A Day at West Point: Forging Alliances, Connecting Cultures


Colonel (Ret.) Abbas Dahouk


Paige Peterson

The United States Military Academy at West Point stands among the foremost institutions globally for cultivating leaders. Those within the esteemed Long Gray Line uphold the ethos of “Duty, Honor, Country,” leading in various spheres, whether in uniform or beyond. Beyond rigorous academic and physical challenges, West Point instills essential military proficiencies crucial for success in today’s intricate landscape of war and peace, fostering a commitment to excellence and national service among cadets as future Army officers.

Colonel (Ret.) Abbas Dahouk and I serve on the Board of Directors of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. We joined fellow members from the National Council – Board Chairman John Pratt and Executive Vice President & Director of Development Patrick Mancino – for a recent visit.

We first explored the Malek Visitors Center, an essential stop when entering the Military Academy at West Point. The center features seven exhibit areas, including two movie theaters, and 20 exhibitions. A nine-minute film, West Point – The National Treasure, plays every 20 minutes.

“The Long Gray Line,” in its simplest definition, encompasses all graduates and cadets of the military academy. The phrase signifies the unique bonds connecting every graduate to those who came before and those who will follow. It symbolizes the demanding four-year journey experienced by all cadets, a period of instruction steeped in tradition and largely unchanged since its inception. The term evokes the image of the gray cadet uniforms worn by generations of young individuals, enduring the discomfort of itchy wool fabric and stiff collars—a tradition integral to West Point’s pageantry. This shared tradition is reflected in the resilience of outstanding American leaders, including two U.S. presidents, numerous generals, industry leaders, and over 80 thousand graduates who have led our Army’s soldiers as young officers.

Continue reading »

Carolinas Committee on U.S.-Arab Relations Spring 2024 “NEWSLINES”

Cover of the Spring 2024 NEWSLINES newsletterThe Carolinas Committee on U.S.-Arab Relations (CCUSAR), with Dr. Joe P. Dunn serving as Director, is an initiative of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. Dr. Dunn is an alumnus of the Council’s Malone Fellowship in Arab and Islamic Studies Program, the coordinator of the Southeast Model Arab League conference, and the faculty advisor heading the Converse College Youth Leadership Development / Model Arab League program.

CCUSAR recently published its Spring 2024 “NEWSLINES” newsletter, available for download through the link below.

The issue features:

  • Powerful illustrations and testimonials from participants in the National Council’s Youth Leadership Development Program / Model Arab League, sharing how the program impacted them; along with
  • Highlights from the 2024 National University and Southeast Regional Youth Leadership Development Program / Model Arab League conferences; and also
  • A story about interfaith dialogue in Spartanburg, South Carolina; together with
  • A book review of Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict by Oren Kessler.


A U.S.-Yemen Case Study in Safeguarding Antiquities and Cultural Heritage Amidst Conflict

On April 30, 2024, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations hosted a discussion on “A U.S.-Yemen Case Study in Safeguarding Antiquities and Cultural Heritage Amidst Conflict.” The program explored successful collaboration in working for the protection and preservation of Yemen’s cultural heritage.



Featured Specialists:

The discussion can be viewed on the National Council’s YouTube channel.

Community Connections in Asir: Prince Turki and Maha, King Khalid University, and the Abha Football Club

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has mountains, beaches, coral reefs, grasslands, forests, all in addition to the largest sand sea in the world. Its human history can be traced back more than 7,000 years.

Its land area is larger than some might imagine — Saudi Arabia is approximately the combined size of France, Spain, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom (twice), Greece, and Portugal. More than three times larger than the state of Texas, it is roughly equal in size to all the states east of the Mississippi River.

Saudi Arabia is the 13th largest nation in terms of land area. The Kingdom is four times the size of France, western Europe’s largest country.

The area of modern-day Saudi Arabia formerly consisted of four distinct historical regions: Hejaz, Najd, Alhasa, and Asir. The Asir Mountain Range runs north and south parallel to the Red Sea on the southwestern coast of Saudi Arabia. Asir means ‘difficult’ in Arabic, reflecting the challenge involved in crossing the area’s mountains.

