US President Donald Trump announced the nomination of retired general John Abizaid to become the first US ambassador to Saudi Arabia since 2016.
Abizaid, who is widely respected in Washington, has to receive the Senate’s approval on his appointment, before traveling to Riyadh to take up his new diplomatic duties.
The retired colonel, of Lebanese origins, spent 34 years in the US military and rose to the top position at the US Central Command between 2003 and 2007 during President George W. Bush’s second term. He oversaw the Iraq war.
Abizaid, 67, is now an adviser and colleague at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Some believe he was chosen as ambassador to Riyadh to strengthen the military partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Under former President Barack Obama’s administration, in 2016, he was an adviser to Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak. The Pentagon said the retired general was guiding Ukraine in seeking to reform and modernize its armed forces.
Abizaid was born in Northern California in 1951. His grandfather emigrated from Lebanon to the United States after World War I. His father was a military officer in the US Navy during World War II, and his mother died of cancer.
He joined the USMA at West Point, graduating in 1973 as an infantry officer with basic and advanced courses, and then joined the Armed Forces Staff College and the Senior Fellowship at the US Army War College at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Abizaid received a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University and worked as a researcher at the University of Jordan in Amman. The Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies published his 100-page Master’s Study on Saudi Arabia’s Defense Policy, which is still regarded as “the best research paper the university has ever received in this field,” 30 years after its publishing.
Recently, Abizaid called on the United States to play a leading role in setting global standards for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by military forces, calling for more transparency from the Pentagon in an article published by The Washington Post.
He also called on the United States to find moderate hubs of power in the Middle East and to play an active role there.