James Dobbins

Photo of James Dobbins
Senior Fellow; Distinguished Chair in Diplomacy and Security
Washington Office

Education

B.S. in international affairs, Georgetown School of Foreign Service

Media Resources

This researcher is available for interviews.

To arrange an interview, contact the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 451-6913, or email media@rand.org.

More Experts

Overview

Ambassador James Dobbins is a senior fellow and Distinguished Chair in Diplomacy and Security at the RAND Corporation. He most recently served as director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center. He has held State Department and White House posts including Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Special Assistant to the President, Special Adviser to the President and Secretary of State for the Balkans, and Ambassador to the European Community. Dobbins has served on numerous crisis management and diplomatic troubleshooting assignments as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia for the administrations of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Diplomatic assignments include the withdrawal of American forces from Somalia, the American-led multilateral intervention in Haiti, the stabilization and reconstruction of Bosnia, and the NATO intervention in Kosovo. In the wake of September 11, 2001, he was named as the Bush administration's representative to the Afghan opposition with the task of putting together and installing a broadly based successor to the Taliban regime. He represented the United States at the Bonn Conference that established the new Afghan government, and, on December 16, 2001, he raised the flag over the newly reopened U.S. Embassy.

Previous Positions

Assistant Secretary of State for Europe; Special Assistant to the President for the Western Hemisphere; Special Adviser to the President and Secretary of State for the Balkans; Ambassador to the European Community; Clinton administration's Special Envoy for Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo; Bush administration's first Special Envoy for Afghanistan; Bush administration's representative to the Afghan opposition in the wake of September 11, 2001

Selected Publications

James Dobbins, Ending Afghanistan's Civil War, RAND Corporation (CT-271), 2007

James Dobbins et al., The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building, RAND Corporation (MG-557), 2007

James Dobbins et al., America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq, RAND Corporation (MR-1753), 2005

James Dobbins et al., The UN's Role in Nation-Building: From the Congo to Iraq, RAND Corporation (MG-304), 2005

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: ABC; Al-Ahram Weekly; BBC; Bloomberg; CBS; Channel News Asia; Chi-cago Tribune; Christian Science Monitor; CNBC; CNN; Copley News Service; Cox News Service; Financial Times; Foreign Affairs; Fox News; The Globe and Mail; Houston Chronicle; International Herald Tribune; Irish Times; Knight Ridder; NBC; Newsday; NPR; PBS; Philadelphia Inquirer; Pravda; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Reuters; South China Morning Post; Washington Post

Commentary: Financial Times; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; International Herald Tribune; New York Times; United Press International; Washington Post

Commentary

  • Afghan policemen in Kabul

    Afghanistan After America: A Fragile Stability

    Since 2011, the United States, the Afghan government, and the Taliban have engaged in intermittent and often indirect talks about peace negotiations. It may be stalemate on the battlefield that eventually forces the parties to break this stalemate over the shape of a peace process.

    Nov 14, 2014 | The Mark News

  • A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells towards Zummar, controlled by the Islamic State, near Mosul, September 15, 2014

    Does ISIL Represent a Threat to the United States?

    There are legitimate questions about how to best go about preventing ISIL from consolidating its control over Iraq and Levant. But this is very different from arguing that ISIL is not a threat and that the United States therefore should stand aside as it does so.

    Oct 3, 2014 | The Hill

  • U.S. President Barack Obama meets with the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington

    Taking It One Crisis at a Time

    The main difference between the immediate post-Cold War decade and the post-9/11 era as regards the variety of international challenges is that during that earlier period these challenges were faced and dealt with seriatim, rather than allowed to accumulate.

    Aug 19, 2014 | U.S. News & World Report

  • U.S. Army sergeant throws a smoke grenade to mask his team's movements during a joint operation with the Iraqi police

    Learning Curve

    The post-Vietnam “never again” attitude led to a severe atrophy of the U.S. military's counterinsurgency skills and it is quite possible that the U.S. military will go through a similar phase of unlearning over the next several years, writes James Dobbins.

    Mar 14, 2013 | Foreign Policy

  • destruction in Syria

    Syria, the Case for Intervention

    The longer this war drags on, the more radicalised become the insurgents, the more brutalised the population, the more inflamed the sectarian passions, and the more destabilised neighbouring societies, writes James Dobbins.