Asir has a short border with Yemen and a coastline on the Red Sea. It is the fourth largest region in Saudi Arabia and encompasses four thousand villages. There are more than 2.2 million residents. The Asir Region is the size of Austria and has the highest average rainfall in Saudi Arabia.

When I was the Executive Vice President at the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, I traveled to Saudi Arabia several times.

In 2019, the Kingdom opened its doors and actively started encouraging tourism as part of its Vision 2030 strategic initiative. Increasing numbers of visitors are now discovering that Saudi Arabia is unexpectedly diverse. I couldn’t wait to return.

I had the opportunity to spend time exploring Saudi Arabia with the purpose of photographing and writing about my experiences. Tourism and travel help to bridge people, time, and cultures, leading to deeper understanding. I had the privilege of visiting Riyadh, AlUla, Madain Saleh, Tabuk, NEOM, Jeddah, Taif, Jubbah, Hail, Al Khobar, Dammam, Al-Ahsa, and Abha in the Asir Region.

The enrichment in visiting different regions and landmarks was enhanced by meeting many extraordinary people along the way. While the stunning landscapes, sweeping vistas, pristine beaches, and fascinating history bring the mind wonder, connecting with new friends and seeing the strong sense of community in the Kingdom feeds one’s heart and soul.

This is the story of meeting Maha, visiting one of Saudi Arabia’s prominent public universities, and attending a celebration of sport and community.

Continue reading »

Dr. Fadi Hilani: Bridging Cultures Through Academia and Analysis

In the world of academia and foreign policy analysis, Dr. Fadi Hilani stands as a bridge between cultures, bringing together his expertise in linguistics, Middle East policy, and U.S. relations with the Arab countries. Appointed in 2023 as the Senior Academic and Research Fellow-in-Residence at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Dr. Hilani continues to delve into critical issues shaping the Arab Gulf region, including most recently an analysis of the growth of esports in Saudi Arabia, and rethinking strategies of defense, security, and economics.

man in a dark suit smiling in front of a navy blue backdrop

Dr. Fadi Hilani

Dr. Hilani’s diverse background in academia sets a strong foundation for his current role. Before joining the National Council, he served as a professor of linguistics at institutions such as Aleppo University in Syria, Isra University in Jordan, and Montclair State University in New Jersey, U.S.A. His journey also includes mentoring students across different countries, offering guidance on thesis writing, and other academic pursuits.

Throughout his career, Dr. Hilani’s scholarly contributions have extended beyond the classroom. He has lent his expertise as a peer reviewer for academic journals, including Research on Language and Social Interaction and Multilingua: Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication. His research interests have centered on Arabic conversation analysis, shedding light on the nuances of communication within the Arab world.

Continue reading »

Looking Ahead: What to Expect in the Middle East in 2024

On February 8, 2024, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations hosted a discussion titled “Looking Ahead: What to Expect in the Middle East in 2024.” The program featured former United States diplomats Ambassador (Ret.) Michael Gfoeller and Mr. David H. Rundell. It was moderated by Colonel (Ret.) Abbas K. Dahouk, with Mr. H. Delano Roosevelt, the President and CEO of the Council, joining them for the proceedings.

The specialists provided analysis on the prospects of U.S. engagement with Iran and its proxies in the region after the recent deaths of three U.S. military service members in Jordan in an attack by the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization militia. The specialists also discussed the war in Gaza and prospects for a ceasefire agreement, looking in particular at U.S. diplomacy and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s fifth visit to the region since the events of October 7, 2023.



Joining the program were:

Featured Specialists:


  • Colonel (Ret.) Abbas K. Dahouk, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Board of Directors Member; Former U.S. Department of State Senior Military Advisor; Former U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia Defense and Army Attache; HyphenPoint LLC President.


The discussion can be viewed on the National Council’s YouTube channel.

The Safer Oil Tanker: Diplomacy Averts Disaster

This is the story of a $20 billion disaster that did not happen.

Last month, while the United Nations General Assembly was meeting in New York City, I attended some programming on the summit’s sidelines together with my colleagues from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. Among them were meetings to learn more about the ongoing conflict and crisis in Yemen. While the situation in Yemen remains dire after 8 years of war, there is a recent bright spot for proactive international efforts: the successful operation to offload oil from the decaying Safer storage tanker. This enormous undertaking has prevented what could have been a colossal environmental disaster that exacerbated the situation in Yemen, and wreaked environmental, economic, and humanitarian havoc in the Middle East region.

