ISW's Overwatch Podcast Series
Overwatch, a podcast series from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), goes beyond the news headlines to give listeners analysis and commentary on issues related to U.S. national security and American foreign policy. The episodes feature discussions with experts and practitioners to explore what challenges and opportunities lie ahead for the U.S. Episodes are released on a biweekly basis.
Crisis Brief is a special edition of ISW's Overwatch podcast series intended to provide timely updates on unfolding crises with implications for U.S. national security.
- Crisis Brief series on the escalating protests in Iraq
- Crisis Brief series on Turkey's Syria Incursion
Episode 21: Iran Remains Committed to Syria Despite Ongoing Pandemic and Economic Collapse
Iran views Syria as an integral component of its military power in the Middle East. Despite converging public health and economic crises severely straining Iran’s resources, the country is sustaining, and possibly increasing, its military investment in Syria. In this episode of Overwatch, Middle East Program Manager Nicholas Heras, Syria Research Assistant John Dunford, and CTP Iran Analyst Kyra Rauschenbach discuss the nature of Iran’s attachment to Syria and what it may mean in the future.
Episode 20: Kremlin Suffers Setbacks in the Balkans
Russia, the US, the EU, and NATO all consider the Balkans to be a region of significant strategic value. Despite the Kremlin’s best efforts to the contrary, the region is currently swinging toward the West, with North Macedonia recently joining NATO and several other Balkan states making progress toward EU membership. In this episode of Overwatch, ISW Russia Team Lead Nataliya Bugayova and Research Assistant George Barros discuss the past, present, and future of this historically volatile region.
Episode 19: Pandemic Enables Spread of Salafi Jihadism in Africa
Years of poor governance and economic insecurity have allowed Salafi Jihadist groups to metastasize in several parts of Africa. In this episode of Overwatch, ISW Middle East Security Program Manager Nicholas Heras and CTP Research Manager Emily Estelle discuss the opportunities that the COVID-19 crisis presents for these groups to expand the reach of their terrorist activities.
Episode 18: Pressures and Opportunities Arise for Putin as Oil and COVID Crises Converge
The Kremlin is using the COVID pandemic to advance a range of goals. Russia is leveraging UN calls for limited relaxations of certain economic sanctions to paint the US as anti-humanitarian. Meanwhile, Kremlin internal security is using quarantines to justify the testing of new tech-based authoritarian controls. In this podcast, Nataliya Bugayova, George Barros, and Mason Clark discuss these developments and more.
Episode 17: Walk Away from the Taliban, Not Afghanistan
General David H. Petraeus (US Army, Retired) and Vance Serchuk speak with ISW Founder and President Dr. Kimberly Kagan on the dangers of the US deal with the Taliban. They assess what the United States must do in Afghanistan to secure its national interests and prevent another 9/11. The US strategy in Afghanistan has been costly and unsatisfying - but also reasonably successful in preventing another terrorist attack on the homeland. The United States has made a peace deal with the Taliban in order to extricate its forces from Afghanistan, but it will soon lose the means to compel the Taliban to fulfill its part of the bargain. Should the United States pull its military out of Afghanistan anyway? Will the Taliban prevent international terrorists from returning? If so, can the United States counter terrorists in Afghanistan from afar?
General David Petraeus has served as Director of the CIA, Commander of Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Commander of the US Central Command. He is now Chairman of the KKR Global Institute and a partner at KKR. He also serves on the Board of Directors at the Institute for the Study of War.
Vance Serchuk is the Executive Director of the KKR Global Institute and an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He previously served as the Foreign Policy Adviser to Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Episode 16: Ukraine Considers Talks with Putin's Proxies
Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of converging crises, including COVID-19, to surreptitiously advance his campaign in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials agreed on March 11 to the Kremlin’s demands to consider direct discussions with the Kremlin-controlled proxies in Donbas. This agreement, if finalized, could launch an irreversible process of legitimizing Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. In this episode of Overwatch, ISW Russia Team Lead Nataliya Bugayova and Russia Research Assistants George Barros and Mason Clark discuss this recent development and contextualize it in the Kremlin’s campaign to regain dominant influence in Ukraine.