    Dec 7, 2012 | Financial Times

  • U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta walks through an honor cordon at the Chinese North Sea Fleet headquarters in Qingdao, China

    U.S. President Can Sustain Peace with China, through Deterrence

    The steady growth of China's military power raises important questions about the role that the next U.S. president should play in either containing China, cooperating with China, or trying to strike a balance between containment and cooperation, write James Dobbins and Roger Cliff.

    Nov 6, 2012 | The Orange County Register

  • men looking at a United States poltical map

    The National Security Consensus

    Today American public opinion is much less divided on international issues than it was four years ago. The two presidential candidates are much closer in their expressed views than were Obama and McCain, writes James Dobbins.

    Nov 6, 2012 | Foreign Policy

  • President Obama speaking at the Lincoln Memorial

    Rhetorical Questions

    However one characterizes the strategic communications of the early Obama administration, there can be little doubt that by calibrating his messages more to foreign audiences, he increased regard for America around the globe, as confirmed in numerous opinion polls, writes James Dobbins.

    Oct 26, 2012 | Foreign Policy

  • Iranians supporting Mousavi in Azadi Square

    Gate Crashing the Opposition: Why Washington Should Leave Regime Change to the Iranians

    Emphasizing human rights will demonstrate to the Iranian people that the U.S. cares for their future. Threats of military action and war will only convince the Iranian opposition that America is a hostile power that supports regime change for its own narrow purposes, write James Dobbins and Alireza Nader.

    Aug 23, 2012 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • Conflict with China: What It Would Look Like, How to Avoid It

    While China's overall military capabilities will not equal those of the United States anytime soon, it will more quickly achieve local superiority in its immediate neighborhood, first in and around Taiwan and then at somewhat greater distances, writes James Dobbins.

    Aug 14, 2012 | The Diplomat

  • Step Up Opposition Support

    Well-meant advice and promises of postwar aid will mean much less in forging a relationship with the eventual rulers of Syria than decisive assistance now, writes James Dobbins.

    Aug 9, 2012 | NYTimes.com

  • Fiasco in the Levant

    The United States' ability to shape future events in Syria will only be as great as the support it gives the rebels in their fight to topple Assad, writes James Dobbins.

    Aug 9, 2012 | Foreign Policy

  • The Case for Expanding Assistance to the Syrian Opposition

    James Dobbins' testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the state of Syria.

    Aug 1, 2012

  • Debating Hillary

    Absent further developments or revelations, history will judge Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state as solid if unspectacular, writes James Dobbins.

    Jun 21, 2012 | Foreign Policy

  • Obama Learned from Bush's Mistakes and Successes

    On-the-job training is a necessary element of the American presidency, but so should be learning from the accomplishments, as well as the mistakes, of one's predecessor, writes James Dobbins.

    May 2, 2012 | U.S. News & World Report, Debate Club

  • U.S. and Israel Need to Agree on Strike Against Iran

    Essential to any Israeli government decision to bomb Iran is confidence that whatever advice Washington might provide before the attack, the U.S. administration will feel bound to help Israel cope with the consequences of its action, writes James Dobbins.

    Mar 5, 2012 | U.S. News & World Report, Debate Club

  • Syria Is Trending Toward the Libya Model

    If the Syrian opposition clearly asks for American help, if the rest of the Arab world supports such a military intervention, and if America's European allies prove ready to join in—and indeed lead—such an effort, the United States should contribute those military assets which only it can provide, writes James Dobbins.

    Feb 14, 2012 | U.S. News & World Report, Debate Club

  • Negotiating Peace in Afghanistan Without Repeating Vietnam

    The Vietnam negotiations arose from a U.S. initiative, in response to domestic political imperatives and over repeated objections from the Saigon regime. By contrast, the incipient Afghan process has its roots in that society, not ours, writes James Dobbins.

    Jan 13, 2012 | The Washington Post

  • Iran's Self-Destructive Gamble

    For all its bluster, the Iranian regime is more vulnerable than at any time in its 32-year history. Internally, Iran is constrained by deep political divisions, civil strife and a woeful economy, write Alireza Nader and James Dobbins.

