Philip Zelikow’s is not a household name. Maybe it should be....

By Mark Jensen

** Harnessing ‘history’s narrative power’; How Condoleezza Rice’s friend Philip Zelikow foresaw 9/11, then worked to exploit it in writing “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” **

United for Peace of Pierce County
Delivered to Wallingford Neighbors for Peace
Seattle, Washington
October 8, 2004

Today is the 753rd day that we, as Americans, have lived in a nation whose national security strategy is an abomination.

I call our national security strategy an abomination, because it prescribes the very policies of aggressive warfare that were condemned by this nation in Article 6 of the Aug. 8, 1945 indictment at the Nuremberg trials as “Crimes against Peace: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a Common Plan or Conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing,” and stating that “Leaders, organizers, instigators, and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a Common Plan or Conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.”

“The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” is a 12,638-word document promulgated Sept. 17, 2002, that purports to legitimate such “Crimes against Peace” as legitimate acts in defense of the “national security” of this nation. Its promulgation came 108 days after George W. Bush unveiled many of its key propositions in a commencement address delivered at ― naturally ― West Point. On June 1, 2002, at West Point, that the president for the first time declared that Americans should be prepared for “pre-emptive action” to defend “national security.” That speech contained these two key propositions:

* “We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge.”

* “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless.”

Three months later, these stated intentions were made the official doctrine of this nation. The occasion for this was the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which not only created the system of “regional commands” that structures the exercise of U.S. military power on a global scale, but requires that every administration file about once a year an overview of its national security strategy.

According to James Mann in Rise of the Vulcans: History of Bush’s War Cabinet (Viking, 2004), “The New National Security Strategy had been largely an initiative of Rice’s National Security Council. Oddly, the hawks in the Pentagon and in Vice President Cheney’s office hadn’t been closely involved, even though the document incorporated many of their key ideas. They had left the details in the hands of Rice and [Univ. of Virginia Professor Philip] Zelikow, along with Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley” (Rise of the Vulcans, p. 331).

Let’s take a quick look at the authors of this document. Condoleezza Rice was born on Nov. 14, 1954, in Birmingham, Alabama, to “proud, educated members of the [Birmingham’s] black middle class.” As was the case for Woodrow Wilson, who like her set out to make the world “safe for democracy,” her father was a Presbyterian minister. Later, he became dean of Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the family moved when she was 12, and two years later he was made vice chancellor at the University of Denver.

Condoleezza planned to be a music major at the Univ. of Denver but switched to international relations in her sophomore year under the influence of Prof. Josef Korbel, Madeleine Albright’s father.

She graduated in 1963, did a master’s at the Univ. of Notre Dame, then took her Ph.D. from the Univ. of Denver. In a New Yorker profile (Oct. 14, 2004), Nicholas Lemann wrote: “[W]ithin international relations she belonged, by virtue of her association with Korbel, to what might be called the ‘captive nations’ crowd, dominated by Eastern European refugees who disapproved of the Soviet Union more intensely than one was supposed to in that heyday of détente. Her dissertation, on party-military relations in Czechoslovakia, concluded that the quasi-independence of the Czech Communist Party was misleading, because the country was still being tightly controlled by Moscow, through the mechanism of the Warsaw Pact.”

Rice voted for Carter in 1976, then supported Reagan in 1980. She began a teaching career at Stanford University in 1981; she was tenured in 1987. In 1985 she met Brent Scowcroft, a Kissinger deputy who because Gerald Ford’s national security adviser. Originally a foreign policy “realist,” she gradually moved in the direction of the neconservatives, citing the effect of travels in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989 and 1990.

Her career was furthered by a capacity for work and a charismatic quality. Scowcroft brought her into the government as a staff aide for Soviet affairs on the National Security Council in the first Bush administration, where she worked under Robert Blackwill, senior director for European and Soviet affairs and was rapidly promoted, becoming special assistant to the president in August 1990.

According to CIA Soviet specialist Fritz Ermarth “not a conceptualizer,” Rice is skilled at navigating complex bureaucracies. Returning to Stanford in 1991, she befriended George Shultz, who helped her to be appointed to the board of Chevron. At 38, she was named provost of Stanford University, where she served for six years.

