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.

Preventive Priorities Survey for 2015

by Micah Zenko Monday, December 15, 2014
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters) Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, we at the Center for Preventive Action released our Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) for 2015. This is the seventh in our annual effort to harness crowd wisdom and foreign policy expertise in order to identify plausible sources of political instability and violence and to rank them into three tiers based on their impact to U.S. interests and likelihood of happening in the upcoming year. The goal of the PPS is to help officials and policymakers focus on the most important conflict prevention demands. Despite all the early warning analysis done in the U.S. government, there is neither a systematic process that does this, nor a routine system for bringing such information to the attention of senior officials. The PPS represents our best effort to provide this once a year and, given the feedback we receive from officials, the survey is highly coveted and widely read. Read more »

How U.S. Officials and Congress Have Defended Drone Strikes in Light of the Torture Report

by Micah Zenko Friday, December 12, 2014

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, White House, December 11, 2014.

Q: And finally, has the President ever sought a formal assessment from the intelligence community about whether the drone program is a net asset, either because of our moral authority, or in terms of creating more enemies than it takes off the battlefield? Read more »

The CIA’s Torture Report Response

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, December 9, 2014
An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Florida on May 3, 2014. (Bainter/Courtesy U.S. Air Force) An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Florida on May 3, 2014. (Bainter/Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

There will be a tremendous number of reactions to the graphic and troubling findings contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) study’s executive study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. There will be far fewer reactions to the CIA response to the SSCI, in the form of a June 27, 2013, memo that the CIA released today. According to a forward from Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan, “The CIA’s comments on the Study were the result of a comprehensive and thorough review of the Study’s 20 conclusions and 20 case studies.” However, there is one CIA acknowledgment that should be as disturbing as anything that is contained within the SSCI study itself. Read more »

Guest Post: Chinese Troops in Africa: Protecting Civilians and Oil

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, December 2, 2014
The national flags of South Sudan and China are displayed in front of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Ibuki/Courtesy Reuters) The national flags of South Sudan and China are displayed in front of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Ibuki/Courtesy Reuters)

Sean J. Li is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

China announced in September that it would send a battalion of seven-hundred infantry soldiers to reinforce the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), a heretofore unprecedented move that triples its troop contribution. It is suspected by commentators, such as Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy, that this commitment was made to shield the oil industry—which both UNMISS and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have denied. The increased international profile of Chinese national oil companies (NOCs) and other commercial interests, especially in Africa, has raised questions about whether China’s long-standing principle of non-interference will hold in the future. Read more »

Why Secretary Chuck Hagel Resigned

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, November 25, 2014
President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after announcing Hagel's resignation at the White House on November 24, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after announcing Hagel's resignation at the White House on November 24, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Gopal Ratnam, “Picking Up the Pieces at the Pentagon,” ForeignPolicy.com, November 25, 2014.

Although the White House portrayed Hagel’s departure as a usual cabinet change post a midterm election that resulted in Democrats losing their Senate majority, unnamed administration officials have said that Hagel wasn’t up to the task of leading the fight against the militant group also known as ISIS and ISIL that now controls broad parts of Iraq and SyriaRead more »

America’s 500th Drone Strike

by Micah Zenko Friday, November 21, 2014

The most consistent and era-defining tactic of America’s post-9/11 counterterrorism strategies has been the targeted killing of suspected terrorists and militants outside of defined battlefields. As one senior Bush administration official explained in October 2001, “The president has given the [CIA] the green light to do whatever is necessary. Lethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway.” Shortly thereafter, a former CIA official told the New Yorker, “There are five hundred guys out there you have to kill.” It is quaint to recall that such a position was considered extremist and even morally unthinkable. Today, these strikes are broadly popular with the public and totally uncontroversial in Washington, both within the executive branch and on Capitol Hill. Therefore, it is easy to forget that this tactic, envisioned to be rare and used exclusively for senior al-Qaeda leaders thirteen years ago, has become a completely accepted and routine foreign policy activity. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Obama on Proxies, and U.S.-China Military Relations

by Micah Zenko Monday, November 17, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama waves after holding a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Brisbane on November 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama waves after holding a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Brisbane on November 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Remarks by President Obama at G20 Press Conference, White House, November 16, 2014.

Obama: But we’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles. And one of those principles is that you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: FSA fighters, ISIS, and Cruise Missiles

by Micah Zenko Friday, October 31, 2014

General John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,Interview with Al Jazeera Arabic News Channel, October 29, 2014.

QUESTION: The mission of the train Syrian fighters is confined for war against ISIL. How can you guarantee that you are not going fight the regime? Read more »

Guest Post: Developing a Narrative for Success in the Battle Against ISIS

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, October 29, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with military leaders from twenty-one nations to discuss strategy in the Middle East at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on October 14, 2014. The discussion was part of a ongoing effort to build a coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and integrate capabilities. (Cullen/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense) U.S. President Barack Obama meets with military leaders from twenty-one nations to discuss strategy in the Middle East at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on October 14, 2014. The discussion was part of a ongoing effort to build a coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and integrate capabilities. (Cullen/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense)

Col. Stephen Liszewski, U.S. Marine Corps, is a Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He most recently commanded the 11th Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton, California.

Victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not only a matter of military success; President Obama recently made this point to coalition military leaders. The fight against ISIS is part of a larger struggle with violent extremist ideology. Read more »