Linda Robinson

linda robinson
Senior International Policy Analyst
Washington Office


B.A. in political science, Swarthmore College

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

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Linda Robinson is a senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. Her current research centers on the U.S. strategy to counter the Islamic State, gray zone conflicts, building partner capacity, and special operations forces. She recently testified before the U.S. Congress on U.S. counterterrorism policy. Her recent publications include Improving Strategic Competence: Lessons from 13 Years of War (2013), a Council on Foreign Relations report on special operations, best-selling and critically acclaimed books, including: One Hundred Victories: Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare (2012); Tell Me How This Ends (2008), and Masters of Chaos (2004). She is on the advisory board of the National Defense University and chair of the Army War College board. Prior to joining RAND in 2012, Robinson conducted research as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a senior adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a senior consulting fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and at Booz Allen Hamilton. Prior to these positions she was a longtime foreign correspondent and a regular commentator on PBS Washington Week in Review. Robinson has traveled extensively in the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America for her work. She is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Robinson received a B.A. with high honors from Swarthmore College in political science, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and received the Maria Moors Cabot prize from Columbia University.

Recent Projects

  • Political-Military Assessment of U.S. Counter-ISIL Strategy
  • Assessment of Counter-ISIL Air Campaign
  • Special Warfare as a Strategic Imperative
  • Theory and History of Political Warfare

Selected Publications

Linda Robinson, Paul D. Miller, John Gordon IV, Jeffrey Decker, Michael Schwille, Raphael S. Cohen, Improving Strategic Competence: Lessons from 13 Years of War, RAND (RR-816-A), 2014

Honors & Awards

  • Bronze Medal Award, RAND

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: BBC/PRI, The Takeaway; C-SPAN, Washington Journal; Federal News Radio; Here and There, Santa Fe Public Radio

Commentary: Breaking Defense; CFR; Foreign Affairs; New York Times; U.S. News & World Report; Wall Street Journal; Washington Post; USA Today


  • A battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, following U.S. missile strikes, April 6, 2017

    The Need for a Strategy from the Trump Administration

    The Trump administration needs to articulate its policy toward Syria and Russia and its campaign to counter the Islamic State group. A coherent national security strategy could steer the U.S. through these complex problems.

    Apr 10, 2017 Newsweek

  • A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter watches a convoy of his forces advancing north of Raqqa, Syria, February 5, 2017

    To Take Raqqa, the U.S. Must Work with Its Partner in the Fight Against the Islamic State Group

    Turkey strongly opposes the U.S. bid to arm the Syrian Kurds. Rushing into Raqqa without reaching agreement with Turkey would jeopardize larger U.S. regional and even global geopolitical objectives.

    Mar 13, 2017 U.S. News & World Report

  • Displaced people who fled ISIS arrive at a military checkpoint before being transported to camps in eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 25, 2017

    Stabilizing Mosul After the Battle Against ISIS

    U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have retaken the east bank of Mosul and are planning to take the west soon. The military operations that oust ISIS are crucial to the city's liberation but failing to get the civilian response right risks a widening civil war.

    Feb 9, 2017 Newsweek

  • Soldiers from 7th Special Forces Group Airborne are suspended by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a training event Eglin Air Force Base, February 5, 2013

    ISIS vs Special Ops

    However critical to the fight against ISIS, using special operations forces for raids represents only half of the needed military adjustment. The other half is the effort to build indigenous forces capable of taking and holding territory in Iraq and Syria.

    Dec 8, 2015 Foreign Affairs

  • A masked American soldier in a sandstorm in Baghdad, Iraq

    Book Review: 'God Is Not Here,' by Bill Russell Edmonds

    'God Is Not Here' shows how not to send a soldier to war. The experience is searing and often brutal, and only a well-led, well-trained, cohesive unit can help servicemen and servicewomen do their duty and survive both mentally and physically.

    May 19, 2015 New York Times

  • Mark Hulkower and fellow defense attorneys speak to members of the media outside of the U.S. District Court after five Blackwater security guards were charged with killing 14 unarmed civilians and wounding 20 others in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad

    The Future of Blackwater and Other Guns for Hire

    The story of how private military security companies came to play a pivotal role in wartime operations is an important one, and Ann Hagedorn, a former reporter for the Journal, was right to take it on.

    Oct 28, 2014 The Wall Street Journal

  • Afghan Uniformed Police and Afghan Border Police leading a presence patrol

    Train Afghans, Corral Al Qaeda: America's Enduring Mission in Afghanistan

    The mission of preventing al Qaeda from threatening the U.S. is an enduring one that will require a long-term commitment not just to counterterrorism, but to training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces so that they are better able to prosecute their own campaign against terrorists.

    Feb 11, 2014 Breaking Defense

  • A Special Forces Master Mountaineering Course

    Five Profound Choices Special Ops Face Next Year

    If 2013 was the year of decisions, 2014 will be the year special operations forces implement their roadmap for the future. But where exactly does that road lead? The trajectory will be determined by several budgetary and policy choices that the U.S. military, policymakers and Congress will make in 2014.

    Nov 1, 2013 Breaking Defense

  • Pakistani girl holds up a picture she drew depicting the U.S. drone strike on her village which killed her grandmother

    The Downside of Drones

    The chief political drawback is that target countries' populations view drone attacks as violations of their sovereignty every bit as much as manned raids. The chief military drawback: A drone attack destroys the critical intelligence that is needed to ensure that the tactical strike can be converted to strategic advantage.

    Nov 1, 2013 U.S. News & World Report

  • The opening of the 1st Afghan National Army Special Operations Brigade, Aug. 20, 2013

    The Future of Counterterrorism: Fewer Drones, More Partnerships

    Drones are just one of three principal U.S. counterterrorism tools. Special Operations forces are now relying on a more balanced mix of tactics: Launching raids and developing partner forces offer more versatility than drone strikes and will probably become the wave of the future as America's big wars wind down.

    Oct 21, 2013 The Washington Post

  • coalition forces in Afghanistan

    Special Ops Global Whack-a-Mole

    A new model for our nation's special forces could follow the approach used in Colombia and the Philippines, where special forces planned ongoing campaigns that use numerous advisory, civil affairs, and informational activities to address those governments' weaknesses in providing security and ending conflicts.

    Apr 8, 2013 USA Today and CFR