Election 2012: The national security agenda
Obama vs. Romney as commander-in-chief: The surrogate debate
About This Event


Post-Event Summary
On Wednesday, only a day before the U.S. vice presidential debate, surrogates from the Obama and Romney campaigns met to discuss how their candidates would respond to the most difficult national security questions. Sequestration was at the center of the discussion.

Richard Verma, Obama surrogate and former assistant secretary of state, indicated that although the sequester has received broad bipartisan support, even the president does not want to see these cuts implemented. Dov Zakheim, surrogate for the Romney campaign and former undersecretary of defense, responded by urging the president to work with Congress to reach a compromise before the cuts take effect in January, or else risk undermining U.S. credibility abroad.

Verma then shifted the conversation to Libya, explaining that its current situation remains difficult but that U.S. leadership in overthrowing the Qaddafi regime was an unquestionably positive development for the country and region. Meanwhile, he said, Romney's comments on the administration's handling of the aftermath so soon after the assassination of the American ambassador reveal a dangerous tendency to prejudge before all information is known.

Zakheim then questioned the Obama administration's stance on the ongoing civil war in Syria, suggesting that the president is too cautious when it comes to aiding rebels against a regime despised by both parties.

--Mark Bennett

Event Description
With America’s fiscal challenges at the forefront of the national dialogue, little attention has been paid to national security policies. Join the Center for a New American Security, AEI and the New America Foundation for a debate between top-level surrogates of the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns. Dov S. Zakheim, special adviser on foreign policy and national security for the Romney campaign, and Richard Verma, member of the National Security Advisory Committee for the Obama campaign, will discuss their candidates’ defense and foreign policy agendas.

This is the sixth in a series of collaborations among these institutions during the U.S. presidential campaign season. Past conversations have covered the U.S. role in the world, the U.S. national security budget and U.S. policy in East Asia and the Middle East.


12:30 PM
Registration and Lunch

1:00 PM
Richard Verma, Obama Campaign
Dov S. Zakheim, Romney Campaign
Peter Bergen, New America Foundation
Thomas Donnelly, AEI
Richard Fontaine, Center for a New American Security

2:30 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Mark Bennett at [email protected], 202.862.7184.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at vr[email protected], 202.862.4871.

Speaker Biographies

Peter Bergen is the director of the New America Foundation’s National Security Studies Program, where he leads the program’s analysis of terrorism, counterinsurgency, South Asia’s geopolitics and other national security concerns. He also serves as CNN's national security analyst and is a fellow at New York University's Center on Law and Security. Bergen has written for many publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs and Rolling Stone. He is a contributing editor at The New Republic and has worked as a correspondent for National Geographic Television, Discovery and CNN. Bergen’s books “Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden” (2001) and “The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Al Qaeda's Leader” (2006) were named among the best nonfiction books of the year by The Washington Post, and documentaries based on his books were nominated for Emmy awards in 2002 and 2007. His most recent book is “The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda” (2011).

Thomas Donnelly
is a defense and security policy analyst and co-director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at AEI. He is the co-author, with Frederick W. Kagan, of “Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields” (2010). Among his recent books are: “Ground Truth: The Future of U.S. Land Power” (2008), also co-authored with Frederick W. Kagan; “Of Men and Materiel: The Crisis in Military Resources” (2007), co-edited with Gary J. Schmitt; “The Military We Need” (2005) and “Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Strategic Assessment” (2004). From 1995 to 1999, he was policy group director and a professional staff member for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services. Donnelly also served as a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He is a former editor of Armed Forces Journal, Army Times and Defense News.

Richard Fontaine
is the president of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He served as a senior adviser and senior fellow at CNAS from 2009 to 2012. He previously served as foreign policy adviser to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) for more than five years. He has also worked at the U.S. State Department, the National Security Council and on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Fontaine served as foreign policy adviser to the McCain 2008 presidential campaign and, following that election, as the minority deputy staff director on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Before this, he served as associate director for Near Eastern affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) from 2003 to 2004. He also worked in the NSC’s Asian Affairs directorate, where he covered Southeast Asian issues. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is an adjunct professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Richard Verma
serves on the national security advisory committee for the Obama campaign. He is currently a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP, where he is a member of the international and government affairs practice groups. Verma also serves as senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he works with the national security and international policy team. He was previously senior national security adviser to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and worked in the U.S. House of Representatives for the late Congressman John P. Murtha. In 2008, he was appointed a member of the Commission to Prevent Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism, and, from 2009 to 2011, he was assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs serving as a principal adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the department’s chief liaison to the U.S. Congress. Verma is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dov S. Zakheim
is a special adviser on foreign policy and national security for the Romney campaign. He is currently a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a senior fellow at the CNA Corporation. He previously served as deputy undersecretary of defense for planning and resources in the Reagan administration and as undersecretary of defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) from 2001 to 2004. From 2002 to 2004, Zakheim was also DOD’s coordinator of civilian programs in Afghanistan. He subsequently served as senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton until 2010. In addition to being an adjunct scholar at The Heritage Foundation, Zakheim has also been an adjunct professor at the National War College, Yeshiva University, Columbia University and Trinity College. His published work includes “A Vulcan's Tale: How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan” (2011), “Toward a Fortress Europe?“ (2000), and “Flight of the Lavi: Inside a U.S.-Israeli Crisis” (1996).

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