WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Tuesday named John Abizaid, a top US general from the Iraq war who has studied the Middle East for years, as ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Abizaid is a fluent Arabic speaker of Lebanese Christian descent who headed US Central Command - which covers the Middle East -during the Iraq war from shortly after the US invasion in 2003 through 2007.
The 67-year-old wrote his master's thesis at Harvard University about Saudi Arabia, studying how the kingdom makes its decisions on defense spending, in a paper that won acclaim in academic circles.
.@POTUS Trump Announces Intent to Nominate John P. Abizaid of Nevada, to be #Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of #SaudiArabia. pic.twitter.com/16gbOy0CI4— U.S. Mission to KSA (@USAinKSA) November 14, 2018
A California native, Abizaid graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point and later won a scholarship to study in Jordan, where he honed his Arabic, which he did not speak as a child.
Trump has been slow in filling key posts amid his promises to shake up Washington has not had an ambassador in position in Riyadh for the nearly two years of his presidency.
Trump quickly forged a close relationship with Saudi Arabia upon taking office.
Abizaid requires confirmation from the Senate, which would appear likely as the retired four-star general has long enjoyed respect in Washington.
Shortly after taking over as CENTCOM commander, Abizaid told reporters that US forces were facing a “classical guerrilla-type campaign” from remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
His choice of words contradicted his bosses, who initially tried to portray the Iraq invasion as a quick victory, but then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not move to replace him amid admiration for Abizaid’s skills.
The real estate mogul turned president has shown a fondness for appointing retired generals, with Jim Mattis as defense secretary and John Kelly as his chief of staff.