15]

When South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-jung was kidnapped in 1973 while Habib was U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Habib credits his intervention for saving Kim's life.[16][17] 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.

In 1978, a massive heart attack forced Habib to resign as Under Secretary, the top post for a career Foreign Service officer. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan called him out of retirement to serve as special envoy to the Middle East.[2][18] Habib oversaw the negotiations of a peace deal 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.[3]

Early in 1986, Reagan sent Habib to the Philippines to convince President Ferdinand Marcos to step down.[citation needed] 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.[19] Administration hard-liners intended to use his fame and stature to advance a military solution, namely further funding of the Contras.[20]

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 worked to help revise it, and promoted it to other Central American governments.[citation needed]

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.[21][22][23]

Death and legacy[edit]

Habib and grand nephew Gregory Cohen in his offices at the State Department in 1976

While on vacation in France in 1992, Habib suffered a cardiac arrhythmia in Puligny-Montrachet and died on May 25 at age 72.[24]

Former Secretary of State George Shultz spoke at his funeral in Belmont, California, and characterized Habib as "...a man who really made a difference."[9] He was buried nearby at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco.[25] 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.[26]

In 2006, Habib was featured on a United States postage stamp, one of a block of six featuring prominent diplomats.[27] In 2013, the city of Junieh, Lebanon, unveiled a bust of Habib among other "national heroes" in Friendship Square.[28]

Warren Zevon wrote the song "The Envoy", from his 1982 album of the same name, in honor of Habib[citation needed].

Habib House, the Seoul residence of the United States Ambassador to Korea, is named for him.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Profile – Philip Habib, Mideast envoy". Nashua Telegraph. UPI. May 8, 1981. p. 27.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c "Habib awarded highest civilian medal". Tuscaloosa News. Associated Press. September 8, 1982. p. 35.
  4. ^ a b "Philip Habib; U.S. envoy, trouble-shooter". Los Angeles Times. staff and wire reports. May 27, 1992. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  5. ^ Holbrooke, Richard (June 19, 1992). "Phillip Habib was a diplomat's diplomat". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  6. ^ "One Brief Miracle: The Diplomat, the Zealot, and the Wild Blundering Siege," chapters 1, 2; "Cursed Is the Peacemaker," Appendix C.
  7. ^ a b Molotsky, Irvin (May 28, 1981). "Man in the News; Tireless trouble-shooter for the U.S." The New York Times. p. 3. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  8. ^ Manegold, Catherine S. (May 27, 1992). "Philip C. Habib, a leading U.S. diplomat, dies at 72". The New York Times. p. 21. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  9. ^ a b Myers, Laura (June 2, 1992). "Habib 'really made a difference'". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Associated Press. p. 1A.
  10. ^ a b c "Seniors". Gem of the Mountains, University of Idaho yearbook. 1942. p. 274.
  11. ^ "Diplomatic trouble-shooter Philip Habib dies". Spokesman-Review. (New York Times). May 27, 1992. p. A2.
  12. ^ Trillhaase, Marty (April 25, 1987). "Habib recalls 'poor and happy' UI days". Idahonian. Moscow, Idaho. p. 10.
  13. ^ a b Devlin, Sherry (April 25, 1987). "Habib habits: Facts, humor, pressure, honesty". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). p. A8.
  14. ^ "Cursed Is the Peacemaker," p. 16
  15. ^ "Habib's mark: quiet competence". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press. August 21, 1982. p. 3A.
  16. ^ "One Brief Miracle," chapter 1
  17. ^ Ranard, Donald A. (August 24, 2009). "Saving Kim Dae-jung: A tale of two dissident diplomats". The Boston Globe.
  18. ^ "One Brief Miracle," chapters 1 and 2
  19. ^ "Habib's new stand is in Nicaragua". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI. March 8, 1986. p. 3, part 1.
  20. ^ Necessary illusions: thought control in democratic societies
  21. ^ "Habib resigns; frustration on Latin talks cited". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press, (Los Angeles Times). August 15, 1987. p. 3A.
  22. ^ "Latin policy spat tied to Habib resignation". Pittsburgh Press. Associated Press. August 15, 1987. p. A1.
  23. ^ "Habib resigns as special aide; rift is reported". Toledo Blade. (New York Times). August 15, 1987. p. 1.
  24. ^ Rubin, Sydney (May 27, 1992). "Diplomat Philip Habib dies". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. p. 2A.
  25. ^ "Golden Gate National Cemetery: Philip Habib". Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  26. ^ "Habib remembered as a blunt diplomat who defied clichés". The New York Times. June 11, 1992. p. 22. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  27. ^ "SIX DISTINGUISHED DIPLOMATS HONORED ON U.S. POSTAGE STAMPS" (Press release). United States Postal Service. May 30, 2006. Retrieved May 8, 2015. Philip C. Habib (1920–1992) was renowned for his diplomacy in some of the world's most dangerous flashpoints. 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.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  28. ^ "One Brief Miracle," chapter 16

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
William J. Porter
United States Ambassador to South Korea
Succeeded by
Richard L. Sneider
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.