The Colossally Dishonest Swamp Attack On Dr. Sebastian Gorka's First-Rate Scholarship

I read with increasing alarm what appears to be a coordinated smear campaign by former members of the Obama administration and their ivory tower proxies, taking aim in the now-partisan press (including the New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR) to undermine the reputation of strategic theorist Dr. Sebastian Gorka. Gorka has risen to prominence over this very same period after his appointment to serve as deputy assistant to President Donald Trump.

Without a drop of evidence, these critics have unfairly ridiculed Gorka’s fine scholarship and academic background, ignoring his many contributions to the literature of warfare over many years. In so doing, these liberal policymakers and ivory-tower academics in international relations and strategic studies show they remain unfamiliar with – and consequently unappreciative of – the great work their counterparts at America’s military academies. In fact, they appear all too-quick to dismiss America’s military scholars whose dedication and service to America’s warfighters should instead be respected and appreciated.

This is very much the case in the recent assault upon the reputation of Dr. Gorka. Gorka’s work deserves to be read, not attacked without merit. The attacks we see seem to be the work of a small group of Obama partisans indifferent to the carnage caused on their own watch, based on their failed leadership and strategy. They are likely still in shock at now being exiled from the swamp, but their own records speak to their responsibility for the rise of ISIS, and the spread of jihadist violence across the Middle East, North Africa and into the heart of Europe. Now, they have launched a coordinated hit job against Gorka within weeks of his joining the administration.

Consider perhaps the most egregious example, by Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin in the Feb. 24 edition of the New York Times. Their hit-piece was shamefully mistitled, “The Islamophobic Huckster in the White House.” Simon, a former NSC-staffer now at Amherst College, and Benjamin, the State Department’s former counterterrorism coordinator now at Dartmouth, were both Obama administration officials and thus complicit in the orgy of violence unleashed by Obama’s counterterrorism policies.

Nearly as offensive was Daniel W. Drezner’s Washington Post hit-piece, “Survival Tips for Sebastian Gorka, PhD,” which came to press three days later, which stooped so low as to malign Dr. Gorka’s doctoral thesis, which I myself have found to be a fascinating, thoughtful, and original work. I know originality of thought, especially conservative thought, is seldom welcome within the liberal-biased academy, so one must fear for any students of Drezner who dare to think outside the box, or more aptly, outside the bubble. But don’t take my word for it, you can read Dr. Gorka’s fascinating dissertation here.

Fortunately, the conservative press has fought back valiantly, with rapid-fire defenses of Gorka’s intellect and integrity following up swiftly after the attacks. Bill Gertz counter-attacked with “Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s counterterrorism adviser, glad to take media flak” in the Washington Times on Feb. 27 (also appearing under the equally engaging title, “For White House Counterterror Adviser, Media Attacks Are Latest Theater of Battle” in the Washington Free Beacon). On the same day, Jordan Schachtel presented “Meet the media’s latest target for political destruction in Trump’s White House: Dr. Sebastian Gorka” in Conservative Review, as Colin Dueck brought forth “The Washington Post Smeared Sebastian Gorka” in National Review. On the next day, Michael Rubin mopped up with “The Bizarre Campaign against Trump Aide Seb Gorka” in the Washington Examiner.

The swift responses have gone far to reduce the damage hoped for by Gorka’s character assassins. As Dueck put it: “Gorka’s critics, including those at the Post, appear to have developed selective amnesia about the counterterror record of the recently departed Obama administration” They were equally amnesic about Gorka’s writings, including his 2016 book Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War, in which he explained: “We are not at war with Islam. The people most imminently in danger, in fact, are the nonviolent and non-extremist Muslims of the Middle East, such as our allies in Jordan and the modern Muslims of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.”

While Gorka has been dishonestly lambasted as an ill-informed Islamophobe, his book has earned high praise on Goodreads, with a laudable 4.36 average rating from an impressive total of 339 readers and 42 reviews. If only my books found their way to this many readers!

While I have never personally met Dr. Gorka, I first came across his work in 2010 after publishing an article in volume 58 of Joint Force Quarterly (JFQ), “Clan, the State, and War” (pp 20-21), which sought to update the classic “three images” in neo-realist IR theory by adding a fourth ‘tribal image’ for our new, complex, granular world of asymmetrical warfare. Twelve pages past my piece, I found an even more interesting article that sought to update Clausewitz’s Trinity of War for this very same asymmetric world – and this was Gorka’s “The Age of Irregular Warfare … So What?

So impressed was I by Gorka’s effort to modernize Clausewitz for our asymmetric world, that I would include a lengthy discussion of his ideas in my 2012 Continuum volume, The Art of War in an Asymmetric World (thoughtfully reviewed here on LSE’s blog), dedicating a full ten pages in my fourth chapter to Gorka’s innovative and thoughtful update of Clausewitz’s “Trinity of War” for our age of terror which he presented in JFQ as well as his jointly-authored “Getting the Next War Right: Beyond Population-centric Warfare,” which he co-wrote with Thomas A. Marks and Robert Sharp in Volume 1, Issue 3 of PRISM.

As Gorka describes in his enduring JFQ article:

“Today’s irregular enemy should be understood in a more egalitarian fashion … the trinity of the irregular enemy affords and invites an interchangeability of roles and functions. Leaders can be fighters, followers can become leaders, and both can interpret and feed into the enemy’s understanding of why force is necessary and what ultimate purpose it serves. In other words, the components of the Clausewitzian Trinity have become utterly fluid and interchangeable.”

But “in today’s irregular context,” Gorka argues, “we can replace the rationale of the trinity with the transcendental end that the true believers see themselves as serving.”  Even when confronted by such an opponent, Gorka finds that:

“Clausewitz is still valuable … If we have the audacity to update the Prussian master’s trinity, we should perhaps renew our faith in his famous dictum, even while recognizing how much we have misinterpreted it as of late. War may in fact serve politics as its extension in the Westphalian way of doing business, but we should also understand that war is politics, and politics is war. For too many years, it is the violence—the kinetic effect—that has been our focus. Today, we face a foe who knows that war starts with ideas and depends on them, far more than it depends on weapons.”



The Trinity of War Expanded. Source: Sebastian L.v. Gorka, “The Age of Irregular Warfare … So What?JFQ 58 (July 2010), 36.


Barry Scott Zellen writes about war, strategy, and state-tribe relations on the periphery of the Westphalian world. More about his writings can be found at


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