Michael O'Hanlon

Michael O'Hanlon

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Michael Edward O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution
Brookings Institution
The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., in the United States. One of Washington's oldest think tanks, Brookings conducts research and education in the social sciences, primarily in economics, metropolitan policy, governance, foreign policy, and...

, specializing in defense and foreign policy
Foreign policy
A country's foreign policy, also called the foreign relations policy, consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve its goals within international relations milieu. The approaches are strategically employed to interact with other countries...

 issues. He began his career as a budget analyst in the defense field.

Education and early career

O'Hanlon earned an A.B. in 1982, M.S.E. in 1987, M.A.
Master of Arts (postgraduate)
A Master of Arts from the Latin Magister Artium, is a type of Master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The M.A. is usually contrasted with the M.S. or M.Sc. degrees...

 in 1988, and a Ph.D in 1991 all from Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

, and is now a visiting lecturer there. He served as a Peace Corps
Peace Corps
The Peace Corps is an American volunteer program run by the United States Government, as well as a government agency of the same name. The mission of the Peace Corps includes three goals: providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand US culture, and helping...

 volunteer in Kinshasa
Kinshasa is the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The city is located on the Congo River....

, Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state located in Central Africa. It is the second largest country in Africa by area and the eleventh largest in the world...

 in the 1980s.

Personal life

O'Hanlon married Cathryn Ann Garland in 1994. They have two daughters, one of whom is on the autism
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their...

 spectrum. In addition to his work in the U.S. foreign policy field, O'Hanlon is an activist for people with special needs.

Support and Caution

Along with Brookings scholar Philip Gordon, O'Hanlon wrote in the Washington Post in late 2001 that any invasion of Iraq would be difficult and demanding and require large numbers of troops. This article led to Kenneth Adelman's famous prediction of a 'cakewalk' in a subsequent rebuttal in that same newspaper, but Gordon and O'Hanlon's argument was validated by subsequent events on the ground. O'Hanlon argued at a major forum on Iraq at the American Enterprise Institute in the fall of 2002 that an invasion of Iraq could lead to 150,000 U.S. troops remaining in that country for 5 years, while expressing his view that a war should occur only if inspections failed to fully confirm the disarmament of Saddam's stocks of weapons of mass destruction.

By late 2002 and early 2003, O’Hanlon appeared in the American media as a public proponent of the Iraq War. Interviewed by Bill O’Reilly in February 2003, he was asked “Any doubt about going to war with Saddam?” To which he replied “Not much doubt.”

O'Hanlon also predicted in early 2003 in an article in the journal Orbis that an invasion of Iraq could lead to as many as several thousand American fatalities, a prediction also unfortunately confirmed by later developments. He decided in 2003 to create Brookings' Iraq Index, a web-based resource tracking trends in the country that has been perhaps Brookings most widely viewed site this decade, and which led to later decisions to create Afghanistan and Pakistan indices at Brookings as well. Excerpts of these indices have run on a quarterly basis in the New York Times since 2004.

On July 9, 2007, O'Hanlon said during a panel discussion in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 that a "soft partition" of Iraq is already occurring that might break the country up into three autonomous regions - Kurdistan, "Shi'astan" and "Sunnistan".
Iraq is being ethnically segregated. Ethnic cleansing
Ethnic cleansing
Ethnic cleansing is a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic orreligious group from certain geographic areas....

 is on its way, it's happening, and at least a couple million people have been displaced. It's becoming Bosnia
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina , sometimes called Bosnia-Herzegovina or simply Bosnia, is a country in Southern Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula. Bordered by Croatia to the north, west and south, Serbia to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast, Bosnia and Herzegovina is almost landlocked, except for the...

 in some ways
, he added.

In a July 30, 2007 op-ed piece in the New York Times O'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack, just back from an 8-day DOD
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

-scheduled itinerary in Iraq reported that:
[A]s two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily 'victory' but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.


Critics however, have called into question the veracity of O'Hanlon's claim to have been a harsh critic of the Bush administration
George W. Bush administration
The presidency of George W. Bush began on January 20, 2001, when he was inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States of America. The oldest son of former president George H. W. Bush, George W...