    Jan 6, 2012 | NYTimes.com on January 5, 2012 and in International Herald Tribune

  • Dissuading Iran from the Bomb and Avoiding War

    By refusing to face more squarely the probability that Iran will eventually acquire a nuclear weapons capability, the American and Israeli governments actually reduce their ability to dissuade Iran from crossing that threshold, writes James Dobbins.

    Dec 2, 2011 | Public Service Europe

  • An Attack Would Only Strengthen Iran's Influence

    Reaction to a strike against Iran among neighboring populations would be almost uniformly hostile. The sympathy thereby aroused for Iran would make containment of Iranian influence much more difficult for Israel, for the U.S., and for the Arab regimes currently allied with Washington, writes James Dobbins.

    Nov 16, 2011 | U.S. News & World Report, Debate Club

  • Don't Overestimate Afghanistan Pessimism

    Multiple polls commissioned by independent news and other organizations consistently reveal an Afghan population that sees improvement in its well-being, has a favorable view of its government and is optimistic about its future, writes James Dobbins.

    Sep 29, 2011 | Reuters blog, The Great Debate

  • Libyan Nation Building After Qaddafi

    If Libya is to have a chance of replacing Qaddafi with something better, the United States, its allies, and the rest of the international community will need to pivot very quickly from the rather straightforward requirements of war fighting to taking seriously the complex and demanding tasks of peace building, write James Dobbins and Frederic Wehrey.

    Aug 23, 2011 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • Afghanistan's Reasons for Optimism

    Afghans in general are much more optimistic about their future than we Americans are about ours, write James Dobbins and Craig Charney.

    Apr 1, 2011 | The Washington Post

  • Thinking Twice about Libyan Engagement

    We have learned over the past couple of decades that it is deceptively easy for the world's only superpower to topple objectionable regimes—but a good deal harder to replace them with something better, writes James Dobbins.

    Mar 15, 2011 | RAND.org and GlobalSecurity.org

  • Your COIN Is No Good Here

    One can legitimately argue for reducing the United States' commitment to the Afghan war, but it makes no sense to denigrate the tactics and techniques best designed to counter an insurgency, writes James Dobbins.

    Oct 26, 2010 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • A To-Do List for Shoring Up Haiti

    It is not enough to raise stronger buildings. What Haiti truly needs is a more resilient and effective government, write James Dobbins and Laurel Miller.

    Aug 23, 2010 | Los Angeles Times

  • The Afghanistan Clock

    By replacing Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. President Barack Obama has treated the most recent symptom of his Afghan malaise—an insubordinate, or at least indiscreet, general. He has not, however, addressed the underlying malady, writes James Dobbins.

    Jun 25, 2010 | ForeignPolicy.com

  • Talking to the Taliban

    President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan wants to talk to the Taliban, and that's going to be a thorny issue for President Obama when the two leaders meet on Wednesday, writes James Dobbins.

    May 12, 2010 | International Herald Tribune

  • Dueling Doctrines: Mullen vs. Powell? Or Mullen & Powell vs. Rumsfeld?

    Reflecting changes in the American approach to counterinsurgency, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen recently enunciated a new and apparently more restrained doctrine for the use of armed force. But is this really a repudiation of the so-called Powell Doctrine, asks James Dobbins.

    Mar 17, 2010 | Proceedings, a magazine of the U.S. Naval Institute

  • Skip the Graft

    The latest disaster to befall Haiti creates the opportunity to combine bipartisan accord on Haiti in Washington with keen and perhaps sustained American public interest, writes James Dobbins.

    Jan 17, 2010 | The New York Times

  • When Generals and Ambassadors Feud

    In 2007 in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker set a model for civil-military collaboration: They never let daylight show between their positions. General McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry have diverged from this model, writes James Dobbins.

    Nov 13, 2009 | ForeignPolicy.com

  • Our Man in Kabul

    The last thing Karzai, NATO, and the United States can afford is the emergence of a renewed northern alliance, writes James Dobbins.

    Nov 4, 2009 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • Afghanistan: Echoes of Vietnam

    Now that U.S. involvement in Iraq has begun to require fewer resources, Afghanistan is the new focus of American and European anti-war sentiment, and increasingly Obama's critics are drawing on the analogy of Vietnam, writes James Dobbins.

