About Kael

A native Utahn, Kael Weston served for over a decade in the U.S. State Department, including seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his government career, specific assignments included: U.S. representative on the UN Security Council’s Al Qaeda/Taliban Sanctions Committee in New York; Iraq team, Political Section, U.S. Mission to the United Nations; State Department Political Adviser to a dozen Marine commanding generals, including during and after the biggest battle of the Iraq War (Fallujah, 2004-2007). In this role, he and Marine leaders were responsible for rebuilding the city’s infrastructure, facilitating the return of hundreds of thousands of Fallujans back into the city, establishing a new city council despite numerous assassinations of local politicians, and working closely with Iraqi governors in Ramadi and central Iraqi government representatives in Baghdad. Several nation-wide elections and a constitutional referendum were held across Iraq during this time.

In eastern Afghanistan’s Khost Province, Kael helped prioritize over $50 million dollars in U.S. reconstruction funds and worked to reintegrate former Taliban fighters in coordination with U.S. military leaders and Khost’s Afghan governor. He also met with a group of former Guantanamo Prison detainees and helped lead U.S. government political engagement with Afghan tribal and religious leaders. In Helmand Province, he worked directly with a Marine commanding general during the 2008-2009 U.S. troop surge that doubled Marine forces in the area from just under 11,000 to almost 20,000.

Kael is the author of the book, The Mirror Test (Knopf, 2016) a New York Times Editors’ Choice (NYT Book Review) and Military Times’ Best Book of the Year. He has taught at the college level in Utah and in Quantico, Virginia, at Marine Corps University, as well as leading seminars at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Kael writes monthly for the Salt Lake Tribune and has contributed to NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, The Hill, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Daily Beast, and other publications.

For Kael Weston’s multi-year service in Fallujah, Iraq, the State Department honored him with one of the highest civilian medals, the Secretary of State’s Award for Heroism.

Education: University of Utah, B.A.; Cambridge University, M.Phil.; Fulbright Scholarship, Amsterdam School of International Relations, University of Amsterdam; Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, London School of Economics.

More about Kael

JKWeston.com, book-focused website

Interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. “‘Mirror Test’ Reflects On The Consequences Of The Wars In Iraq And Afghanistan,” May 25, 2016.

“Reflecting on War: Alum Kael Weston, a former State Department official, examines the human costs of conflict” by Elaine Jarvik, University of Utah Continuum Magazine, Fall 2017.

“No Way Out for Iraqis Who Helped U.S. in War” by Adam Entous, Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2014.

“The first emails from Iraq landed in John Kael Weston’s inbox while he was eating breakfast at a Utah ski resort. Islamic Statefighters had just seized Fallujah, and the former State Department diplomat fired off a worried message to the Iraqi policeman who helped him over and over again during the war’s darkest days. 

“‘Are you and your father and family ok?’ Mr. Weston asked Saad Abu Fahad. The American and Iraqi were neighbors in Fallujah, taught each other about their country’s politics and always stayed in touch by email.”

“Taliban Resistance Stalls New Rule in Marjah” by Michael M. Phillips and Alan Cullison, Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2010.

“The Taliban grenade that whizzed overhead was John Kael Weston’s first indication that this town might not be ready for an influx of diplomats, agriculturalists and economic-development specialists.

“The U.S. State Department official visited Marjah on Friday to see whether the week-old allied military offensive had made enough progress to allow the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan government to launch their main mission: Reintroducing Afghan civilian rule to a town that has been under Taliban control. . . .”

“The Renegade Diplomat: Kael Weston’s Afghanistan Turnaround” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Newsweek, November 5, 2012.

“Weston’s willingness to take on the White House and call in chits with generals, all for a lowly grunt he didn’t know, was hardly surprising to those who have served alongside him in the nastiest corners of Iraq and Afghani­stan. Many of his fellow diplomats re­fused to stir trouble, lest they be denied cushy postings in Europe after their war-zone tours. But Weston had no interest in cocktail parties or a long career in the Foreign Service—and no qualms about fight­ing for the interests of ordinary Afghans, Iraqis, and Americans, whether it meant crossing his bosses at State, powerful lo­cal chieftains, or four-star commanders.”

“Weston stands alone in the annals of modern American diplomacy. He spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan—seven consecutive years—than any other State Department officer. . . . he was a political adviser to com­bat units on the battlefield, where he forged uncommonly honest and effec­tive relationships with top command­ers, giving him unrivaled influence in shaping war policy on two fronts. . . . When other officers asked Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, who commanded a Marine brigade in Afghanistan, why he brought Weston on every trip and into every meeting, he told them his po­litical adviser was “the sharpest civilian I know.”

Kael’s articles

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Kael’s guiding values are Better Neighbors and Country over Party.

Kael’s rural family roots in central Utah’s Milford Valley run deep. See a few family photos from 100+ years ago.

Donkeys in the Desert was the chapter of Democrats Abroad that Kael founded when he was stationed in Iraq. Read more about why Kael believes in Democratic values.

Kael Weston