Episode 15: Russia and Turkey Fail to Implement Ceasefire Deal in Idlib
The December offensive launched by Russian-backed Syrian Regime forces in Greater Idlib Province produced an unprecedented humanitarian disaster. Turkey responded to the offensive with major military deployments to Idlib and a series of escalations against pro-regime forces. In this episode of Overwatch, Middle East Security Program Manager Nicholas Heras and Syria Research Assistant John Dunford discuss the Turkish campaign, the current ceasefire deal, and what to expect next.
Episode 14: Russia's Viral Disinformation in Ukraine
Likely Russian actors launched a disinformation campaign against Ukraine exploiting COVID-19 fears related to the Ukrainian government’s evacuation of its citizens from Wuhan, China. The campaign’s tactics, timing, and nature point toward Kremlin involvement. In this episode of Overwatch, ISW’s Russia Team Lead Nataliya Bugayova and Russia Research Assistant George Barros discuss this information operation, the Kremlin’s disinformation techniques, and larger implications for Ukraine.
Episode 13: Governing After ISIS: What's Next for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s local partner in northeastern Syria, was instrumental in the fight against ISIS and is working to fill the vacuum it left behind. In this episode of Overwatch, ISW’s Research Director Jennifer Cafarella, new Middle East Portfolio Manager Nicholas Heras, and Syria Research Assistant John Dunford discuss the structure and behavior of the SDF, the group’s relationship with the US military, the unique challenges it faces in governing, and its efforts to prevent the resurgence of ISIS within local populations.
Episode 12: Iran's Reserve of Last Resort: Uncovering the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Order of Battle
Qassem Soleimani’s death and the prospect of further US-Iranian military escalation raise the question of Iran’s military capacity. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Ground Forces are Tehran’s reserve of last resort for both internal and external security challenges. The Iranian regime goes to great lengths to obfuscate the IRGC’s military strength and organization of its ground forces. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recently published the groundbreaking report Iran’s Reserve of Last Resort: Uncovering the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Forces Order of Battle. In this episode of Overwatch, AEI Resident Scholar and CTP Director Fred Kagan and CTP Iran Team Lead Nicholas Carl discuss their recent report and the crucial role that the IRGC plays in the regime’s survival and Iranian efforts to project power and export their revolution abroad.
Episode 11: Putin Begins New Phase in Campaign to Retain Power
Vladimir Putin's current term as Russia's President expires in 2024. Over the past two weeks, Putin reshuffled Russia's government, proposed a set of major changes to the Russian constitution, and pledged significant social spending. ISW's Russia Team Lead Nataliya Bugayova describes how this reshuffling fits into Putin's campaign to retain power and the subsequent vulnerabilities Putin will face as he manages this transition.
Episode 10: Insights on Iraqi Fragility from the Ground (January 24, 2020)
Last month, ISW Director of Tradecraft and Innovation, Colonel (Ret.) Ketti Davison, traveled to Iraq with a team of experts organized by the UNHCR. She got a first-hand look at some of the security and humanitarian conditions on the ground in IDP and refugee camps and met with government officials during her trip to central and northern Iraq. On this episode, Ketti shares her key takeaways from this trip and discusses the broader political dynamics that are currently shaking Iraq, a country that remains vital to U.S. national security interests.
Episode 9: The Kremlin's Expanding Media Conglomerate
The Kremlin is trying to pull countries around the world into its information space. Kremlin-linked media outlets signed more than 50 cooperation agreements with counterparts around the world in the last five years. Russia uses its information space to expand its influence, mask the Kremlin's aggression, and spread disinformation that undermines the U.S. and the West. In this episode, ISW's Russia Team Lead Nataliya Bugayova and Russia researcher George Barros discuss their recent publication on the Kremlin's effort to expand Russia's global media presence.
