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.

You Might Have Missed: U.S. Humanitarian Interventions, Syria, and the Cheapness of IEDs

by Micah Zenko Friday, June 28, 2013

Brian T. Haggerty, “Safe Havens in Syria: Missions and Requirements for an Air Campaign,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, July 2012. (PDF)

Discussion of military intervention in Syria to address the humanitarian crisis resulting from President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on an anti-government uprising began to receive sustained attention in the U.S. media in early 2012, more than ten months after the first major protests began…To date, however, the details of such planning have not been elaborated further and there has been virtually no systematic, open-source analysis of a possible Syrian contingency…
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Edward Snowden and Presidential Power

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Snowden on news monitor in China People cross a street in front of a monitor showing Edward Snowden, with a news tag saying he has left Hong Kong for Moscow on June 23, 2013. (Yip/Courtesy: Reuters)

This morning on CBS News, Rep. Paul Ryan discussed the Obama administration’s efforts to compel Russia to extradite Edward Snowden, former contract employee for the National Security Agency (NSA), to face three felony charges in the United States. When asked specifically “What would you have done, that the administration has not done?” he did not answer. When pressed, “What would you recommend the president do?” Ryan replied: “I don’t want to knee-jerk here, but we have extradition treaties, we have relationships, and we should use those relationships.” Ryan then noted that the failure of the United States to have Snowden extradited, “Doesn’t speak very well to how we are being viewed in the world, doesn’t speak to our credibility…that does not help our image whatsoever.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Syrian Intervention, Drone Transparency, and Surveillance Programs

by Micah Zenko Friday, June 21, 2013
Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on FBI FBI Director Robert Mueller meets with senators, including Dianne Feinstein, before the start of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing about the Federal Bureau of Investigation on June 19, 2013 (Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

Nuclear Nonproliferation: IAEA Has Made Progress in Implementing Critical Programs but Continues to Face Challenges,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, May 16, 2013.

As of December 2011, IAEA reported that 1,209 nuclear facilities and other locations outside such facilities containing significant quantities of nuclear material were subject to safeguards activities. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Surveillance Programs, Intervention in Syria, and Chinese Foreign Policy

by Micah Zenko Friday, June 14, 2013
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper departs after a Senate briefing on national surveillance programs on June 13, 2013 (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters).

Alastair Iain Johnston, “How New and Assertive Is China’s New Assertiveness?“ International Security 37, no. 4 (Spring 2013): 7–48.

Why, then, does it matter whether PRC diplomacy as a whole in 2010 can or cannot be characterized as “newly assertive”? It may matter because language can affect internal and public foreign policy debates. There is a long-standing and rich literature on the role of the media in agenda setting. What does agenda setting mean in concrete terms? It means focusing attention on particular narratives, excluding others, and narrowing discourse. In the agenda setting literature, it refers to the power of information entrepreneurs to tell people “what to think about” and “how to think about it.” It can make or take away spaces for alternative descriptive and causal arguments, and thus the space for debates about effective policy. The prevailing description of the problem narrows acceptable options. Read more »

Illicit Networks, Political Instability, and Criminal Violence

by Micah Zenko Thursday, June 13, 2013
FARC The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) set up explosives on the Caldono-Toribio road on June 4, 2013 to prevent the approach of government troops trying to regain territory held by the FARC in Cauca province. This soldier patrols the street. (Saldarriaga/Courtesy Reuters)

Two weeks ago, CFR’s Center for Preventive Action and International Institutions and Global Governance program convened a workshop on “Illicit Networks, Political Instability, and Criminal Violence.” The workshop intended to analyze trends in transnational criminal networks, examine the latest developments in the field, and identify gaps and challenges in U.S. and multilateral responses to criminal violence. In an off-the-record setting, we brought together government, academic, nonprofit, and private sector experts in the field of transnational crime from across the United States. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Targeted Killings, Syria, and Military Contractors

by Micah Zenko Friday, June 7, 2013

Lance M. Bacon, “Soldiers Go Global,” Army Times, June 10, 2013.

While the Army’s primary mission remains its ability to fight and win the nation’s wars, this new model places greater emphasis on those areas “left of the bang.” Training will enable soldiers to prevent and shape so they don’t have to fight and win, especially if that fight may become a large-scale conflict a cash-strapped Army is not equipped to fight. In the words of one commander, the “battle is to prevent battle.” Read more »

Refining the Obama Administration’s Drone Strike Narrative

by Micah Zenko Thursday, June 6, 2013
Drone An X-47B pilot-less drone combat aircraft is launched for the first time off an aircraft carrier, the USS George H. W. Bush, off the coast of Virginia on May 14, 2013 (Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

Last night, NBC News ran an extremely rare story that aptly challenged the veracity of U.S. government claims about the precision of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. Part of the title used by NBC was misleading: “Exclusive: CIA Didn’t Always Know Who it Was Killing in Drone Strikes, Classified Documents Show.” Read more »

Enhancing the Obama Administration’s Drone Strikes Transparency

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama gave a wide-ranging speech on U.S. counterterrorism policies. The result has been significant confusion regarding targeted killings, because what was reported in the press and what the president actually said were different, particularly on the matters of transferring drone strikes from the CIA to the military and ending signature strikes. Two hours before Obama’s speech, three anonymous administration officials gave a background briefing to reporters, which provided some clarity on several counterterrorism matters. Since the White House did not make a transcript of this briefing available, in the interest of transparency, I have re-printed it below in its entirety. Where “(inaudible)” appears, the transcription service did not include the name of the official mentioned. Read more »