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Philip D. Zelikow

Philip David Zelikow (; born September 21, 1954) is an American attorney, diplomat, academic and author. He has worked as the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, and Counselor of the United States Department of State. He is the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia and was American Academy in Berlin Axel Springer Fellow, in the fall of 2009.


  • Education 1
  • Career 2
    • Academic and federal government positions 2.1
    • Commissions and committees 2.2
    • George W. Bush administration 2.3
    • Expertise 2.4
      • Terrorism 2.4.1
  • Works written or co-written 3
  • Miscellaneous 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Zelikow received a BA in history and political science from the University of Redlands, a J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center (where he was an editor of the law review), and a MALD and Ph.D. in international relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.


Academic and federal government positions

After practicing law in the early 1980s, Zelikow turned toward the field of national security. He was adjunct professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1984-1985.

He joined the Reagan administration (1985–1989).

In 1989, in the National Security Council, where he was involved as a senior White House staffer in the diplomacy surrounding the German reunification and the diplomatic settlements accompanying the end of the Cold War in Europe. During the first Gulf War, he aided President Bush, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, and Secretary of State James Baker in diplomatic affairs related to the coalition. He co-authored, with Condoleezza Rice, the book Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft (1995), an academic study of the politics of reunification.[1][2]

In 1991, Zelikow left the NSC to go to Harvard University. From 1991 to 1998 he was Associate Professor of Public Policy and co-director of Harvard's Intelligence and Policy Program, at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

In 1998, Zelikow moved to the George H.W. Bush, and Clinton.

Following an appointment at the Department of State from 2005 to 2007 during the Bush administration, Zelikow returned to academics at the University of Virginia. In 2011 he was appointed Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He has been instrumental in restructuring the College of Arts & Sciences. Also in 2011, Zelikow was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President's Intelligence Advisory Board.[4]

Commissions and committees

In late 2000 and early 2001, Zelikow served on President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board [PFIAB], and worked on other task forces and commissions as well. He directed the bipartisan National Commission on Federal Election Reform, created after the 2000 election and chaired by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, along with Lloyd Cutler and Bob Michel. This Commission's recommendations led directly to congressional consideration and enactment into law of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.[5]

In 2002, Phil Zelikow became the executive director of the Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age. The Task Force comprises a diverse and bipartisan group of experienced policymakers, senior executives from the information technology industry, public interest advocates, and experts in privacy, intelligence, and national security. The Markle Task Force seeks to inform the policy judgments and investments of the federal, state and local governments in the collection and use of information as it relates to national security. The Task Force's reports and recommendations have been codified through two laws (IRPTA 2004 and the Implementing 9/11 Commission Report Act 2007) and several presidential directives. The reports are available at [1].

In Rise of the Vulcans (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 an overview of America’s national security strategy following the September 11, 2001 attacks, 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 recognized as a significant document in the Bush administration doctrine of preemptive war.[6][7]

At the recommendation of Vice Chair 9/11 Family Steering Committee, citing the obvious conflict of interest of having previously worked on the Bush transition team. It had recommended candidates for Cabinet positions and other top national security appointments. Many security positions were filled by people associated with the Project for the New American Century (such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld), which advocated a war with Iraq, and lamented that goal would take a long time, unless there was an event like "a new Pearl Harbor."[8] In response to the concerns, Zelikow agreed to recuse himself from any investigation matters pertaining to the National Security Council's transition from the Clinton to Bush administrations, which Zelikow had helped manage.[9]

After being informed of the Department of Defense's Able Danger project by U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, he failed to have the 9/11 Commission investigate, despite the promise that the Commission would investigate all 9/11 related topics. Able Danger was not included in the Commission's final report. In 2005 and 2006 the Chairman of the House Select Intelligence Committee, Rep. Curt Weldon, publicized Shaffer's allegations in public statements and hearings.[10]

George W. Bush administration

Zelikow's role in the second Iraq war is discussed at some length in Bob Woodward's State of Denial, which presents him as an internal critic of the way the war was being conducted in 2005 and 2006, and as an originator of the alternative approach termed "clear, hold, and build." He is also named by sources such as Jack Goldsmith's The Terror Presidency as an internal critic of the treatment of terrorist captives, and there was wide attention given to an address he made on this subject after leaving office in April 2007.

Based on speeches and internal memos, some political analysts believe that Zelikow disagreed with aspects of the Bush administration's Middle Eastern policy.[11]

As Counsellor to Secretary of State Rice, Zelikow opposed the Bush administration Torture Memos. In 2006, Zelikow wrote a memorandum warning that the abuse of prisoners through so-called "enhanced interrogation" could constitute war crimes.[12][13] Bush administration officials ignored his recommendations, and tried to collect all copies of the memo and destroy them.[14][15] Jane Mayer, author of the Dark Side,[16] quotes Zelikow as predicting that "America's descent into torture will in time be viewed like the Japanese internments," in that "(f)ear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools."[17]


Zelikow's area of academic expertise is the history and practice of public policy. In addition to the work on German unification, he has been significantly involved in contemporary scholarship on the Cuban Missile Crisis, including the relation between this crisis and the East-West confrontation over Berlin.