Located on the southwestern end of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is beloved by those familiar with its varied landscapes and its warm, smart, kind, and generous people.  It is bordered by the Red Sea to its west and the Gulf of Aden to its south.  The Romans called it Arabia Felix—Fortunate (and Fertile) Arabia.  In the United States, one is most likely to find Yemen identified with the Queen of Sheba (also known as Bilqīs or Makeda, she is one of the few female figures who appears in sacred texts of all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), coffee (Yemenis are believed to be among the first to popularize the beverage), and the port of Aden (one of the most famous hubs in the world, connecting maritime traffic between Africa, Asia, and the Middle East).

Map of Yemen, 2012.

The past decade has seen Yemen embroiled in its fourth civil war in the post-World War II period. Its proximate cause was the response of the Zaidi Shiite-Houthis to the outcome of an all-inclusive National Dialogue Conference, which concluded in 2014. Displeased with the outcome of that political process, the Houthis’ militias, with resources and support from Iran’s government, seized Yemen’s capital of Sana’a in 2015.  That subversion of law and order in Yemen touched off a conflict that has resulted in what has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

One of the poorest countries in the Arab region even before the most recent stretch of violence, Yemen has been placed in a very precarious situation. Eight years of conflict, compounded by economic collapse, natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have taken a toll on Yemenis’ ability to live with the dignity and meaning that all people deserve. The UN reported several months ago that this year “a staggering 21.6 million Yemenis require some form of humanitarian assistance as 80% of the country struggles to put food on the table and access basic services.”

Relief map of Yemen, 2002.

The National Council has a long history of engagement with Yemen through its founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony. Appreciating the richness of its cultural heritage, its natural beauty, the incisive and joyful qualities of the Yemeni people, and its long history, the Council has taken twenty delegations of American educators to the country, enabled hundreds of U.S. students to live and study Arabic in Sana’a, and sponsored educational programs about Yemen in Washington, D.C. Most recently, the Council partnered with a Yemen-based non-profit foundation dedicated to enhancing youth capabilities toward promoting peace – the Adalah (meaning “Justice” in Arabic) Foundation For Legal Development – to bring the Council’s Youth Leadership Development Model Arab League Program to Mukalla, Hadhramout.

Individuals stand together after signing an agreement

A cooperation agreement between the National Council and Yemen’s Adalah Foundation was executed last year. The two non-profit groups collaborated to bring the National Council’s Youth Leadership Development Program / Model Arab League to Yemen. The program involves an experiential learning exercise where students have the opportunity to practice representing the needs and interests of someone other than themselves during the course of simulating a diplomatic summit.

Continue reading »

A Taste of Saudi Arabia’s Culture on the Upper West Side

My friends and colleagues from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations came to New York City from Washington, D.C., to participate in meetings and events on the sidelines of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly. As is traditionally the case, the very active week sees heads of state and government leaders converge on the city where proceedings at the UN are augmented by numerous events organized by diplomatic civil society and business communities. For New Yorkers such as myself, the annual global gathering – focused on peace, security, economic growth, sustainable development, the promotion of justice, and, generally, efforts in pursuit of lofty ideals – is visible as we navigate our daily lives.

This year, my colleagues and I were able to begin the week transcending the usual gridlock and madness with a unique Sunday evening invitation. It took us to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, where we had the privilege to attend the Saudi National Orchestra’s debut performance in the United States, the “Marvels of Saudi Music,” at the iconic Metropolitan Opera House. The concert featured female and male performers, musicians, dancers, vocalists, and musical talent all hailing from the Kingdom. A lineup of traditional Saudi and Arabian Peninsula performances captivated our senses, and brought the sounds and musical traditions of the Arab region right to New York.

Arriving at the Lincoln Center. (Left to right) Mr. John Pratt, Chairman of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Board of Directors; Mr. Fahad Nazer, Spokesperson for the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C.; Colonel (Ret.) Abbas Dahouk, National Council Board of Directors Member and HyphenPoint LLC Principal; myself, National Council Board of Directors Member, and author and artist; and Mr. Patrick Mancino, National Council Executive Vice President and Director of Development.

