Colin Kahl

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Colin H. Kahl is the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, on a two-year leave from his post as Assistant Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. The position reports to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (ISA). He is a Former Senior Fellow of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) until February 2009, working in the Iraq Legacy Project.[1]. From January 2005 to August 2006, Professor Kahl was a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) International Affairs Fellow conducting research on Law of War issues at the U.S. Department of Defense. As part of this project, he conducted research in Baghdad in July 2006. He is a regular consultant for the Department of Defense on issues related to stability operations and counterinsurgency, and he has been a consultant for the U.S. Government's Political Instability Task Force (formerly the State Failure Task Force) since 1999.[2]


He was a contributor to the CNAS study on plausible U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. [3]


He reviewed the new U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, [4] for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), while he was a Belfer Center fellow.

In the review, he contrasted its approach with what he termed the "coercion school", "which sees legitimacy as an unattainable -- and wholly unnecessary -- goal." Quoting Edward Luttwak, "The easy and reliable way of defeating all insurgencies everywhere" is to "out-terrorize the insurgents, so that fear of reprisals outweighs the desire to help the insurgents." In contrast to the COIN FM, the coercion school sees no need for conventional armies to remake themselves into kinder, gentler nation builders; instead, they can win by doing what they do best: employing overwhelming firepower to destroy the adversary and using armed coercion -- including harsh collective punishment -- to convince the population to shun the insurgents. 'The teething-ring nonsense that insurgencies don't have military solutions defies history,' the widely read military analyst Ralph Peters has written. 'Historically, the common denominator of successful counterinsurgency operations is that only an uncompromising military approach works -- not winning hearts and minds nor a negotiated compromise.' Ultimately, the thinking goes, military sticks are much more important than civilian carrots".[5]


In 1997-1998, he was a National Security Fellow at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. He received his BA in political science from the University of Michigan in 1993, and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2000.


  1. Dr. Colin Kahl, Center for a New American Security
  2. Colin H. Kahl, Belfer Center
  3. Colin H. Kahl, Michele A. Flournoy, and Shawn Brimley. "Shaping the Iraq Inheritance," Center for New American Security, 2008. p. 23.
  4. John Nagl, David Petraeus, James Amos, Sarah Sewall (December 2006), Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency, US Department of the Army
  5. Colin H. Kahl (November/December 2007), "COIN of the Realm: Is There a Future for Counterinsurgency?", Foreign Affairs