Sullivan Supports Abizaid Nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) delivered introductory remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today at the confirmation hearing of retired Army General John Abizaid, nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. From 2005-2006, Senator Sullivan was recalled to active duty by the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a staff officer to General Abizaid during his tenure as the longest serving commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in history.

Below are Senator Sullivan’s remarks in full:

Chairman Risch, Ranking Member Menendez, it’s truly an honor for me to come before the committee today on behalf of my friend, and a great American, General John Abizaid, U.S. Army Ret., to support his confirmation to be U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I know you have all had the opportunity to review his resume. I know a few of you have already talked to General Abizaid, but what I wanted to do is highlight a few important elements of his personal background and experience that I have seen firsthand.

After graduating from West Point, General Abizaid began his distinguished Army career in 1973 as an infantry platoon leader. He rose to the rank of four-star general and was the longest serving commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) – an area of responsibility spanning that, at the time, he commanded more than 4 million square miles from the Horn of Africa, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Afghanistan, to South and Central Asia. As he rose through the ranks, he always kept his mind sharp. He achieved a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University. He was an Olmstead Scholar at the University of Jordan in Amman. 

After 34 years of service to his nation, he retired from the U.S. military in 2007 and is now a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

In 2005, I was a major in the Marine Corps Reserve recalled to active duty to spend close to a year and a half as a staff officer for General Abizaid when he was the CENTCOM commander. I was pretty much with him everywhere in the world during that time – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, central Asia and, yes, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It was a difficult time in the region, especially in Iraq.      

What I witnessed day in and day out is everything you would want in an American general and an American public servant serving our country. A man of the highest integrity. A warrior. A scholar. An intellectual. A truly tested leader and yes, a diplomat, who, during his time in the military, garnered the deep respect of the leadership at the State Department due to his keen understanding of the culture and politics of the region for which he was responsible.

There are few people in our country who understand the cross-currents of U.S. interests, challenges, and history in the Middle East more than John Abizaid. He commands trust and respect from those around him, those who’ve served with him. 

I remember watching in amazement several times as a staff officer when he had meetings with leaders in the region – all over the region – whether it was kings or prime ministers, or colonels and generals  – where he would begin the meetings speaking in Arabic. General Abizaid speaks Arabic, by the way. Another element of his distinguished background. This kind of credibility and trust was so critical in the region.

He’s also a man with a great sense of humor and a sharp wit. I remember a time when I was outside his office in Iraq waiting for him. The other individual waiting for him was also a Marine Corps major.  

General Abizaid had just had a meeting with four-star Army General Barry McCaffrey. General McCaffrey walked out, looked at the two Marine majors and said: “John, what’s with these Marines hanging around your office?”

To which the general responded: “I like hanging out with Marines – it makes me feel smart.” 

General Abizaid is a classic example of an American patriot willing to serve his country for all the right reasons.

He didn’t seek this nomination for attention or recognition – he was sought out by the administration because of his extensive experience and knowledge of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and the issues in the Middle East. He accepted President Trump’s nomination because he knows that, at this point in time, it is important to have someone skilled to navigate such a multifaceted relationship in this very important but challenging region.  

And, yes, the U.S.-Saudi relationship is indeed complex.

I know there is a lot of debate in this chamber on pressing foreign policy challenges in the Middle East (as it relates to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran) and I’m sure you’ll ask him hard but fair questions. 

But here is an issue over which I think there should be no debate: we need a highly qualified ambassador in Riyadh – and we need that person there soon. 

I don’t think there has been a nominee before this committee, who is so uniquely qualified and well equipped to manage the relationship of the post for which he has been nominated.  

John Abizaid will serve his country as he always has: with integrity, honor and distinction.

I urge you to support his nomination and move to confirm him as soon as possible.

Thank you.

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