2016 Participant Bios

General John R. Allen, USMC (Ret)

Co-Director, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence Special, The Brookings Institution

General Allen holds a B.S. in operations analysis from the U.S. Naval Academy, M.A. in national security studies from Georgetown University, M.S. in strategic intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College, and M.S. in national security strategy from the National Defense University.

He was named the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL by President Obama on September 12, 2014.  He served in that position until November, 2015.  From April 2013 to May 2014, he served as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Defense on Middle East Security leading the Security Dialogue of the Middle East Peace Process.  General Allen commanded the NATO International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces in Afghanistan from July 2011 to February 2013.  Prior to that tour, he served as Deputy Commander, of the U.S. Central Command.  From 2007-2008, as the Deputy Commander of Multi-National Force – West in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, he played a major role in the Sunni tribal “Awakening Movement” or Sahawa al Iraq.  Upon his retirement in 2013, General Allen had achieved nearly 38 years of service in the Marine Corps and the Joint Force.  He holds numerous U.S. and foreign personal and campaign awards. 

He is a Senior Fellow at the Merrill Center of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is on the Boards of several companies including two artificial intelligence companies.

Jon B. Alterman, Ph.D

Senior Vice President, Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Middle East Program Director at CSIS

Jon B. Alterman is a senior vice president at CSIS, holds the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and the director of the center’s Middle East Program. Prior to joining CSIS in 2002, he served as a member of the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State and as a special assistant to the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. He is a member of the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel and served as an expert adviser to the Iraq Study Group (also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission). In addition to his policy work, he teaches Middle Eastern studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Before entering government, he was a scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace and at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 1993 to 1997, Alterman was an award-winning teacher at Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. in history. He also worked as a legislative aide to Senator Daniel P. Moynihan (D-NY), responsible for foreign policy and defense.

Alterman has lectured in more than 30 countries on five continents on subjects related to the Middle East and U.S. policy toward the region. He is the author or editor of nine books on the Middle East. His opinion pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and other major publications. He is an associate fellow at the Geneva Center for Security Policy and a former international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he is now a life member. He received his A.B. from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Dr. Mia Bloom

Professor of Communication at Georgia State University

Mia Bloom is a Canadian academic and author that holds a B.A. in Russian, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from McGill University; M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University, and PhD in Political Science from Columbia University.

Dr. Bloom is known as an expert on terrorism, specializing in ethnic conflict, rape in war and child soldiers. She conducts ethnographic research in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, and speaks 8 languages.

She has authored books and articles on terrorism including Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (2005), Bombshell: Women and Terror (2011), Small Arms: Children and Terror (2017) with John Horgan, and Veiled Threats: Women and Jihad (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). She is a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and a fellow at the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Penn State. She has held research/teaching appointments at Princeton, Cornell, Harvard and McGill Universities.

Ambassador Gerald Feierstein

Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

Ambassador Feierstein was born in Philadelphia and holds a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy from Point Park College in Pittsburgh, Pa. and a Master's Degree in Political Science from Duquesne University.  

He retired from the Foreign Service in May 2016 after a 41 year career. At the time of his retirement he held the rank of Career Minister. During his service, Feierstein served in 9 overseas postings, including three tours of duty in Pakistan as well as tours in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Tunisia, Jerusalem, and Lebanon. In 2010, President Obama appointed Feierstein to be the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, where he served until 2013. At the time of his retirement, Ambassador Feierstein was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. 

In addition to his career-long focus on the Near East and South Asia, Ambassador Feierstein also played a prominent role developing and implementing State Department policies and programs to counter violent extremism. As Deputy Coordinator and then Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism at State from 2006-2008, Feierstein led the development of initiatives to build regional networks to confront extremist groups, as well as to counter terrorist financing and promote counter-terrorism messaging. He continued to focus on defeating terrorist groups through subsequent tours as Deputy Chief of Mission in Pakistan and as Ambassador to Yemen.

Dr. William McCants

Senior Fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution and Director of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World.

Dr. McCants is  a  leading scholar of militant Islamism and holds a PhD from Princeton University.  He is also an adjunct faculty member at  Johns Hopkins University, and has held various government and think tank positions related to Islam, the Middle East, and counter-terrorism.

From 2009 to 2011, Dr. McCants served as a senior advisor  on violent extremism to the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. He has lived in Israel, Egypt and London.

Dr. McCants is the author of Founding Gods, Inventing Nations: Conquest and Culture Myths from Antiquity to Islam (Princeton University Press, 2011) and The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State (St. Martin's Press, 2015).


Hisham Melhem, Analyst for Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC          

Hisham Melhem writes a weekly column for Al-Arabiya English Web and is the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily.  Mr. Melhem received his BA in Philosophy from Villanova University in 1976; then pursued his graduate studies at Georgetown University.  

Mr. Melhem's writings appeared in publications ranging from the literary journal Al-Mawaqef in Beirut to the LA Times, Huffington Post as well as in magazines such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and Politico Magazine,  

He interviewed President Obama for Al-Arabiya in what was the president’s first ever sit down interview; he also interviewed many other American and international public figures, including former President George W. Bush, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, and Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry among others.


Sam Nunn, Distinguished Professor, The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology; Co-Chairman and CEO, Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Sam Nunn is co-chairman and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a charitable organization working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. He served as a U.S. Senator form Georgia for 24 years (1972-1996) and is retired from the law firm King & Spalding.

In addition to this work with NTI, Nunn has continue his service in public policy as a distinguished professor in The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology and as a chairman of the board for the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Nunn attended Georgia Tech, Emory University and Emory Law School, where he graduated with honors in 1962. After active duty service in the U.S. Coast Guard, he served six years in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. He first entered politics as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives in 1968.