Episode 8: Russia's Year in Review (December 21, 2019)
Russian President Vladimir Putin is about to enter his third decade in power. As we enter 2020, how Putin sees his own position on the global map reveals a lot about what the United States can expect from Russian policy in the future. ISW’s Russia Team Lead Nataliya Bugayova and Research Assistant Mason Clark discuss where Putin has made progress in advancing his goals and where he has faced setbacks during this episode’s 2019 year in review assessment.
Episode 7: Can the U.S. Pull Back from the Middle East Without Risking Its Security? (December 6, 2019)
The U.S. national security community's growing focus on China and Russia is raising questions about the future of America's role in the Middle East region. Can the U.S. pull back from the broader Middle East and expect other actors to contain the threats building in the region? ISW Director of Innovation and Tradecraft Colonel (ret.) Ketti Davison tackles this question and how America should think about its strategy.
Episode 6: Russia's Dead-End Diplomacy in Syria (November 21, 2019)
On this episode, ISW Research Director Jennifer Cafarella discusses her new report “Russia's Dead-End Diplomacy in Syria in a Q&A exchange with Maseh Zarif. Jennifer describes Russia's attempt to exploit the current diplomatic process in Syria to enhance its own credibility and influence in the region and beyond. She outlines what the United States should do to defend its interests and deal with the primary obstacle to peace in Syria – Bashar al-Assad and his regime.
Episode 5: General (Ret.) David Petraeus Decodes Dynamics in the Middle East (October 31, 2019)
Evolving conflicts and unrest are reshaping the Middle East rapidly. The U.S. will continue to have key national interests at stake in this region even as challenges outside it demand greater American attention. ISW Board Member General (Ret.) David H. Petraeus joined Maseh Zarif to share his views on a range of issues, including the state of ISIS post-Baghdadi, Iran’s regional campaigns, U.S. policy in the region, and the challenge of balancing among national security requirements globally.
Episode 4: Are U.S. Partnerships Around the World in Jeopardy? (October 14, 2019)
Maseh Zarif and ISW Director of Innovation and Tradecraft Colonel Ketti Davison (U.S. Army, Retired) discuss regional destabilization in the Middle East in the wake of the crises in Iraq and Syria. They further address how the U.S. withdrawal from Northeastern Syria will have grave consequences for the future of U.S. security operations and partnerships.
Episode 3: Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Nagata Explains the Consequences of a U.S. Withdrawal from Syria (October 13, 2019)
American forces in Northern Syria have begun a "deliberate withdrawal" as Turkish-backed forces continue to deepen their invasion of areas held by the U.S. partner force, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Lieutenant General Michael Nagata (U.S. Army, retired), discusses the immediate and long-term implications of this retreat from Syria. LTG Nagata retired as the Director of Strategy at the National Counterterrorism (NCTC) after a long career in special operations.
Episode 2: Russia's Campaign in Africa (September 27, 2019)
Maseh Zarif talks with his ISW colleagues Nataliya Bugayova and Darina Regio about what Russia is up to in Africa. They discuss Russia’s coordinated campaign to gain economic and political influence, and its attempt to create opportunities for expanding its military presence on the continent. Nataliya and Darina also put this campaign in the context of U.S. interests, identifying why the United States should be concerned and what to look for in the coming months. For background, read "The Kremlin's Campaign in Africa."
Episode 1: ISIS's Second Comeback (September 10, 2019)
ISW's Research Director Jennifer Cafarella discusses her report (written with Brandon Wallace and Jason Zhou) "ISIS's Second Comeback: Assessing the Next Insurgency." Interviewed by ISW's Director of External Relations Maseh Zarif, Jennifer discusses her insights into what the group did in Iraq and Syria to survive the U.S.-led campaign and what it is preparing to do in the future. She also describes the current U.S. role on the ground, potential scenarios in the months ahead, and how the broader fight against jihadists fits into the National Defense Strategy (NDS) framework.