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Robert Bigger Oakley (March 12, 1931 – December 10, 2014) was an American diplomat whose 34-year career (1957–1991) as a Foreign Service Officer included appointments as United States Ambassador to Zaire, Somalia, and Pakistan and, in the early 1990s, as a special envoy during the American involvement in Somalia.[1]

Robert B. Oakley
Robert Oakley in Somalia.JPEG
Robert Oakley in Somalia in 1993
19th U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan
In office
18 August 1988 – 29 August 1991
PresidentRonald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Preceded byArnold Lewis Raphel
Succeeded byNicholas Platt
U.S. Ambassador to Somalia
In office
30 September 1982 – 12 August 1984
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byDonald K. Petterson
Succeeded byPeter Bridges
U.S. Ambassador to Zaire
In office
06 November 1979 – 22 August 1982
PresidentJimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
Preceded byWalter L. Cutler
Succeeded byPeter Dalton Constable
Personal details
Robert Bigger Oakley

(1931-03-12)March 12, 1931
Dallas, Texas, United States
DiedDecember 10, 2014(2014-12-10) (aged 83)
McLean, Virginia, United States
Political partyRepublican
Phyllis E. Oakley (m. 1958–2014)
(his death)
Alma materSouth Kent School, Princeton University


Department of StateEdit

Born in Dallas, Texas, Oakley graduated in 1948 from Connecticut's South Kent School and spent four years as an Intelligence Officer in the US Navy. He joined the Foreign Service in 1957 and was assigned to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, in 1958. He first served in the Office of United Nations Political Affairs, Department of State, and later served in American embassies in Abidjan, Saigon, Paris, and Beirut. He also served at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, and as Senior Director for Middle East and South Asia on the staff of the National Security Council.

In February 1977, he became Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs. He became U.S. Ambassador to Zaire in November 1979 and U.S. Ambassador to Somalia in August 1982. In September 1984, he was appointed Director of the State Department Office of Combating Terrorism. He again joined the National Security Council Staff on January 1, 1987, as Assistant to the President for Middle East and South Asia. He was named as U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan in August 1988, succeeding Arnold Lewis Raphel, who was killed in an August 17 airplane crash along with Pakistan's President, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

After retiring from the Foreign Service in September 1991, Oakley became associated with the United States Institute of Peace. In December 1992, he was named by President George H. W. Bush as Special Envoy for Somalia, serving there with Operation Restore Hope until March 1993. In October 1993, he was again named as Special Envoy for Somalia by President Bill Clinton, and served in this capacity until March 1994. In January 1995, he joined the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. In 2000, prior to the September 11 attacks, Paul Bremer characterized the Clinton administration as "correctly focused on bin Laden", while Oakley criticized their "obsession with Osama".


During his service with the State Department, Oakley received numerous State Department awards, including: the State Department Meritorious Honor Award, four Presidential Meritorious Service Awards, and the State Department Distinguished Honor Award. For his service as Special Envoy to Somalia, he received a second State Department Distinguished Honor Award and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. On June 18, 1993, he received the Diplomatic Award for Excellence of the American Academy of Diplomacy. In October 2008, Oakley was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from Princeton in Africa.[2]


In Cairo, during June 1958, Oakley married fellow Foreign Service Officer Phyllis Elliott who, under then-prevailing rules, was obliged to resign. The Oakleys have two children, and five grandchildren. Phyllis E. Oakley returned to the Foreign Service in 1974.[3]


Oakley died in McLean, Virginia from complications from Parkinson's disease, on December 10, 2014, aged 83.[4]


  1. ^ Robert B. Oakley at the Notable Names Database (NNDB)
  2. ^ Robert B. Oakley Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine at The American Academy of Diplomacy
  3. ^ Phyllis E. Oakley at the Notable Names Database (NNDB)
  4. ^ "Robert Oakley, diplomatic troubleshooter, dies at 83". Washington Retrieved December 11, 2014.

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