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.

Republican Foreign Policy Puzzles

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers remarks on July 30, 2012 (Jessica Rinaldi/Courtesy Reuters). Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers remarks on July 30, 2012 (Jessica Rinaldi/Courtesy Reuters).

If you are interested in foreign policy issues—or believe the inherent powers of national security decision-making vested in the executive branch requires a president who can successfully fulfill the constitutionally-mandated role of “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy”—this election isn’t offering much. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney skillfully dodges the subject, and does not permit his vast army of foreign policy advisers to challenge President Obama’s foreign policy record on talk shows or opinion pages. Instead, they have resorted to anonymous leaks to reporters about how little Romney and his close circle of politicos care about foreign policy. Read more »

Top Twelve Defense Sequestration Scare Tactics

by Micah Zenko Thursday, August 23, 2012
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey hold a news conference at the Pentagon on June 29, 2012 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters). Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey hold a news conference at the Pentagon on June 29, 2012 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters).

Over a year ago, on August 2, 2011, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. The bipartisan legislation easily passed the House, 269-131, with 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats voting “yes.” The BCA similarly sailed through the Senate, 74-26, with endorsements from 28 Republicans and 45 Democrats. Read more »

Armed Drones and the Hunt for bin Laden

by Micah Zenko Monday, August 20, 2012
Soldiers arrive at the scene of the bomb blast in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 8, 1998 (George Mulala/Courtesy Reuters). Soldiers arrive at the scene of the bomb blast in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 8, 1998 (George Mulala/Courtesy Reuters).

Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the best chance the United States had to kill Osama bin Laden before he led al-Qaeda to plan and carry out the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In addition to failing to elimate bin Laden, or any senior al-Qaeda leaders, the botched cruise missile attack of August 20, 1998, played a prominent role in accelerating efforts to arm unmanned drones. What began as highly specialized, covert tool to locate and kill one individual has developed into today’s default counterterrorism tactic. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Israeli Strike on Iran, No-Fly Zone in Syria, and Ernest Hemingway

by Micah Zenko Friday, August 17, 2012
A man sits in front of houses destroyed during a recent air strike in Azaz, Syria (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters). A man sits in front of houses destroyed during a recent air strike in Azaz, Syria (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).

Benny Morris, “Obama’s Last Chance Before Israel Bombs Iran,” The Daily Beast, August 16, 2012.

(3PA: In this piece, Morris predicts “Israel is likely to strike [Iran] before the American elections.” In July 2008, Morris boldly predicted in the New York Times, “Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months.” Morris also writes of Israel’s 1981 attack on the Iraqi Osirak plutonium reactor, “That successful strike actually put paid to Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program, which was never resurrected.” It is totally untrue that Iraq’s nuclear program was never resurrected. As Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer wrote in the journal International Security: “The attack had mixed effects: it triggered a covert nuclear weapons program that did not previously exist, while necessitating a more difficult and time-consuming technical route to developing nuclear weapons.”) Read more »

Will America Help Israel Attack Iran?

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, August 15, 2012
General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with Major-General Gantz, chief of Israeli armed forces, in Tel Aviv (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters). General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with Major-General Gantz, chief of Israeli armed forces, in Tel Aviv (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters).

Yesterday, during a press conference, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observed the following when asked about Israeli military capabilities to undertake unilateral strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities: Read more »

Preventing Renewed Violence in Iraq

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 14, 2012
An Iraqi soldier stands guard near the Syrian border (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters). An Iraqi soldier stands guard near the Syrian border (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters).

As the civil war in Syria intensifies and forecasts of an Israeli strike on Iran mount (yet again), it would be an understatement to say that the Obama administration’s Middle East team is perpetually working overtime. And yet, sandwiched between Syria and Iran brims another potential flashpoint that the United States cannot afford to ignore: Iraq. Conflict in Syria or Iran could “bleed over into Iraq,” warns former National Security Council staffer Douglas Ollivant in a new Center for Preventive Action Contingency Planning Memorandum. Political instability in the Middle East is just one of the drivers that could spark ethno-sectarian violence and a breakdown in constitutional order in Iraq. Read more »

The Other Reasons for Invading Syria

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 7, 2012
A Free Syrian Army fighter runs during clashes with Syrian army in Aleppo (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters). A Free Syrian Army fighter runs during clashes with Syrian army in Aleppo (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).

As the fighting between the ever-weakening regime of President Bashar al-Assad and hundreds of armed opposition groups spreads and intensifies, pundits and policymakers are increasing their calls to intervene militarily in Syria’s civil war. The primary reason given for picking sides in this conflict is to protect unarmed civilians from the brutal and often indiscriminate force waged by Assad’s security forces. In tandem with this humanitarian impulse is the notion that giving weapons, intelligence, and logistics support to a select few, carefully vetted armed rebels will rapidly lead to regime change in Syria. Above all else, intervention proponents never claim that regime change will be very difficult, or require a single U.S. boot on the ground. As Paul Wolfowitz and Mark Palmer wrote last month: “No one is arguing for military intervention on the order of Afghanistan or Iraq.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: National Security Threats, Terrorism, and Gun Violence

by Micah Zenko Friday, August 3, 2012
Handgun

Saxby Chambliss, “The Threat From Within to Our National Security,” Macon Telegraph, August 3, 2012.

Our nation and our military are about to confront one of the biggest threats since World War II. It does not come in the form of a shadowy terrorist organization or a well-armed foreign foe. Instead, it is looming in the form of indiscriminate budget cuts that will strike on Jan. 1, 2013. Read more »

Would We Know if Iran Decides to Build a Bomb?

by Micah Zenko Thursday, August 2, 2012
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a meeting in Tehran (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a meeting in Tehran (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

The most important unanswered question about the heightened U.S.-Israel confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program is whether Iran’s political leadership will decide to pursue a nuclear weapon. The key judgments in the last declassified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program found with “high confidence” that “Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program” in the fall of 2003, and this conviction remained with “moderate confidence” through mid-2007. Read more »

Guest Post: Congressional Holdup on Human Trafficking

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, August 1, 2012
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC (Jim Bourg/Courtesy Reuters). The U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC (Jim Bourg/Courtesy Reuters).

Emma Welch is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action and the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In less than a week, Congress will break for its August recess, and all pending legislation will enter a holding pattern for the next month. One of the most important items remaining on the docket is the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Read more »