Kiron K. Skinner

Director of Policy Planning, U.S. Department of State

Kiron K. Skinner directs the following academic initiatives at Carnegie Mellon University: the Center for International Relations and Politics; the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program; the Institute for Politics and Strategy; and the Institute for Strategic Analysis. For many years, Professor Skinner was a faculty member in the Department of History and the Department of Social and Decision Sciences (SDS). As director of the Institute for Politics and Strategy, Professor Skinner now oversees the creation and development of Carnegie Mellon’s newest academic unit as well as the other entities she helped create while in SDS. She also holds courtesy appointments in SDS, Heinz College, and the Institute for Software Research, a department of the School of Computer Science. She is a distinguished fellow in Cylab, a major cyber-security research center associated with the College of Engineering. Her areas of expertise are international relations, international security, US foreign policy, and political strategy.

At the Hoover Institution, Professor Skinner is the W. Glenn Campbell Research Fellow. She is a member of three Hoover Institution projects: the Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy, the working group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict, and the Arctic Security Initiative.

Professor Skinner is currently writing a book explaining why the first decade of the global war on terror actually began, for the United States, in the late 1970s and 1980s, the era typically seen through the prism of the Cold War’s unraveling. Using archival and public sources as well as statistical techniques, Professor Skinner seeks to show how institutional and doctrinal responses to external shocks related to terrorism and Middle East dynamics induced a shift in US grand strategy from primarily Cold War contingencies toward those focused on the emergence of Islamism. 

Professor Skinner’s earlier work includes five coauthored books on President Ronald Reagan. Two of them (Reagan, in His Own Hand and Reagan, a Life in Letters) were New York Times best sellers. Reagan, in His Own Hand won Hoover Institution’s Uncommon Book Award; Reagan, a Life in Letters was named one of the best books of 2003 by the Los Angeles Times. The Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons from Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin, coauthored with Serhiy Kudelia, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and Condoleezza Rice, was excerpted on the opinion page of the New York Times. Skinner is a contributing writer to and her opinion essays have also appeared in, the National Review, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, among other publications.

In terms of the philosophy of science, Professor Skinner agrees with many social scientists who contend that historical research and qualitative analysis can be scientific rather than impressionistic if the following building blocks for good science are clearly stated: assumptions, hypotheses, dependent variables, independent variables, and the relationship between or among those variables. Clarifying a systematic story when investigating a constant may also contribute to scientific research.

Professor Skinner holds that systematic description and explanation are essential to understanding phenomena under investigation. They complement, rather than compete with, predictive analysis. Put simply, the intellectual space where political history and political science meet has untapped potential for creating new science and scientifically grounded public policy. These premises are reflected in Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons from Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin, which Professor Skinner coauthored with Serhiy Kudelia, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and Condoleezza Rice, and they inform her forthcoming works.

The inherent tension among political conservatism, political liberalism, and libertarianism is of great interest to Professor Skinner. She views this tension as fundamental to the existence of the United States as a constitutional republic with a set of democratic practices and institutions unique among Western democracies and without parallel in world history. Many of her opinion essays and other writings reflect her interest in understanding this phenomenon and its effects. Professor Skinner is the general editor for Ideology and American Politics, a book series for Palgrave Macmillan. Books in this series will use a range of methodological approaches to investigate the impact of ideology and domestic institutional arrangements on US foreign and domestic politics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 

The theoretical literature in political science that seeks to uncover the domestic power plays that affect politics among nations frames Professor Skinner’s writing on international relations theory, US defense, and economic, energy, and foreign policy. Seeking to reveal the domestic politics of public policy does not mean that the concept of the national interest must be dispensed with completely. Some of Professor Skinner’s writings investigate the long-standing belief that despite the fact that national leaders must satisfy diverse, if competing, domestic constituencies, nation-states have objective national interests.

Professor Skinner’s commitment to humanities research is reflected in her role as an associate editor of Telos, a leading scholarly journal in the humanities.

Professor Skinner’s government service includes membership on the US Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board as an adviser on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (2001–07); the Chief of Naval Operations’ Executive Panel (2004–16); the National Academies Committee on Behavioral and Social Science Research to Improve Intelligence Analysis for National Security (2009–11); and the National Security Education Board (2004–11). In 2010, Skinner was appointed to the advisory board of the George W. Bush Oral History Project. From 2012 to 2015, Professor Skinner served on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs.

Professor Skinner’s public service also includes membership on the boards of the American Australian Council, Friends of Ronald Reagan, Grove City College, Propel Schools, and Saint Vincent College.

In US presidential politics, Professor Skinner has served as a foreign policy surrogate for the Bush-Cheney 2004 reelection campaign; a senior foreign policy adviser to Speaker Newt Gingrich during his presidential campaign in 2011–12; a foreign policy surrogate during the final stretch of Governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign; and a foreign policy adviser to Senator Rand Paul during his presidential bid in 2015-16.

Professor Skinner is a lifetime director on the board of the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.  She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City and the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles. 

In 2015, Professor Skinner joined the American Australian Council, Washington, DC; the George C. Marshall Missile Defense Advisory Board at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC; and the Washington, DC-based U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Pennsylvania Advisory Committee.

Professor Skinner holds MA and PhD degrees in political science from Harvard University and undergraduate degrees from Spelman College and Sacramento City College. She has an honorary doctor of laws degree from Molloy College, Long Island.


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