Hagar Hajjar Chemali, Founder & Chief Executive, Greenwich Media Strategists, LLC

Face of Hobbs London Fashion

By Michele Graham
Photography by ChiChi Ubiña

If Hagar Hajjar Chemali looks familiar, it could be because you’ve seen her all across the TV news spectrum—MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, BBC, Bloomberg, and Cheddar all seek Hagar for her expert insights on national security and counter-illicit finance. So how did this Greenwich native go from the halls of Greenwich Academy to the Oval Office to being broadcast across the air waves?

Hagar is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Greenwich Media Strategists, LLC, which provides strategic communications consulting and public affairs services to governments and the private sector across the globe. Her expertise and reputation were built over the course of 12 years in the U.S. government, where she held a number of senior public affairs and policy-making position. Providing counsel to the likes of President Barack Obama and UN Ambassador Samantha Power, Hagar has come a long way from her first job in D.C. when she worked as a Legislative Fellow for Congressman Christopher Shays.

Multilingual, Hagar’s ability to speak English, French, Arabic, and Italian is just the tip of the resume. Her career could be the basis for a Netflix series: Middle East Policy Advisor, Director at the National Security Council at the White House, Spokesperson for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Director of Communications and Spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and for Ambassador Power.

Hagar’s interest in international policy started young. She recalls, “My parents, who are both from Beirut, were forced to leave Lebanon during the civil war after my dad and uncle had been kidnapped by one of the militias. [They] reminded me every day how lucky I was to be American and live in the United States. Unfortunately, both sides of my family, dating far back, experienced different forms of repression, religious discrimination, or exile. I learned these stories at a young age and always felt strongly against tyranny, conflict, and injustice.”

At 14, Hagar joined Model UN. “I was hooked. I was convinced I wanted to work at the UN and bring peace to warring parties.” Next came Barnard College, followed by a Master of International Affairs at Columbia University. After an internship with the UN’s Department for Political Affairs, Hagar’s eyes were opened. “If I wanted to affect change for the better, the U.S. government was where I needed to go. When I switched my focus from the UN to the United States government, I focused more on counter-terrorism and was particularly interested in working against the financial networks that support terrorist organizations and other criminals. Through a grad school friend, I landed at the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes.”

It was during this period that Hagar became an expert in sanctions. “When Obama became President, he wanted to engage the Syrian government and sanctions were our key bargaining chip. I was briefing the team at the White House’s National Security Council regularly, which ultimately paved the way for my transition there.”

From briefing team to Director for Syria and Lebanon at the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House. It was early 2010; the Syria crisis began March 2011. “This position offered a critical turning point in my career because it’s when I realized I had a knack for communications strategy and media engagement. I was on the phone briefing reporters on our Syria policy regularly and loved that aspect of the job the most…I decided I had to make a switch into public affairs.”

Hagar used her knowledge and communications skills to great effect at the Treasury Department for the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and finished her government career as Spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and for Ambassador Samantha Power.

While it was exciting to be in the mix, having a young family brought a new perspective. Though she wanted to move to a network, Hagar also wanted the flexibility to be with her children. The grueling lifestyle of full-time TV didn’t feel right at this time, so Hagar launched her own communications consulting business and started commentating and writing. “By far, my most favorite thing to do is talk about international affairs in front of a camera. It merges my loves of foreign policy, news, and talking. I am a national security/foreign policy commentator, which means I analyze and offer insight on a range of current national security issues such as Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, and sanctions.”

Staying abreast of world developments could be a full-time job in itself. “I do read all the time. And watch the news—all news outlets—all the time. I’m also constantly scrolling Twitter where I follow reporters and non-profits that have the pulse of the region. Even while sitting in the car, I’m usually either listening to the news, a news-related podcast, or a national security-related book. I’m a news junkie.”

Most recently, Hagar put her vast knowledge to good use at the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual conference organized by the Human Rights Foundation, where she moderated a panel discussion on the role of sanctions in targeting human rights abusers and corrupt actors.

To her list of impressive roles, also add trustee at Greenwich Academy and author. Hagar is in the midst of writing a book on how the U.S. policy toward Syria was developed during the first year of the Syria crisis. And while her business and media appearances are growing, Hagar acknowledges that she’d like to push further into the media world. “In 10 years, I would love to be anchoring my own show. And in 15, I would love to be White House spokesperson, for the right leader! In 20, I hope to be in a position to be doing philanthropic missions around the world!”

If that’s the case, we’ll all be tuning in.

 

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