Ambassador to Saudi Arabia: Who Is Joseph Westphal?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Joseph W. Westphal was confirmed on March 26, 2014, as the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. President Barack Obama nominated him to the post on November 8, 2013, and then renominated him January 7, 2014, after the Senate had failed to act on his nomination before the end of the year.


Westphal was born January 26, 1948, in Santiago, Chile. He moved with his family at age 6 to Port Washington, New York, where his father was an accountant for IBM. His family moved again when Westphal was a junior in high school. This time it was to McLean, Virginia, as his father had taken a job with the World Bank.


Westphal attended Adelphi University and played football and hockey there. While a student, he met his future wife Linda, a cheerleader. They were married while still in school. After graduating in 1970 with a B.A. in political science, Westphal went to Oklahoma State University, earning an M.A. in political science and in 1975, beginning his teaching career. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1980. Westphal continued teaching at Oklahoma State, with a specialty in natural resources and environmental policy, eventually becoming head of the political science department before he left in 1987. At that point, he became a visiting scholar at the Institute for Water Resources.


In 1988, Westphal entered the political sphere. He served as special assistant to Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), before becoming executive director of the House Sunbelt Caucus. In 1995 he was director of the Congressional Sunbelt Caucus in the Senate, a post he held for two years.


He moved then to the Executive Branch, becoming senior policy advisor to the assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1998, President Bill Clinton nominated Westphal to be assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works. He was in that job until 2001, when, for a short time, he was acting secretary of the Army.


After leaving the Pentagon in 2001, Westphal worked for the Washington lobbying firm of Patton Boggs, where his clients included Royal Dutch Shell. During his time in Washington, Westphal was also an adjunct professor of public policy at Georgetown University.


In 2002, Westphal was named chancellor of the University of Maine system. He remained in that post until 2006, enduring some criticism for suggesting the merger of some system campuses. After he stepped down as chancellor he remained a professor of political science in Maine until 2008.


Westphal served on Obama’s transition team for defense in 2008. Also that year, he worked with The New School University in New York.


Obama made Westphal under secretary of the Army in 2009, where he served until recently. In that post, he was the Army’s chief management officer. Westphal, who speaks Spanish fluently, also had several missions to Latin American, working with the armies in several nations.


Westphal and his wife, Linda, have four grown children and six grandchildren.  He was a former trustee of Adelphi University with Jeh Johnson, who was nominated to be Director of Homeland Security at the same time Westphal was nominated as ambassador.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Army Biography

Honorable Dr. Joseph W. Westphal - First Hispanic Under Secretary of the United States Army (


Capt Richard Cost, USNR (Ret) 10 months ago
Joe, Your Christmas Card was returned. What is your current mailing address please? We are loving retirement

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