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The Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies presents

International Security Policy
Alumni Panel on Middle East Issues

A discussion of key issues in the Middle East and the work being done by recent SIPA ISP concentration graduates.


Rob Barocas, SIPA ’13
Middle East analyst, U.S. Department of Defense

Ted Janis, SIPA ’13
Member, UN Chemical Weapons Destruction Mission in Syria

Major Adam Scher, SIPA ’13
Instructor of American Politics, Policy, & Strategy, U.S. Military Academy

Jennifer Thaxton, SIPA ’11
Deputy Director for the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula, Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy

Moderated by Austin Long
Associate Professor, School of International and Public Affairs and Member, SIWPS

Rob Barocas is a Middle East analyst at the United States Department of Defense, where he focuses on political and military issues. He has been with the Department of Defense since 2004 and has deployed to Iraq three times, returning from his most recent tour in October 2015. While in Iraq, Barocas worked with the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command-Iraq in advising and assisting the Iraqi government with combating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. He has been awarded the Joint Civilian Service Commendation Award three times as well as the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Global War on Terrorism. Barocas received his MPA from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2013. At Columbia, he was an International Fellow and a Department Research Assistant for the International Security Policy Concentration.

Ted Janis served in the United Nations in New York, Copenhagen and most recently in Damascus where he was a member of the chemical weapons destruction mission, providing reporting and operational support to the inspectors. Prior to joining the UN, he was an infantry officer in the United States Army, with whom he deployed twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. Janis has a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University in 2013, and a BA in history and English from Wake Forest University. He is currently a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State, and his next posting will be to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Major Adam Scher is an Instructor of American Politics, Policy and Strategy in the Department of Social Sciences at the United States Military Academy. He holds a B.S. in Political Science with a focus on American Politics (USMA ‘04), and an M.P.A. with a concentration on International Security Policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Maj. Scher was an International Fellow at SIPA and received the Harvey Picker Award for Public Service upon earning his Master’s Degree. He deployed to Iraq from 2005-2006 and again from 2007-2008 with the 101st Airborne Division serving as a rifle platoon leader, company executive officer, and battalion and brigade assistant operations officer. During this time he served as the lead action officer for the Iraqi Provincial elections and worked alongside coalition military forces, USAID, Department of State and United Nations officials. Maj. Scher commanded a Stryker company from the 2d Stryker Cavalry Regiment based in Vilseck, Germany and deployed to the Horn of Panjwai in Kandahar, Afghanistan from 2010-2011. While in Afghanistan Maj. Scher and his company were attached to the Canadian Army in charge of Task Force Kandahar conducting village stability operations in Talukan and Mushan. In 2015, he deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division to Baghdad, Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve where he served as the Iraqi Security Forces Development Officer supporting the advise and assist mission to the Iraqi Ground Forces Command. Additionally, Maj. Scher provided commentary and analysis highlighting the influence of regional politics and policy on the US forces partnered relationship with the Iraqi Army. His current research focuses on US strategy to defeat ISIS, the Iraqi Army’s will to fight, domestic influences on U.S. foreign policy, and presidential war powers. Maj. Scher’s awards and decorations include Bronze Star Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Army Achievement Medal with oak leaf cluster, National Defense Service Medal, Afghan Campaign Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NATO Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Ranger Tab, Parachutists Badge, Air Assault Wings, Pathfinder Badge and the Canadian Chief of the Defense Staff Commendation.

Jennifer Thaxton is the Deputy Director for the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula team in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy’s Middle East office, where she manages bilateral and multilateral defense policy development and implementation. Most recently she focused on UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Before Thaxton joined the office in September 2013, she worked as an analyst for the Navy on Middle East issues for Naval Special Warfare. There, she deployed as the senior analyst in support of Joint Special Operations Task Force – Gulf Cooperation Council and Commander, Task Force – 56 at the Navy’s Central Command. Thaxton also worked as an embedded analyst with the U.S. Army in east Baghdad where she worked on threat network identification, the Sons of Iraq transition and other security issues. In addition to her government experience, Thaxton worked as an international election observer in Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Peru for the Organization of American States and held the position of policy associate at the Center for U.S. Global Engagement. She received her undergraduate degree in comparative political science from the University of Michigan and her Master’s degree from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2011.

Austin Long is an Associate Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs and a Member of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies and the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies at Columbia University. He is also a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Long was previously an Associate Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation. He was an analyst and adviser to the U.S. military in Iraq (2007-2008) and Afghanistan (2011 and 2013). In 2014-2015, Long was a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in Nuclear Security, serving in the Joint Staff J5 (Strategic Plans and Policy) Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Policy Division. His research has appeared in International Security, Security Studies, the Journal of Strategic Studies, Orbis, and Survival. Long received his B.S. from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.