In 2021, for the first time in American history, the Biden-Harris Administration formally declared April as Arab American Heritage Month. This declaration marked a milestone in the Arab American struggle for representation and a more visible seat at the table in American life. Despite this new month of national celebration, the contributions of Arab Americans, especially in the realm of government, foreign policy, and national security, have been ongoing and profound since America’s inception.
In honor of Arab American Heritage Month, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition is highlighting five Arab American trailblazers who have influenced American foreign policy and national security.
Hady Amr serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Amr served as an appointee in the Department of Defense under President Bill Clinton, and has held roles with the World Bank, World Economic Forum, and the United Nations. In the Obama Administration he served as Senior Advisor for the Office of Policy at the Department of Homeland Security, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and as U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He has also served as a scholar at the Brookings Institution and the Center for a New American Security, where he focused on America’s policies towards the Middle East and human development in the region. Amr’s extensive experience in the foreign policy space is widely respected, and he has had a profound impact on shaping U.S.-Middle East policy for the past two decades.
Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt began her career in Washington, D.C. as a journalist. After graduating from Vassar College, Selwa married Archibald Roosevelt and the pair moved to the city where he began a career with the CIA and she began writing for The Washington Post and other outlets. She was appointed by President Reagan to serve as Chief of Protocol of the United States in 1982 and held this position for almost seven years, longer than any other person has held that position. In this role she organized over 1,000 visits for world leaders to the United States and oversaw the renovation of Blair House. After leaving the Chief of Protocol position, Roosevelt received many awards including the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal from the Department of the Army and the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Women’s National Republican Club of New York. Today at the age of 93, Roosevelt still continues her work as Chairman of the Blair House Restoration Fund and serves on the Board of Visitors of the University of North Carolina School of Arts and on the advisory board of the Duke University Medical Center. Her commitment to working to show America’s best to the rest of the world is a testament to her service.
George J. Mitchell is a Lebanese-American politician, diplomat, and lawyer. He served as the U.S. Senator for Maine from 1980 to 1995 and as Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995. Having reached the pinnacle of political power in the Senate, Mitchell retired and later served as the United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland and was the primary architect of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended the multi-decade conflict on the island of Ireland. For this work he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Liberty Medal, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and awarded a Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. For the first two years of the Obama Administration, he served as the United States Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. He also completed the ‘Mitchell Reports’, on the Arab-Israeli conflict and lent his name to the prestigious Mitchell Scholarship, which is an annual fellowship that funds U.S. graduate students to study on the island of Ireland. Mitchell’s lifelong service to America has been a testament in service first to his home state and later to helping advance America as a force for good in the world, helping to make peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.
Philip Habib was a Lebanese-American career diplomat whose multi-decade career spanned roles in the State Department and White House. Habib is most known for his work to negotiate peace in Vietnam, his time as Ambassador to South Korea, and as President Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East. After graduating from Berkeley with a PhD in economics, Habib entered the foreign service and spent several years in Canada, New Zealand, Trinidad, and South Korea. In 1967, he was appointed to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and was Chief of Staff of the American delegation to the Vietnam War peace talks in 1968. Habib served many presidents including Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter in his diplomatic capacities before retiring in 1978. In 1981, President Reagan called Habib out of retirement to serve as special envoy in the Middle East where he worked to negotiate an end to the civil war in Lebanon. Habib was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for this work in 1981. He continued diplomacy work for many years, serving as special envoy to the Philippines and to Central America, and, upon his passing in 1992, was eulogized by Secretary of State George Shulz as “a man who really made a difference” —leaving behind a legacy of ending conflicts and making the world safer.
Ambassador Marcelle M. Wahba is president emeritus and a distinguished fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington and director of DerMar International LLC, a business advisory consultancy. Prior to Wahba’s private sector work, she had a diplomatic career spanning 22 years, primarily in the Middle East. Wahba served as Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and after 9/11, negotiated counterterrorism and anti-terrorist financing initiatives along with the US-UAE Trade and Investment Agreement. For this incredible work, Wahba was awarded the White House Presidential Meritorious Service award and the UAE ‘s Order of Independence First Class by His Highness President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Wahba also served as the foreign affairs advisor to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force and as the Deputy of the National War College of the National Defense University. Ambassador Wahba’s work to foster a strong and enduring partnership and understanding between the U.S. and countries in the Middle East has proved an invaluable contribution to America.