    Oct 8, 2009 | The Huffington Post

  • Real Threats, Real Fears, Real Defenses

    Critics of the Bush administration missile defense plans for Central Europe have charged that the United States would be deploying defenses that did not work against a threat that did not exist, writes James Dobbins.

    Sep 21, 2009 | International Herald Tribune

  • Ultimate Exit Strategy

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the upcoming high-level conference on Afghanistan at The Hague as a "big-tent meeting, with all the parties who have a stake and an interest in Afghanistan." With the situation in that country growing more precarious by the day, those attending this meeting must also think big, write Karl F. Inderfurth and James Dobbins.

    Mar 26, 2009 | International Herald Tribune

  • To Talk With Iran, Stop Not Talking

    If the dominant imperative is to stop Iran from getting the bomb, every month counts. Perhaps the simplest -- and certainly the quickest -- way to launch a dialogue with Iran, and the one least likely to play unhelpfully into the upcoming Iranian election, would be to simply stop not talking to Tehran, writes James Dobbins.

    Mar 3, 2009 | The Washington Post

  • Dealing with Iran: The Case for Talking

    Opponents of war with Iran who take their stand on the grounds that Washington should talk to Tehran first are in danger of finding themselves trapped within a broadening national consensus that could lead to an unwinnable war, writes James Dobbins.

    Jun 30, 2008 | International Herald Tribune

  • An Independent Kosovo Was a Part of the U.N.'s Plan

    Diplomatic wrangling over Kosovo's declaration of independence this week has created a good deal of misunderstanding about the U.N. Security Council Resolution that defines that society's current status and future evolution, writes James Dobbins.

    Feb 25, 2008 | Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • Not That Bad a Legacy, After All

    George W. Bush may leave a positive foreign policy legacy after all. A year ago this would have seemed difficult to credit... [Y]et over this period, Bush has put in place a series of more pragmatic policies from which even a Democratic successor will have a hard time moving away, writes James Dobbins.

    Jan 17, 2008 | International Herald Tribune

  • The Right Way to Withdraw

    We're involved too deeply in Iraq and Afghanistan to exit suddenly without fixing our mess.

    Oct 14, 2007 | Los Angeles Times

  • Ready for Another Mideast War?

    The Bush administration has acknowledged that Israel attacked Syria last week, but has not given any indication that the United States sought to prevent it, or discourage a repetition, writes James Dobbins.

    Sep 20, 2007 | International Herald Tribune

  • Are the Sunnis Changing Sides

    Are the Sunnis Changing Sides, in the International Herald Tribune

    Aug 17, 2007 | International Herald Tribune

  • How to Talk to Iran

    How to Talk to Iran, in Washingtonpost.com

    Jul 22, 2007 | Washingtonpost.com

  • Who Lost Iraq?

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Who Lost Iraq?

    Apr 16, 2007 | International Herald Tribune

  • My Enemy's Enemy

    Published commentary by RAND staff: My Enemy's Enemy, in International Herald Tribune.

    Feb 27, 2007 | International Herald Tribune

  • A Bad Plan for the Middle East

    Published commentary by RAND staff: A Bad Plan for the Middle East, in International Herald Tribune.

    Jan 17, 2007 | International Herald Tribune

  • America Needs to Pick Its Fights Carefully

    Published commentary by RAND staff: America Needs to Pick Its Fights Carefully, in International Herald Tribune.

    Aug 13, 2006 | International Herald Tribune

  • America Needs to Pick Its Fights Carefully

    Published commentary by RAND staff: America Needs to Pick Its Fights Carefully, in International Herald Tribune.

    May 2, 2006 | International Herald Tribune

  • Dialogue Can Stop Iran at the Nuclear Threshold

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Dialogue Can Stop Iran at the Nuclear Threshold, in the Financial Times.

    Apr 4, 2006 | Financial Times

  • A Far too Costly Pentagon

    Published commentary by RAND staff: A Far too Costly Pentagon, in United Press International.

    Feb 27, 2006 | United Press International

  • Give Haiti United Message from D.C.

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Give Haiti United Message from D.C., in the Miami Herald.

    Feb 26, 2006 | Miami Herald

  • Amateur Hour in Iraq

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Amateur Hour in Iraq, in United Press International.

