Richard Melson

September 2006

Philip Zelikow

Philip D. Zelikow

Philip D. Zelikow is best known as the executive director of the 9/11 Commission.

He also acted as the director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia until February 2005 when he was appointed Counselor of the United States Department of State.

Philip Zelikow was born in 1954. After study at the University of Houston, he completed a B.A. in History and Political Science at the University of Redlands, in southern California. He earned a law degree from the University of Houston, where he was editor of the law review, and a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Zelikow practiced law in the early 1980s, but he turned toward the field of national security in the mid 1980s. He was adjunct professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1984-1985, and served in three different offices of the U.S. Department of State in the second Reagan administration.

Zelikow joined the National Security Council in the George Herbert Walker Bush administration, at the same time as Condoleezza Rice. Zelikow left the NSC in 1991 and went to Harvard, where from 1991 to 1998, he was Associate Professor of Public Policy and co-director of Harvard’s Intelligence and Policy Program.

In 1998, Zelikow moved to the University of Virginia, where he directed, until February 2005, the nation’s largest center on the American presidency, served as director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs and, as White Burkett Miller Professor of History, held an endowed chair.

Philip Zelikow has co-authored many books. He wrote a book with Ernest May on The Kennedy Tapes, and another with Joseph Nye and David C. King on Why People Don’t Trust Government. He wrote Germany Unified and Europe Transformed with Condoleezza Rice.

Prof. Zelikow's area of academic expertise is the creation and maintenance of, in his words, "public myths" or "public presumptions," which he defines as "beliefs (1) thought to be true (although not necessarily known to be true with certainty), and (2) shared in common within the relevant political community." In his academic work and elsewhere he has taken a special interest in what he has called "‘searing’ or ‘molding’ events [that] take on ‘transcendent’ importance and, therefore, retain their power even as the experiencing generation passes from the scene. In the United States, beliefs about the formation of the nation and the Constitution remain powerful today, as do beliefs about slavery and the Civil War. World War II, Vietnam, and the civil rights struggle are more recent examples." He has noted that "a history’s narrative power is typically linked to how readers relate to the actions of individuals in the history; if readers cannot make a connection to their own lives, then a history may fail to engage them at all" ("Thinking about Political History," Miller Center Report [Winter 1999], pp. 5-7).

In the November-December 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs, he co-authored an article entitled "Catastrophic Terrorism," in which he speculated that if the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center had succeeded, "the resulting horror and chaos would have exceeded our ability to describe it. Such an act of catastrophic terrorism would be a watershed event in American history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented in peacetime and undermine America’s fundamental sense of security, as did the Soviet atomic bomb test in 1949. Like Pearl Harbor, the event would divide our past and future into a before and after. The United States might respond with draconian measures scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects and use of deadly force. More violence could follow, either future terrorist attacks or U.S. counterattacks. Belatedly, Americans would judge their leaders negligent for not addressing terrorism more urgently."

Philip Zelikow served on President Bush's transition team in 2000-2001. After George W. Bush took office, Zelikow was named to a position on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and worked on other task forces and commissions as well, including the National Commission on Federal Election Reform.

In Rise of the Vulcans (Viking, 2004), James Mann reports that when Richard Haass, a senior aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell and the director of policy planning at the State Department, drafted for the administration an overview of America’s national security strategy following September 11, Dr. Rice, the national security advisor, "ordered that the document be completely rewritten. She thought the Bush administration needed something bolder, something that would represent a more dramatic break with the ideas of the past. Rice turned the writing over to her old colleague, University of Virginia Professor Philip Zelikow." This document, issued on September 17, 2002, is generally recognized as a watershed document in the War on Terrorism.

Because Philip Zelikow's significant involvement with the administration of George W. Bush, many have questioned the propriety of his position as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, which examined the conduct of George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice. Both the 9/11 Family Steering Committee and 9-11 Citizens Watch demanded his resignation, due to this apparent conflict of interest, without success.

Works authored or co-authored by Philip Zelikow

External links

Retrieved from ""

Published on Monday, March 29, 2004 by Inter Press Service

Iraq War Launched to Protect Israel - Bush Adviser

by Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON - IPS uncovered the remarks by Philip Zelikow, who is now the executive director of the body set up to investigate the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001 -- the 9/11 commission -- in which he suggests a prime motive for the invasion just over one year ago was to eliminate a threat to Israel, a staunch U.S. ally in the Middle East.

Zelikow's casting of the attack on Iraq as one launched to protect Israel appears at odds with the public position of President George W. Bush and his administration, which has never overtly drawn the link between its war on the regime of former president Hussein and its concern for Israel's security.

The administration has instead insisted it launched the war to liberate the Iraqi people, destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to protect the United States.

Zelikow made his statements about "the unstated threat" during his tenure on a highly knowledgeable and well-connected body known as the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which reports directly to the president.

He served on the board between 2001 and 2003.

"Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel," Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts assessing the impact of 9/11 and the future of the war on the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

"And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell," said Zelikow.

The statements are the first to surface from a source closely linked to the Bush administration acknowledging that the war, which has so far cost the lives of nearly 600 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis, was motivated by Washington's desire to defend the Jewish state.

The administration, which is surrounded by staunch pro-Israel, neo-conservative hawks, is currently fighting an extensive campaign to ward off accusations that it derailed the "war on terrorism" it launched after 9/11 by taking a detour to Iraq, which appears to have posed no direct threat to the United States.

Israel is Washington's biggest ally in the Middle East, receiving annual direct aid of three to four billion dollars.

Even though members of the 16-person PFIAB come from outside government, they enjoy the confidence of the president and have access to all information related to foreign intelligence that they need to play their vital advisory role.

Known in intelligence circles as "Piffy-ab", the board is supposed to evaluate the nation's intelligence agencies and probe any mistakes they make.

The unpaid appointees on the board require a security clearance known as "code word" that is higher than top secret.

The national security adviser to former President George H.W. Bush (1989-93) Brent Scowcroft, currently chairs the board in its work overseeing a number of intelligence bodies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the various military intelligence groups and the Pentagon's National Reconnaissance Office.

Neither Scowcroft nor Zelikow returned numerous phone calls and email messages from IPS for this story.

Zelikow has long-established ties to the Bush administration.

Before his appointment to PFIAB in October 2001, he was part of the current president's transition team in January 2001.

In that capacity, Zelikow drafted a memo for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on reorganizing and restructuring the National Security Council (NSC) and prioritizing its work.

Richard A. Clarke, who was counter-terrorism coordinator for Bush's predecessor President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) also worked for Bush senior, and has recently accused the current administration of not heeding his terrorism warnings, said Zelikow was among those he briefed about the urgent threat from al-Qaeda in December 2000.

Rice herself had served in the NSC during the first Bush administration, and subsequently teamed up with Zelikow on a 1995 book about the unification of Germany.

Zelikow had ties with another senior Bush administration official -- Robert Zoellick, the current trade representative. The two wrote three books together, including one in 1998 on the United States and the "Muslim Middle East".

Aside from his position at the 9/11 commission, Zelikow is now also director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs and White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia.

His close ties to the administration prompted accusations of a conflict of interest in 2002 from families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, who protested his appointment to the investigative body.

In his university speech, Zelikow, who strongly backed attacking the Iraqi dictator, also explained the threat to Israel by arguing that Baghdad was preparing in 1990-91 to spend huge amounts of "scarce hard currency" to harness "communications against electromagnetic pulse", a side-effect of a nuclear explosion that could sever radio, electronic and electrical communications.

That was "a perfectly absurd expenditure unless you were going to ride out a nuclear exchange -- they (Iraqi officials) were not preparing to ride out a nuclear exchange with us. Those were preparations to ride out a nuclear exchange with the Israelis", according to Zelikow.

He also suggested that the danger of biological weapons falling into the hands of the anti-Israeli Islamic Resistance Movement, known by its Arabic acronym Hamas, would threaten Israel rather than the United States, and that those weapons could have been developed to the point where they could deter Washington from attacking Hamas.

"Play out those scenarios," he told his audience, "and I will tell you, people have thought about that, but they are just not talking very much about it".

"Don't look at the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but then ask yourself the question, 'gee, is Iraq tied to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the people who are carrying out suicide bombings in Israel'? Easy question to answer; the evidence is abundant."

To date, the possibility of the United States attacking Iraq to protect Israel has been only timidly raised by some intellectuals and writers, with few public acknowledgements from sources close to the administration.

Analysts who reviewed Zelikow's statements said they are concrete evidence of one factor in the rationale for going to war, which has been hushed up.

"Those of us speaking about it sort of routinely referred to the protection of Israel as a component," said Phyllis Bennis of the Washington-based Institute of Policy Studies. "But this is a very good piece of evidence of that."

Others say the administration should be blamed for not making known to the public its true intentions and real motives for invading Iraq.

"They (the administration) made a decision to invade Iraq, and then started to search for a policy to justify it. It was a decision in search of a policy and because of the odd way they went about it, people are trying to read something into it," said Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington University and an expert on the Middle East.

But he downplayed the Israel link. "In terms of securing Israel, it doesn't make sense to me because the Israelis are probably more concerned about Iran than they were about Iraq in terms of the long-term strategic threat," he said.

Still, Brown says Zelikow's words carried weight.

"Certainly his position would allow him to speak with a little bit more expertise about the thinking of the Bush administration, but it doesn't strike me that he is any more authoritative than Wolfowitz, or Rice or Powell or anybody else. All of them were sort of fishing about for justification for a decision that has already been made," Brown said.

2004 IPS-Inter Press Service

Zelikow as Rice advisor

September 16, 2006