In April 1998, in George Shultz’s living room, she met George W. Bush for the first time. She was invited to Austin in July, where she met Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, and spent several days in the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, in August, where “they bonded,” according to Rice’s longtime friend Coit Blacker; around this time the decision to put her in charge of foreign policy during Bush’s 2000 campaign was made.

James Mann writes in Rise of the Vulcans: “Rice . . . best personified the profound intellectual shift from the first Bush administration to the second one. . . . During the 2000 presidential campaign and during Bush’s initial months in office, Rice appeared to be advocating an updated, modified version of [the realist foreign policy traditions of Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft]. . . . Still, Rice had taken care to avoid alienating the conservatives, who bitterly opposed Kissinger-style realism. . . . In mid-2001 . . . Rice quietly reached out to [William Kristol and the Weekly Standard, in] the neoconservative movement. . . . She had become, she suggested to Kristol, a bit less of a believer in realpolitik. It was Rice, more than anyone else, who viewed the mission of the Vulcans after September 11 as a historic one comparable to that of the post-World War II generation. America was not merely combating terrorism but constructing a whole new order. When Richard Haass, a senior Powell aide and the director of policy planning at the State Department, drafted for the administration an overview of America’s national security strategy, Rice ordered that the document be completely rewritten. She though 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, who had worked alongside Rice in the first Bush administration and had been her coauthor for a book about the unification of Germany [Philip Zelikow & Condoleezza Rice, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft (Harvard UP, 1995)].”

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

Zelikow worked as an attorney in the early 1980s, but his career migrated toward the national security field in the mid 1980s. He was adjunct professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1984-1985, and three different offices of the Dept. of State in the second Reagan administration.

Zelikow joined the National Security Council in the first Bush administration, at the same time as Condoleezza Rice. Like Rice, he left the NSC in 1991; Zelikow went not to Stanford but to Harvard, where from 1991 to 1998 he was Associate Prof. of Public Policy and co-director of Harvard’s Intelligence and Policy Program.

In 1998 he moved to the Univ. of Virginia, where he directs the nation’s largest center on the American presidency, serves as director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs and, as White Burkett Miller Professor of History, holds an endowed chair.

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. In 2003 was named executive director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission).

Interesting for us is the fact that as a writer, Zelikow has focused on public skepticism toward governmental institutions. He wrote a book with Ernest May on The Kennedy Tapes, and another with Joseph Nye and David King on Why People Don’t Trust Government. (

Zelikow is an expert in the creation and maintenance of, to employ terms he used in a 1998 address, “public myths” or “public presumptions,” which he defined 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. The sources for such presumptions are both personal (from direct experience) and vicarious (from books, movies, and myths). For the generation who fought World War II, ‘Munich’ is an example of such a public presumption; for the Founding Fathers, ‘Horatio’ was a shared public presumption. The power of these presumptions derives from their role in facilitating conversation, analysis, and understanding.”

Analyzing such “public myths” or “public presumptions,” he took a special interest in what he 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 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).

A strong case can be made that both in his drafting of the National Security Strategy of the United States of America” and in his work on the 9/11 Commission, Prof. Zelikow has been consciously engaged in misrepresenting the truth to Americans and, indeed, the world, so as to shape a new “public myth” or “public presumption” to mold 9/11 into a “‘searing’ or ‘molding’ event” of “‘transcendent’ importance” in a way that harnesses what he calls “history’s narrative power.”

In fact, Zelikow had foreseen this possibility with a rather spooky clarity. In the November-December 1998 number 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 US counterattacks. Belatedly, Americans would judge their leaders negligent for not addressing terrorism more urgently.”

It would be interesting to analyze the strange document produced by the 9/11 Commission in this light, but tonight we confine our attention to “The National Security Strategy,” in which he exploits these insights in an effort to craft the “watershed event in American history” that he had all but foreseen. Prof. Zelikow defines a first-person plural, a “we,” that is confined solely to American citizens. His approach is to graft the 9/11 tale onto the “public myth” of World War II. Thus “The National Security Strategy” describes the 20th century as marked by “great struggles . . . between liberty and totalitarianism,” ending with “a decisive victory for the forces of freedom.”

Noting that “[t]oday, the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence,” it lays down as a principle that “[d]efending our Nation against its enemies is the first and fundamental commitment of the Federal Government.”