During his tenure in the U.S. Senate, Nunn served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He also served on the Intelligence and Small Business Committees. His legislative achievements include the landmark Department of Defense Reorganization Act, drafted with the late Senator Barry Goldwater, and the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which provided assistance to Russia and the former Soviet Republics for securing and destroying their excess nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.


Dr. Nadia Oweidat, Smith Richardson Fellow at New America.

Nadia Oweidat is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. Dr. Oweidat was born and raised in Jordan, holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Jordan, M.A. in International Studies from the University of Wyoming, and PhD in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford, where she was awarded the prestigious Weidenfeld Leadership Scholarship.  In 2014, she was chosen by the Council of the United States and Italy to participate in its 30th Annual Young Leaders Conference in Italy.

Currently, Dr. Oweidat has been conducting research on Internet trends and social media patterns among Arab youth for various clients, including Google Inc. Dr Oweidat is currently developing a collaborative online platform that will give visibility to Arabic speakers who share her commitment for freedom of thought and expression in the Middle East.

For the past ten years, Dr. Oweidat has dedicated her research to identifying strategies for promoting critical thinking, tolerance, and pluralism in the Middle East. In the process, Dr. Oweidat has co-authored several studies for the RAND Corporation, including The Kefaya Movement and Barriers to the Broad Dissemination of Creative Works in the Arab World (2008). Her expertise spans a wide range of contemporary issues such Islamic extremism and counter-terrorism strategies, the ideological evolution of al-Qaeda, Salafi jihadi networks, jihadi strategies in Iraq, Iranian ascendancy in the Arab world, the radicalization of Muslim youth and the Arab Spring.

In 2007, she initiated and co-led a research effort to look into works by Arabic-speakers that counter violence and extremism, including fiction, non-fiction, cartoons and film that advance values of tolerance, pluralism and the ability to contend with ambiguity without violence. She also initiated and led an analysis of the grassroots Egyptian reform movement Kefaya.

She has appeared on various Arabic and English networks including BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera Arabic, Al-Arabiyya, BBC Arabic and National Public Radio. 

Lawrence (Larry) Rubin

Associate Professor at The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and Faculty Affiliate on the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Rubin received his PhD in Political Science from UCLA (2009) and earned degrees from University of Oxford, London School of Economics, and UC Berkeley. His research interests include Middle East politics and international security with a specific focus on Islam and politics, Arab foreign policies, and nuclear proliferation. He has conducted research in Morocco, Egypt, Israel, the UAE, and Yemen.

Rubin is the author of Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics (Stanford University Press, 2014). His other work has been published in academic journals such as British Journal of Middle East StudiesInternational Studies Review, Politics, Religion & Ideology, Middle East Policy, Terrorism and Political Violence, and Contemporary Security Policy. In addition to appearing in international and national media, Rubin has published articles in The Washington Post, The National Interest, Lawfare, and for the Brookings Institution. Rubin is a co-editor and contributor Terrorist Rehabilitation and Counter-Radicalisation: New Approaches to Counter-terrorism (Routledge 2011).

Prior to coming to Georgia Tech, Rubin was a Research Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs with the Dubai Initiative in Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government (2009-2010), and was lecturer on the Robert and Myra Kraft chair in Arab politics at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University (2008-2009). Outside of Academia, he has held positions at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies and the RAND Corporation. Rubin serves as the Associate Editor for the journal Terrorism and Political Violence.

His research has been supported by the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, the Institute of Global Cooperation and Conflict, the U.S. Department of Education, Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, Project on Middle East Political Science, Israel Institute, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Admiral James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld, Jr., USN (Ret)

Distinguished Professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology.

Sandy Winnefeld graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in Aerospace Engineering and received his commission through the NROTC program.  He began his naval service as a fighter pilot, flying the F-14 Tomcat during several deployments to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf regions, and serving as an instructor at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as “Top Gun.”  During this period, he also was senior aide to General Colin L. Powell.

After fighter squadron command, he graduated from the Navy’s nuclear power school and subsequently commanded USS CLEVELAND and USS ENTERPRISE.  He also led the THEODORE ROOSEVELT Carrier Strike Group while supporting operations in support of our troops in Iraq.  Later he commanded NATO Joint Command Lisbon, Striking and Support Forces NATO, and the United States SIXTH Fleet.  After serving as the Joint Staff Director of Strategic Plans and Policy, he assumed command of United States NORTHERN Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.  He retired in 2015 after four years serving as the ninth Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nation’s number two ranking military officer.

A frequently published author, Sandy is also a member of the Engineering Hall of Fame at Georgia Institute of Technology. He is a senior non-resident fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  He also serves on several boards and in advisory positions in the business community.

Dr. Lorenzo Vidino

Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security.

Dr. Vidino , is a native of Italy who holds American citizenship. He earned a law degree from the University of Milan Law School and a doctorate in international relations from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has held positions at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the RAND Corporation, and the Center for Security Studies (ETH Zurich).

Dr. Vidino is considered an expert on Islamism in Europe and North America. His research over the past 15 years has focused on the mobilization dynamics of jihadist networks in the West; governmental counter-radicalization policies; and the activities of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired organizations in the West.

The author of several books and numerous articles, Dr. Vidino’s most prominent work is The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, a book published in 2010 by Columbia University Press, with an Arabic edition released the following year by the Al Mesbar Studies and Research Center. The book offers a comparative study of Islamist organizing in various Western countries as well as the wide-ranging public policy responses by Western leaders.

Dr. Vidino has testified before the U.S. Congress and other parliaments; advised law enforcement officials around the world; and taught at universities in the U.S. and Europe. He regularly provides commentary to diverse media outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, PBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, BBC, Al Jazeera, The London Times, The Telegraph, Reuters, and more. He delivers presentations to a wide variety of audiences, including policymakers, students, and the general public.