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Meghan O’Sullivan

    • Former Deputy National Security Adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan

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Meghan O'Sullivan is a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Previously, she held a number of posts in the Bush administration, serving variously as a deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, a political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and a staffer at the State Department's Office of Policy Planning. O'Sullivan's Harvard biography credits her with helping "conclude the security agreement and strategic framework agreement between the United States and Iraq" in 2008, and with helping negotiate an "early transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis" during the Iraq War. She is also a strategic adviser to the CEO of the Hess Corporation, a U.S.-based oil and gas company.[1]

O'Sullivan was one of several academics to serve as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign for president.[2] After Romney—himself a Harvard graduate—suggested in April 2012 that President Barack Obama was an elitist who "spent too much time at Harvard," a writer for Talking Points Memo pointed out that Romney's "campaign list[ed] over a dozen advisers with Harvard ties, including Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw and international affairs professor Meghan O'Sullivan."[3]

O'Sullivan is also a columnist for Bloomberg Media, where her writings have focused largely on political and economic issues in the Middle East.[4] In a February 2012 column, O'Sullivan expressed her skepticism that sanctions could achieve regime change in Syria, which she described as the proper objective of international efforts to resolve the standoff between the forces of dictator Bashar al-Assad and the country's armed opposition. Instead, O'Sullivan advocated providing military support for the Syrian opposition, arguing that the United States should help "craft a multilateral strategy for regime change," including "coordinating the efforts of all external actors looking to support those standing against Assad -- and find a way to use military and other support for the opposition as a means to entice it to overcome its divisions and articulate a new vision for Syria." She added that such support should continue even "if Russia and China insist on neutering the UN as a vehicle to address the crisis."[5]

O'Sullivan's views on the limitations of sanctions are apparently longstanding. In 2001, as a fellow at the Brookings Institution, O'Sullivan wrote in a strategic dialogue with Raymond Tanter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that "there have been unrealistic expectations surrounding the use of sanctions—such as the hope that they can bring about regime change. … They should be a complement rather than a substitute to other policies, and may be coupled with incentives or, in some cases, military force to enhance U.S. policy goals toward a target state."[6] In the case of Iraq in particular, O'Sullivan called in February 2001 for a revamped international sanctions regime against the country and the provision of U.S. support for the Iraqi opposition, adding that a "willingness to use military force in larger amounts is also likely to be necessary."[7]

From 2004 to 2007, according to her Harvard biography, O'Sullivan was a "special assistant" to President George W. Bush.[8]

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[1] MittRomney.com, "Mitt Romney Announces Foreign Policy And National Security Advisory Team," October 6, 2011, http://www.mittromney.com/blogs/mitts-view/2011/10/mitt-romney-announces-foreign-policy-and-national-security-advisory-team.

[2] Harvard Belfer Center, Meghan O'Sullivan Bio, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/1575/meghan_l_osullivan.html.

[3] Benjy Sarlin, "Romney, Who Holds Two Harvard Degrees, Says Obama Spent 'Too Much Time' At Harvard," April 5, 2012, http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/04/romney-who-holds-two-harvard-degrees-says-obama-spent-too-much-time-at-harvard.php.

[4] See O'Sullivan's Bloomberg bio and writings at http://www.bloomberg.com/view/bios/meghan-o-sullivan/.

[5] Meghan O'Sullivan, "Sanctions Alone Won't Topple Syria's Assad," Bloomberg, February 22, 2012, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-23/sanctions-alone-won-t-topple-syria-s-assad-meghan-l-o-sullivan.html.

[6] Meghan O'Sullivan and Raymond Tanter, "Sanctions and U.S. Foreign Policy," WINEP, Policy #524, March 13, 2001, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/sanctions-and-u.s.-foreign-policy.

[7] Meghan O'Sullivan, "Iraq: Time for a Modified Approach," Brookings Institution, February 2001, available at http://www.iraqwatch.org/perspectives/brook-iraq-02-01.htm.

[8] Harvard Belfer Center, Meghan O'Sullivan Bio, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/1575/meghan_l_osullivan.html.

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Meghan O’Sullivan Résumé


    • Harvard University: Professor, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
    • Mitt Romney 2012 Presidential Campaign: Foreign policy adviser
    • Brookings Institution: Fellow, 1998-2001


    • National Security Council: Special assistant to George W. Bush (2004-2007), deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan (2006-2007), former senior director for strategic planning and Southwest Asia
    • Coalition Provisional Authority (Iraq): Former political adviser
    • State Department: Staffer at Office of Policy Planning, 2001-2003


    • Hess Corporation: Strategic adviser to CEO


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