The event was held under the patronage of His Highness Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, the Minister of Culture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Performances included pieces from the Saudi National Orchestra, the Saudi Performing Arts Ensemble, and legendary American jazz musicians from the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars.

As Saudi Arabia implements its national development strategy known as Vision 2030, one objective is to develop a performing arts sector that can share Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage with the rest of the world. Simultaneously, space for more entertainment (and tourism) in the Kingdom – that includes AMC movie theaters, concerts, events, and world-class athletes in competition – is being created in a style, time, and manner consistent with a nation that is also a place of pilgrimage and prayer for 1.8 billion Muslims across the globe. The leadership of Saudi Arabia is seeking to diversify its economy and develop domestic industries that can meet the anticipated employment needs of its youthful citizens. 63% of the population of Saudi Arabia is under the age of 30.

Attendees at the event, in addition to Minister of Culture HH Prince Badr, included former Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom, and Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud; the first female Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud; and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister HH Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. Their royal presence underscored the importance and seriousness of introducing these cultural aspects of the Kingdom to the United States. In addition, New York City Mayor Eric Adams was joined alongside others including journalist and senior Washington Post Editor, Lally Weymouth; Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody; longtime Wall Street Journal writer and author Karen Elliot House, among many others. Even President Biden’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Mr. Timothy Lenderking, and his team were in attendance to show their diplomatic and unofficial solidarity in appreciation of Arab culture and heritage.

During an intermission we had the privilege of seeing HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud. HRH will be a keynote speaker at the National Council’s 40th Anniversary Gala on November 16 in Washington, D.C. The Council has been very fortunate to have HRH make remarks at its annual gathering almost every year since 2006.

Welcoming remarks by Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb captured the spirit of the evening: “Art has the possibility of triumphing over adversity.”

The Saudi National Orchestra and Choir performed over the course of two and a half hours. The chorus was comprised of 18 men and 18 women in traditional dress, standing behind the orchestra. The orchestra included violins, some other stringed instruments, a variety of Saudi percussion instruments, and other instruments including the Oud, two beautiful Saudi wind instruments, and drums made out of desert materials. The sounds were new to many Western ears and a delight to the many in the audience who were students and working professionals from New York and the Arab region.

The program began with several folk art performances. They featured specific regions in the Kingdom and included dances by men wearing each region’s native costumes. The songs were familiar to those who knew the region.

Performances from the “Marvels of Saudi Orchestra.”

The orchestra and chorus departed after charming us all.

Performances from the “Marvels of Saudi Orchestra.”

The American Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars also took a turn gracing the stage. They performed several songs familiar to the Americans in the audience. Then, three leading musicians from the Saudi Orchestra joined the Dizzy musicians for a remarkable and memorable musical blending of the two cultures. Saxophonist Tim Ries praised the collaboration between the two countries. “We need no words, only the heart that beat together. We’ve become like family after only two days.”

Performances from the cross-cultural musical celebration at the Lincoln Center.

The addition of a Saudi Arabian soprano, Rimaz Oqbi, with a voice that reached the rafters, and perhaps the almighty, changed the presentation dramatically. Her operatic repertoire included songs in English, French, and Italian, with music that was delightfully familiar and that showcased the breadth of her talent.

The printed programs given to the audience were magnificent, covering the purpose of the event and the music (with translations in Arabic and English), and with descriptions of the folk art of the various regions. Even after leaving such a memorable event, through the publication audience members were able to amplify their understanding of the Kingdom and its efforts to reach out to the world.

American and Saudi Arabian musicians take a bow, arm-in-arm, after bringing joy to the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

The musicians who we enjoyed have already performed in Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and in Paris, Mexico City, and in Jordan. Many more appearances are scheduled and being planned across the globe and on the world stage.

As Saudi Arabian men and women closed the evening’s first act with an Arabized version of “Fly Me to the Moon,” the consensus among us was that we had somehow managed to indulge in the magic of New York City while simultaneously being transported to Arabia, and shown some of the Kingdom’s hidden treasures. Watch for more to come from a part of the planet that is only beginning to reveal its rich heritage and culture.



With contributions from National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Board Member Susan Wilson Bynum.