's handling of Iraq, arguing that it was a deceitful assertion intended to lend the article increased credibility. According to attorney
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

 and columnist
A columnist is a journalist who writes for publication in a series, creating an article that usually offers commentary and opinions. Columns appear in newspapers, magazines and other publications, including blogs....

 Glenn Greenwald
Glenn Greenwald
Glenn Greenwald is an American lawyer, columnist, blogger, and author. Greenwald worked as a constitutional and civil rights litigator before becoming a contributor to Salon.com, where he focuses on political and legal topics...

, O'Hanlon and Pollack "were not only among the biggest cheerleaders for the war, but repeatedly praised the Pentagon
The Pentagon
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. As a symbol of the U.S. military, "the Pentagon" is often used metonymically to refer to the Department of Defense rather than the building itself.Designed by the American architect...

's strategy in Iraq and continuously assured Americans things were going well".

On August 25, 2007, he made an attempt to answer his critics in an Op-ed in Washington Post. In response to the charge that he based his judgment on "dog-and-pony shows" in Baghdad, he claimed that his assessment was also informed by years of study of the situation through a large number of knowledgeable sources, including many that were reflected in the Iraq Index (and contributed to its sober message for much of the war).

Writing in the National Interest in May 2008, O’Hanlon gave himself 7 marks out of 10 for his predictions about Iraq, although he acknowledged that among his incorrect positions was his initial support for the war - given the Bush administration’s poor preparations for the post-Saddam period.

Letter by Project for the New American Century

O'Hanlon signed a letter and a statement on postwar Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

 published by the Project for the New American Century
Project for the New American Century
The Project for the New American Century was an American think tank based in Washington, D.C. that lasted from 1997 to 2006. It was co-founded as a non-profit educational organization by neoconservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan...



O'Hanlon's 2010 book with Hassina Sherjan, an Afghan-American woman living in Kabul, is called Toughing It Out in Afghanistan. It largely explains and supports the Obama administration's decisions to focus on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan while greatly expanding the size of the US military presence there.

Defense Analysis

O'Hanlon's other main areas of work over the years include studies on defense technology issues, such as missile defense and space weaponry and the future of nuclear weapons policy, on Northeast Asian security coauthored with experts such as Mike Mochizuki and Richard Bush, and on defense strategy and budget issues that follow a long Brookings tradition on the subject pioneered by scholars such as William Kaufmann, Barry Blechman, and Joshua Epstein.

Many of the analytical approaches that O'Hanlon employs in these various efforts were explained in his 2009 Princeton University Press book, The Science of War, which discusses methods of defense analysis - a subject that O'Hanlon currently teaches at Princeton and Johns Hopkins, while also directing research in the foreign policy program at Brookings since 2009.

Stance on Wikileaks

Discussing the controversy around Julian Assange
Julian Assange
Julian Paul Assange is an Australian publisher, journalist, writer, computer programmer and Internet activist. He is the editor in chief of WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website and conduit for worldwide news leaks with the stated purpose of creating open governments.WikiLeaks has published material...

's Wikileaks
WikiLeaks is an international self-described not-for-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. Its website, launched in 2006 under The Sunshine Press organisation, claimed a database of more...

 project with a journalist, when asked what he would do if he was seated across the table from Assange, O'Hanlon asked whether he'd be armed or unarmed in this situation, further responding with "BLAM!" - implying that he would [like to] kill Assange. He later specified that he “would like to see Assange behind bars, which is where he belongs.”

Partial bibliography

All books published by Brookings Institution Press
  • Crisis on the Korean Peninsula: How to Deal with a Nuclear North Korea (with Mike Mochizuki; 2003)
  • Neither Star Wars nor Sanctuary: Constraining the Military Uses of Space (2004)
  • Defense Strategy for the Post-Saddam Era (2005)
  • The Future of Arms Control (with Michael A. Levi; 2005)
  • Protecting the Homeland 2006/2007 (with Michael d'Arcy, Peter Orszag
    Peter Ország
    Peter Ország is a Slovak ice hockey referee, who referees in the Slovak Extraliga.-Career:He has officiated many international tournaments including the Winter Olympics. He has been named Slovak referee of the year....

    , Jeremy Shapiro, and James Steinberg; 2006)
  • Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security (with Kurt Campbell; 2006)
  • Toughing It Out in Afghanistan (with Hassina Sherjan; 2010)

External links