Upon his return to civilian life, Habib enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied agricultural economics. He earned his PhD there in 1952. In the meantime, in 1949, Habib joined the U.S. Foreign Service. He began a long and highly distinguished career with the U.S. State Department that included service in Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea), Saigon, the Republic of Vietnam (ROV, South Vietnam), and various other State Department posts. In 1968, he began serving on the U.S. delegation to the Vietnam Peace Talks.
Habib became the U.S. ambassador to South Korea in 1971, a post he held until 1974. During 1974–1976 he was assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs; he served as undersecretary of state for political affairs during 1976–1978. Following a heart attack, he retired from public service in 1978.
Just a year later, in 1979, however, Habib came out of retirement to serve as a special advisor to President Jimmy Carter on Middle East affairs. In the spring of 1981, newly elected President Ronald Reagan tapped Habib to serve as U.S. special envoy to the Middle East. Widely known for his tough but scrupulously fair negotiating prowess, Habib received the assignment of brokering a peace arrangement in the ongoing crisis in Lebanon.
During a series of tortuous negotiations and endless bouts of shuttle diplomacy, Habib managed to broker a cease-fire in Lebanon and resolved the mounting crisis over control of West Beirut. His efforts not only brought some semblance of order, albeit temporarily, to Lebanon but also served as a building block for the ongoing Arab-Israeli peace process. In September 1982, the Reagan administration awarded Habib with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his diplomatic service. In 1986, he once again became a special envoy, this time to Central America. His task was to resolve the continuing conflict in Nicaragua. Realizing perhaps that U.S. policies in the region were a significant impediment to lasting peace there, he resigned his post after just five months on the job. Habib died suddenly of a heart attack on 25 May 1992 while on vacation in Puligny-Montrachet, France.
Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.
Laffin, John. The War of Desperation: Lebanon 1982–1985. London: Osprey, 1985.