Talcott Williams Seelye

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Talcott Williams Seelye (March 6, 1922 – June 8, 2006) was a United States Foreign Service Officer, United States Ambassador, author, and commentator.

Early life[edit]

Seelye was born in Beirut, Lebanon, the son of American parents, Kate Ethel (Chambers) and Laurens Hickok Seelye, a professor at the American University of Beirut. He was a great-grandson of Julius Hawley Seelye (famed preacher, writer and fifth president of Amherst College).[1] His older sister was dancer and performance artist Mary-Averett Seelye. He attended Deerfield Academy and then graduated from Amherst College in 1944 and enlisted in the U.S. Army for a three-year term during World War II.[2]

Diplomatic career[edit]

Seelye joined the Foreign Service in 1949, and was posted in Stuttgart, Ulm, Amman, Beirut, and Kuwait. From 1960 to 1964, he was Iraq-Jordan desk officer, then officer in charge of Arabian Peninsula affairs, at the State Department.

In 1964 to 65 Seelye attended the National War College, and from 1965 to 1968, he was Chief of Mission in Jidda. From 1968 to 1972, he was Country Director for Lebanon, Jordan, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Iraq.

From 1972 to 1976, Seelye was Ambassador to Tunisia. He was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1976 to 1977. In 1976 he also served as special representative to the President of Lebanon. From 1979 to 1981, Seelye was Ambassador to Syria, which was his final post before retiring.[3]

Post–Foreign Service career[edit]

In editorial articles, television commentary, and other public appearances, Seelye had been critical of Israel for its militarism and of US foreign policy for being in support of such policies. Within the framework of America's pro-Israel lobby (see American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Seelye has often been portrayed as an anti-Zionist Arabist. His work has been reviewed, critically, by pro-Israel groups such as Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), Middle East Forum (with its Campus Watch project), and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who have reported on Seelye's ties to oil companies and the Saudi Arabian House of Saud. Critics include Steven Emerson (The American House of Saud: The Secret Petrodollar Connection), Daniel Pipes, Martin Kramer, David Horowitz, and Robert D. Kaplan.

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, Seelye again found himself in the spotlight as an expert on Middle Eastern affairs and continued to advise think tanks and policy making groups. He also continues to be strongly criticized by writers who do not agree with his views on the Middle East, such as an Atlantic Monthly article Robert D. Kaplan in which he wrote of Seelye that such "Arabists and other area specialists may be emotionally involved, through marriage or friendship, with host countries – often causing them to dislike the policies that Washington orders them to execute." Seelye and over 50 former US ambassadors and government officials signed the Middle East Policy Council's letter to President George W. Bush, criticizing US policy on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, specifically Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral Gaza withdrawal plan, announced in 2004 and enacted in 2005 (letter cited below), which followed earlier British diplomats' letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Seeyle is the father of Kate Seelye, a reporter who works for NPR.

Service chronology[edit]

Talcott W. Seelye's Diplomatic Chronology
Position Host country or organization Year
US Army Officer Iran 1944 to 1946
US Foreign Service Germany 1950 to 1951
US Foreign Service Jordan 1952 to 1955
US Foreign Service Kuwait 1956 to 1960
US Foreign Service Saudi Arabia 1966 to 1968
US State Department Country Director for Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria 1968 to 1972
U.S. Ambassador Tunisia 1972 to 1976 (under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford)
US Presidential Envoy Lebanon 1976 (under Gerald Ford)
U.S. Ambassador Syria 1979 to 1981 (under Jimmy Carter)

Written works[edit]


  • U.S.-Arab Relations: The Syrian Dimension (Portland: Portland State University Press, 1985) ISBN 0-916729-02-8


U.S. Department of State documents[edit]

Works about or mentioning Seelye[edit]


Citations (favorable)[edit]

Citations (unfavorable)[edit]


  1. ^ "Talcott W. Seelye, - In Memoriam". seeley-society.net.
  2. ^ "WRMEA - Talcott Williams Seelye (1922-2006)". Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
  3. ^ "Talcott W. Seelye". nndb.com.
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia
Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Ambassador to Syria
Succeeded by