SAS@SMU | The Rise of ISIS

Thursday, November 5, 2015 (5:30 PM – 7:30 PM)
Great Hall, Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Hall (map)

Last year ISIS launched a rapid and ruthless attack in Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi security forces, however, seemed incapable of fighting back. Why was ISIS so effective? Why did the U.S.-trained Iraqi military fail so dramatically? And what are the implications for U.S. strategy and the future of the Middle East?

On November 5, the Tower Center will put these questions to Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Joby Warrick of The Washington Post and Professor Caitlin Talmadge of George Washington University. Warrick is the author of Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (Doubleday, 2015), a spellbinding account of a group that flew under the radar until its sudden victories and horrific violence made it impossible to ignore. Talmadge is the author of The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes (Cornell, 2015), a path breaking book about why militaries fail. Joshua Rovner, the Tower Chair in International Politics and National Security at SMU, will moderate the discussion.

Caitlin Talmadge, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University


Caitlin Talmadge is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at the George Washington University, where her research and teaching focus on U.S. defense policy, civil-military relations, military effectiveness, nuclear strategy, and Persian Gulf security issues. Dr. Talmadge is the author of The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes (Cornell University Press, 2015) and co-author of U.S. Defense Politics: the Origins of Security Policy (Routledge, 2014). Her other writings have appeared in International Security, Security Studies, The Non-Proliferation Review, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Washington Quarterly, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, among other outlets. During 2014-2015, Dr. Talmadge was a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Dr. Talmadge also previously has worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, held fellowships at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard and the Brookings Institution, and served as a consultant to the Office of Net Assessment at the U.S. Department of Defense. She holds an A.B. in Government from Harvard College, summa cum laude, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was also a member of the Security Studies Program.

talmadgeIn The Dictator’s Army, Caitlin Talmadge presents a compelling new argument to help us understand why authoritarian militaries sometimes fight very well—and sometimes very poorly. Talmadge’s framework for understanding battlefield effectiveness focuses on four key sets of military organizational practices: promotion patterns, training regimens, command arrangements, and information management. Different regimes face different domestic and international threat environments, leading their militaries to adopt different policies in these key areas of organizational behavior. Read more

Joby Warrick, Reporter, The Washington Post


Joby Warrick is a best-selling author and a national reporter for The Washington Post. A Pulitzer Prize winner, he served for 19 years with the Post’s national and investigative staffs, focusing primarily on intelligence, diplomacy and security in the Middle East and South Asia. His first book, “The Triple Agent” (Doubleday, 2011), is the true story of the Jordanian-born al-Qaeda spy who led the CIA into a deadly trap at Khost, Afghanistan, in 2009, in the agency’s worst disaster in a quarter-century. The acclaimed non-fiction work was hailed by The Economist as a “chilling tale, told with skill and verve,” and by the Los Angeles Times as a “gripping a true-life spy saga.” Warrick’s second book, “Black Flags” (Doubleday, September 2015), chronicles the rise of the terrorist organization commonly known as ISIS.

As an investigative reporter at The Post, Warrick led the newspaper’s coverage of WMD proliferation and weapons trafficking after 2001, and was among the first American journalists to question pre-war claims about Iraq’s nuclear program. Later, his articles about international proliferation threats earned him the Overseas Press Club of America’s Bob Considine Award in 2004 for best newspaper interpretation of international affairs.

Before coming to The Post, Warrick was an enterprise reporter for The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., where he co-authored “Boss Hog,” a series of investigative stories that documented the political and environmental fallout caused by factory farming in the Southeast. The series won the 1996 “Gold Medal” Pulitzer Prize for public service and nine other national and regional awards, including citations by Investigative Reporters & Editors and the White House Correspondents’ Association.

Warrick worked for five years as a reporter for United Press International, and at age 29 was appointed UPI bureau chief in Vienna, Austria. While in Europe he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall, the overthrow of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu and the collapse of other communist regimes in the former East Bloc. He also previously worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times.

Warrick graduated summa cum laude from Temple University in 1982 with a B.A. in journalism. A native of North Carolina, he lives in Centreville, Va., with his wife and two children.

jobybookWhen the government of Jordan granted amnesty to a group of political prisoners in 1999, it little realized that among them was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist mastermind and soon the architect of an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East. In Black Flags, an unprecedented character-driven account of the rise of ISIS, Joby Warrick shows how the zeal of this one man and the strategic mistakes of Presidents Bush and Obama led to the banner of ISIS being raised over huge swaths of Syria and Iraq. Read more

Registration is now closed as we have reached our full capacity for the event.


The Security and Strategy Program at the Tower Center serves to raise student and public awareness of national and international security affairs. Our principal mission is to prepare SMU undergraduates to become leaders in government service, academia, and industry. We offer a rigorous and demanding set of courses on international relations, national security policy, strategy, American foreign policy, and the politics of military force. The Tower Center also gives students the opportunity to interact with policymakers, military officers, intelligence officials, and diplomats.

The United States has become increasingly active in regional conflicts since the end of the Cold War, and it invests enormous resources into projecting American power abroad. SAS@SMU encourages a vigorous debate on this investment. Along with the annual Tower Center National Security Conference, we organize regular forums and seminars that give the public the chance to converse with leading scholars about cutting edge research in security studies, as well as with government officials and defense industry executives.