Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

Why the United States Will Never Defeat ISIS

by Micah Zenko Thursday, September 18, 2014
Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq listens to U.S. Commander Maj. Gen. David Petraeus upon his arrival at Mosul airport in northern Iraq before a short helicopter tour of the city on May 18, 2003.
(Schmidt/Courtesy Reuters) Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq listens to U.S. Commander Maj. Gen. David Petraeus upon his arrival at Mosul airport in northern Iraq before a short helicopter tour of the city on May 18, 2003. (Schmidt/Courtesy Reuters)

On the eve of the Iraq War in 2003, while commanding the 101st Airborne Division, then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly asked Rick Atkinson the rhetorical question: “Tell me how this ends.” What began as a private joke between a military commander and an embedded journalist has become a warning for the need to define clear objectives and be cognizant of unexpected outcomes before going to war.  Last week, President Barack Obama attempted to provide clear strategic guidance for the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), declaring: “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL.” Read more »

Guest Post: Tiptoeing Around Iran in Iraq

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard on August 18, 2014, near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan after Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)insurgents withdrew. (Boudlal: Courtesy Reuters) Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard on August 18, 2014, near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan after Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)insurgents withdrew. (Boudlal: Courtesy Reuters)

Helia Ighani is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Iraq appears to be coming apart at the seams. The Sunni terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has expanded dramatically across Iraq over the past few months and murdered more than fourteen hundred Iraqis in August alone, and Iran is one-upping the United States in efforts to regain control. Both countries are actively involved in Iraq’s crisis, but have differing objectives for the future of the country. As the Obama administration strategizes on how to address the threat of ISIS, it should continue to build a coalition and refrain from working solely with Iran. Read more »

U.S. Transparency and the Truth of Targeted Killings

by Micah Zenko Friday, September 5, 2014

This morning, the White House released an unusual statement: “The Department of Defense confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the leader of al-Shabaab, is dead as a result of a U.S. military targeted airstrike in Somalia undertaken over the weekend.” What was particularly unique about the statement is that, previously, the Pentagon has purposely refused to confirm the deaths of terrorist leaders killed with legal counterterrorism strikes. On June 5, 2012, when Pentagon spokesperson then-Capt. John Kirby was asked about the reported death of al Qaeda’s no. 2 official, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Kirby replied: “We don’t discuss the specifics of counterterrorism operations.  So I’m not going to speak to specifics of operations.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Defense Contractors, ISIS, Syria, and Cyber Threats

by Micah Zenko Thursday, August 28, 2014
A U.S. F-18 fighter jet refuels from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over northern Iraq on Aug. 21, 2014. (Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel/Courtesy U.S. Air Force) A U.S. F-18 fighter jet refuels from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over northern Iraq on Aug. 21, 2014. (Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel/Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

Guest Post: The ISIS Video and Military Strategy in Iraq

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, August 20, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on August 20, 2014, vowing that the United States will not be swayed from airstrikes against Islamic State after the group beheaded an American journalist, an act he said is proof that the militants stand for no religion. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on August 20, 2014, vowing that the United States will not be swayed from airstrikes against Islamic State after the group beheaded an American journalist, an act he said is proof that the militants stand for no religion. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Col. Clint Hinote, U.S. Air Force, is a Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He holds a PhD in military strategy, and he recently returned from Korea where he commanded a U.S. air base.  The conclusions and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government. Read more »

Ten What’s With…Sarah Kreps

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Drone Warfare by Sarah Kreps and John Kaag. Drone Warfare by Sarah Kreps and John Kaag.

Sarah Kreps is a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and an associate professor of government at Cornell University.  She is the author of Coalitions of Convenience: Military Interventions after the Cold War and the co-author of Drone Warfare. Additionally, I was fortunate to coauthor a recent CFR report, Limiting Armed Drone Proliferation, with Sarah. Read more »

Guest Post: Implications of Declining Israeli Sympathy

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, August 15, 2014
Jewish men protest to support the people of Gaza, in central London on August 9, 2014. (MacGregor/Courtesy Reuters) Jewish men protest to support the people of Gaza, in central London on August 9, 2014. (MacGregor/Courtesy Reuters)

Elena Vann is an interdepartmental intern at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Once a small, noble state heralded for its democratic values and established after the horrors of the Holocaust, Israel’s popularity is declining as global public opinion trends further away from the David and Goliath narrative once commonly attached to the Jewish state. After a fierce, month-long offensive against Hamas that is estimated to have taken the lives of over one thousand civilians in Gaza and decimated the country’s infrastructure, Israel’s public image joins the list of damages. As the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire tenuously holds between Israeli and Palestinian officials representing Hamas, the Gaza Strip is smoldering in ruins and Israel looks more bully than victim. Should these negative sentiments toward Israel continue to fester, U.S.-Israel relations could be substantially weakened. Read more »

Guest Post: A Cold Warrior’s Foreign Policy Advice for Obama

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 12, 2014
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during an interview with Reuters at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels on August 11, 2014. Rasmussen said he saw a "high probability" that Russia could intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine. (Herman/Courtesy Reuters) NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during an interview with Reuters at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels on August 11, 2014. Rasmussen said he saw a "high probability" that Russia could intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine. (Herman/Courtesy Reuters)

Harry Oppenheimer is a research associate for national security at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The conviction of John Foster Dulles—Secretary of State under Eisenhower in the 1950s, shaper of NATO, and lead architect of Rollback—about the most effective method of maintaining global peace and stability stands in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s foreign policy of remaining flexible and cautious. At the center of Dulles’ strong beliefs, as he remarked in his book War or Peace, was the importance of clear intentions in international affairs. “It is the theory and hope of the proponents of the [NATO] treaty that by thus making clear in advance what we will do in the event of an attack on Western Europe, that attack will not, in fact, occur.” Read more »

Guest Post: What’s Next for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, August 7, 2014
President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Gulleh and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia speak to the media after their meeting on situation in South Sudan on gust 5, 2014. (Gripas/Courtesy Reuters) President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Gulleh and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia speak to the media after their meeting on situation in South Sudan on gust 5, 2014. (Gripas/Courtesy Reuters)

Amelia M. Wolf is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action and the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read more »