While at Harvard, he worked with Ernest May and Richard Neustadt on the use, and misuse, of history in policymaking. They observed, as Zelikow noted in his own words, that "contemporary" history is "defined functionally by those critical people and events that go into forming the public's presumptions about its immediate past. The idea of 'public presumption'," he explained, "is akin to William McNeill's notion of 'public myth' but without the negative implication sometimes invoked by the word 'myth.' Such presumptions are 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."[18] "

Zelikow and May also authored and sponsored scholarship on the relationship between intelligence analysis and policy decisions. Zelikow later helped found a research project to prepare and publish annotated transcripts of presidential recordings made secretly during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations (see and another project to strengthen oral history work on more recent administrations, with both these projects based at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs.

In writing about the importance of beliefs about history, Zelikow has called attention to 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."[18]


Zelikow has also written about terrorism and national security, including a set of Harvard case studies on "Policing Northern Ireland." In the November–December 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs, he co-authored an article Catastrophic Terrorism, with Ashton B. Carter, and John M. Deutch, in which they 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." [19]

Works written or co-written

Zelikow has co-written 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. Others include:

  • Philip D. Zelikow with Condoleezza Rice, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft Harvard University Press, 1995, hardcover, 520 pages, ISBN 0-674-35324-2; trade paperback, 1997, 520 pages, ISBN 0-674-35325-0
  • Philip D. Zelikow with Graham T. Allison, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis 2nd edition Longman, 1999. 440 pages, ISBN 0-321-01349-2
  • Philip D. Zelikow with Ernest R. May, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis Harvard University Press, 1997, 728 pages, ISBN 0-674-17926-9
  • Philip D. Zelikow, American Military Strategy: Memos to a President (Aspen Policy Series) W.W. Norton & Company, 2001, 206 pages, ISBN 0-393-97711-0


Zelikow is a member of the Global Development Program Advisory Panel, Gates Foundation

Government offices
Preceded by
Wendy Sherman
Counselor of the United States Department of State
February 1, 2005 – January 2, 2007
Succeeded by
Eliot A. Cohen


  1. ^ Zelikow, Philip D.; Condoleezza Rice (1995). Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft. Harvard University Press.  
  2. ^ Joffe, Josef (January–February 1996). "Putting Germany Back Together: The Fabulous Bush and Baker Boys". Foreign Affairs. 
  3. ^ White House Tapes
  4. ^ "Zelikow Appointed to Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board"
  5. ^ UNT Biography
  6. ^ Shenon, Philip (2008). The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation. New York City: Hachette Book Group USA. p. 128.  
  7. ^ "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America". The Washington Post. September 17, 2002. Retrieved 2010-07-24. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively. 
  8. ^ Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century, September 2000, archived from the original (PDF) on January 24, 2009, retrieved May 11, 2011 
  9. ^ Eggen, Dan (2003-10-14). "Sept. 11 Panel Defends Director's Impartiality". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2003. Retrieved 2010-07-11. 
  10. ^ "Able Danger and the 9/11 Attacks." Unclassified Draft Statement by Anthony A. Shaffer, Lt. Col., U.S. Army, House Armed Services Committee, February 15, 2006.
  11. ^ Cooper, Helene and David E. Sanger. Rice’s Counselor Gives Advice Others May Not Want to Hear. The New York Times. 2006-10-28.
  12. ^ Blanton, Tom (April 3, 2012). "The Zelikow Memo: Internal Critique of Bush Torture Memos Declassified". News. National Security Archives. Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  13. ^ McGreal, Chris, Former senior Bush official on torture: 'I think what they did was wrong' The Guardian, April 5, 2012.
  14. ^ Newsweek, April 25, 2009We Could Have Done This the Right WayMichael Isikoff
  15. ^ Eviatar, Daphne (2009-05-13). "Philip Zelikow: OLC Interpretation Would Allow Waterboarding of U.S. Citizens".  
  16. ^ Mayer,The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (2008) ISBN 0-385-52639-3
  17. ^ Horton, Scott,Six Questions for Jane Mayer, Author of the Dark Side Harper's Magazine, July 14, 2008
  18. ^ a b Philip Zelikow. Thinking About Political History at the Wayback Machine (archived March 1, 2009). Miller Center Report, Winter 1999. Archived from the original
  19. ^ Ashton B. Carter, John Deutch, and Philip Zelikow (November–December 1998). "Catastrophic Terrorism: Tackling the New Danger". Foreign Affairs. 

External links

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