(“The National Security Strategy” thereby traduces, we might note, both the oath of office taken by the president and the oaths sworn by all enlisted personnel in the U.S. armed forces, all members of the National Guard, all U.S. attorneys, all U.S. Senators and Representatives, and all Cabinet secretaries, to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”)

“The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” declares that we are engaged in a “war against terrorists of global reach,” “a global enterprise of uncertain duration,” and that “the gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. . . . Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction.” The bottom line for this dark scenario: “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.”

Now, such a scenario ill accords with the optimism of Americans, so the “public myth” of the war on terror is grafted onto the Reaganite “public presumption” of neoliberalism, whereby freedom and justice for all come from the unbridled activity of the market place. “The United States will use this moment of opportunity,” says the National Security Strategy, “to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe. We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner world.” “Today, humanity holds in its hands the opportunity to further freedom’s triumph over [war and terror, powerful states, tyrants, widespread poverty and disease]. The United States welcomes our responsibility to lead in this great mission.”

What is of note in all this is all that is left out of this vision of the role of the United States in the world. In particular, “environmental devastation” caused by “the dominant patterns of production and consumption,” the “depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species.” Also, “the [widening] gap between rich and poor,” “[widespread] injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict,” and “an unprecedented rise in human population [overburdening] ecological and social systems,” so that “the foundations of global security are threatened.” Unmentioned is the need for “fundamental changes . . . needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living.” Unacknowledged is the truth that “when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more.” Unrecognized is “the emergence of a global civil society . . . creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world.” Apparently unthought-of is the need for a decision “to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole earth community as well as our local communities.”

I’ve taken the phrases in the preceding paragraph from a document that it is interesting to compare to “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” ― the Earth Charter, with which you are probably familiar. The Earth Charter was written by an international group and approved at a meeting held at UNESCO headquarters in March 2000. There, we find a different “we” altogether ― one that considers “us” to be first of all human beings living in nature― a terrestrial nature that requires us to put the entire earth community, not the United States of America, first. According to this vision, our “mission” is not to lead the world toward “democracy” as the White House defines it, development, “free” markets, and “free” trade, but to build a sustainable global community.

Most of you are already committed to such a vision, so there is no need to go on. What I have hoped I have shown tonight is that “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” is a consciously designed impediment toward the realization of such a mission, as well as to have explained who wrote it, and why.


Since Stephen Hadley was also involved in drafting this document, a few words about him are also in order. He was born in 1947 in Toledo, Ohio. He has an undergraduate degree from Cornell and a law degree from Yale. Known as Condoleezza Rice’s “right-hand man” at the NSC, he took the blame for the fiasco over Iraq’s purported attempt to buy uranium from Niger, saying: “I should have recalled . . . that there was controversy associated with the uranium issue.” Like Rice, he moved into the national security apparatus thanks to a connection to Brent Scowcroft. He practiced international law as a partner in the law firm of Shea & Gardner and was a principal in The Scowcroft Group, Inc., an international consulting firm.

In the first Bush administration, Hadley served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, where he was responsible for defense policy toward NATO and Western Europe, on nuclear weapons and ballistic missile defense, and arms control. He also participated in policy issues involving export control and the use of space. Under Ronald Reagan, he was Counsel to the Special Review Board established to inquire into U.S. arms sales to Iran (a.k.a. the "Tower Commission"), and was a member of the National Security Council staff under President Ford from 1974-1977. He began government service at the age of 25 as an analyst for the Comptroller of the Department of Defense.

A longtime associate of Dick Cheney, after 9/11 Hadley worked with Cheney and his aide “Scooter” Libby to push the bogus idea that Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. He is a strong advocate of the morality of weapons of mass destruction as a form of deterrence (provided, of course, that they are in the possession of the United States). As an attorney, he has long had close links to the corporate sponsors of the military-industrial complex.

But in the field of public policy, it has sometimes seemed that his involvement is the kiss of death to an enterprise. Besides the Niger uranium and Atta in Prague, he delivered warnings of terrorist attacks to Saudi Arabia just before the Riyadh car bombings, organized meetings for Iraqi exiles in London, met with U.N. officials to determine how much money was needed for Iraqi reconstruction, flew to Europe in 2001 to reassure NATO allies that they still mattered, among other misadventures. (Sources: Official biography, RightWeb, and