    Feb 10, 2006 | United Press International

  • Iraq Needs Unity

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Iraq Needs Unity in United Press International.

    Dec 30, 2005 | United Press International

  • NATO's Role in Nation-building

    Published commentary by RAND staff: NATO's Role in Nation-building in NATO Review.

    Dec 8, 2005 | NATO Review

  • Little to Argue About on Iraq

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Little to Argue About on Iraq in the Hill.

    Dec 7, 2005 | The Hill

  • Bush Needs Allies Near Iraq, However Unsavoury

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Puts & Calls: Bush Needs Allies Near Iraq, However Unsavoury in the Financial Times.

    Nov 1, 2005 | Financial Times

  • NATO Peacekeepers Need a Partner

    Published commentary by RAND staff: NATO Peacekeepers Need a Partner in the International Herald Tribune.

    Sep 30, 2005 | International Herald Tribune

  • Iraq's Constitution: From Dayton to Baghdad

    Published commentary by RAND staff: IIraq's Constitution: From Dayton to Baghdad appearing in the International Herald Tribune.

    Aug 27, 2005 | International Herald Tribune

  • America Is Punishing Germany for Its Iraq Opposition

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Jul 12, 2005 | Financial Times

  • Lessons to Be Learned from Conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Jun 28, 2005 | NPR

  • Majority Rule That Respects Minorities

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Jun 11, 2005 | International Herald Tribune

  • Iraq: Democracy vs. Power Sharing

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    May 7, 2005 | International Herald Tribune

  • Upcoming Iraqi Elections Could Make Ethnic Strife There Even Worse

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Jan 26, 2005 | NPR

  • 'Oil for Food' Worked

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Dec 10, 2004 | Washington Post

  • In Iran, the U.S. Can't Stay on the Sidelines

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Dec 2, 2004 | International Herald Tribune

  • We're All Multilateralists Now

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Nov 13, 2004 | International Herald Tribune

  • The Kosovars Need to Know Where They're Headed

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Oct 29, 2004 | International Herald Tribune

  • Elections and Nation-building

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Oct 20, 2004 | International Herald Tribune

  • Safety First

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Sep 22, 2004 | New York Times

  • Nation-Building Returns to Favour

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Aug 11, 2004 | Financial Times

  • Kosovo: Delaying is the Least-Bad Option

    The recent outbreak of ethnic violence in Kosovo has led to a good deal of soul-searching within the international community. A noble experiment in building a multi-ethnic Kosovo seems to have ended in failure. European governments are rethinking their approach. Talk of partition is gaining currency.

    Aug 2, 2004 | International Herald Tribune

  • Securing the Peace Will Require Finesse

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Jun 27, 2004 | Orange County Register

  • Gaining The Iraqis' Toleration

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    May 28, 2004 | Washington Post

  • Changing Course In Iraq Is Not an Option

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    May 17, 2004 | The Financial Times

  • Time to Deal With Iran

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    May 6, 2004 | The Washington Post

  • A Perilous Journey from Sovereignty to the Polls

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Mar 18, 2004 | Financial Times

  • A Way Out for Haiti

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Feb 19, 2004 | New York Times

  • A Perilous Dialogue of Pessimists

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Feb 4, 2004 | Financial Times

  • UN Man for Baghdad: Bringing the Afghan Experience to Iraq

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Jan 20, 2004 | International Herald Tribune

  • Carrots Are as Vital as Sticks in the Balkans

    In a collective display of wisdom and will in the Balkans, the U.S. and Europe imposed an uneasy peace upon the war-torn region in the second half of the 1990s.

    Jan 6, 2004 | Financial Times

  • We've Been Down This Road Before

    commentaries by RAND Staff: insightful commentaries on current events, published in newspapers, magazines and journals worldwide.

    Jul 17, 2003 | Los Angeles Times

  • America's Record on Nation Building

    commentaries by RAND Staff: insightful commentaries on current events, published in newspapers, magazines and journals worldwide.

    Jun 13, 2003 | The New York Times

  • And, Now: The Battle For Peace and Order

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Apr 11, 2003 | New York Newsday

  • Europe is Split in a Number of Different Ways

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Feb 18, 2003 | Albany Times Union

  • Afghanistan's Faltering Reconstruction

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Sep 12, 2002 | New York Times

Publications