< Distinguished speaker series

General (ret) Frank McKenzie

Former Commander

The U.S. Central Command

Iran, the United States, and the Middle East

DATE: August 23, 2023 6:00 pm


Event information

“Iran is an ancient Middle East power, but its halcyon days of empire are centuries in the past. Today, it is a revisionist actor with hegemonic ambitions, ruled by a corrupt and self-aggrandizing theocracy. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has sought to export its version of Shia Islam to often unwilling neighbors. At the policy level, the fundamental goals of Iran’s statecraft have been to eject the United States from the Middle East, destroy the state of Israel, and preserve the regime.”

This is the opening paragraph from a recent essay by our next speaker – Retired General Frank McKenzie, who served as commander of the U.S. Central Command from 2019 to 2021.

His message is startling:  in addition to Iran’s ability to “sprint” to nuclear weapons development, it has produced a sophisticated conventional arsenal that takes advantage of its home production of military drones, theater ballistic missiles and land attack cruise missiles.  The drones alone, if sent in a “swarm,” can inundate even American air defenses. As a result, the United States can no longer count on air superiority even over American forces and bases. The Iranian “triad” of unmanned systems can then be deployed to attack air bases, ground and naval bases and population centers.

And the threat is growing “every day.”  In the Middle East region, Iran’s missiles and drones are now an “existential threat to the Gulf states and a direct threat to Israel.”

What is the U.S. doing in response? Successive American presidents have been sending “clumsy and confusing” messages about U.S. intentions to “pivot” to Asia, which countries in the region read as abandonment.

There’s one bright spot, for with American encouragement, beginning in the Trump administration, Arab states in the region are now working with Israel to map out a genuine multilateral response. It hasn’t yet advanced to the political level so that countries can respond to any threat together. That is the near-term challenge, especially with Israel in the throes of civic chaos.

Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. is a graduate of the Citadel and was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 1979 as an infantry officer. He has commanded at platoon, company and battalion levels and led a Marine Expeditionary Unit into Afghanistan in 2004 and Iraq in 2005-2006.  His connection with the Central Command, which covers the Middle East, began in 2010, when he was assigned as the Director, Strategy, Plans, and Policy (J-5). In 2014, he was promoted to lieutenant general and took command of the U.S. Marine forces in the Central Command.

In 2017 he was named director, Joint Staff, and promoted to the rank of General.  He served as commander of the Central Command from March 2019 to April 2022, when he retired from the Marine Corps after 42 years of service.

General McKenzie became the Executive Director of the University of South Florida’s Global and National Security Institute and in May 2022 he also became Executive Director of the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, also known as Cyber Florida.

General McKenzie will address the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs on August 23 over Zoom.  His title: “Iran, the United States, and the Middle East.” Please join us!




Executive Director of the University of South Florida’s Global and National Security Institute

Executive Director of the Florida Center for Cybersecurity (Cyber Florida)

President of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Applied Engineering at the University of South Florida

Distinguished Senior Fellow on National Security at the Middle East Institute

Member of the International Advisory Committee of the National Council on U.S. Arab relations

Member of the National Security Advisory Council, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition

Military Experience 

The Citadel graduate, 1979

Infantry officer, Marine Corps

Lieutenant colonel, who commanded First Battalion, Sixth Marines

Commanding Officer of the 22nd MEU (SOC), led the MEU on combat deployments to Afghanistan (2004) and Iraq (2005-06)

Military Secretary to the 33rd and 34th Commandants of the Marine Corps (2006-07)

Deputy to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Stability, International Security Assistance Force (Kabul, Afghanistan, 2009)

Director, Strategy, Plans, and Policy for the U.S. Central Command (2010)

Marine Corps Representative to the Quadrennial Defense Review (2012)

Former Commander of the United States Central Command (2019-2022)

In the News

Iran’s Military Drone Program: Security Implications and Policy Responses | The Washington Institute

General Kenneth McKenzie on Iran

CENTCOM commander ‘comfortable’ with tradeoffs from Iran nuclear deal

CENTCOM commander warns about Iranian drone threat during House hearing

MEI Defense Leadership Series: Episode 18 with former U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie

Special Briefing with General Kenneth McKenzie, Commander of the U.S. Central Command

‘They’re Very Close.’ U.S. General Says Iran Is Nearly Able to Build a Nuclear Weapon

Gen. McKenzie on U.S. policy, commitments and action in the Middle East and Asia

A general’s retirement is a chance to reflect on America’s standing in the Middle East

General Frank McKenzie interview with WVTM 13

Retirement Ceremony Honors CENTCOM Commander

Former US Central Command chief will head new USF security institute