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.

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Recommended Reading For the Fall Semester

by Micah Zenko
July 29, 2013

A series of books in former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela's office in Johannesburg (Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters). A series of books in former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela's office in Johannesburg (Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters).

A friend who teaches U.S. foreign policy at a public policy school asked me for a few reading recommendations for the fall semester. Specifically, she requested books or reports written in the past academic year that she might have missed. Below you will find some works worth adding to your fall syllabus if you teach foreign policy or national security to undergraduate or graduate students.

Gregory Johnnsen, The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Yemen, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012).

A deeply informative and highly-readable account of how Yemen became the base for the al-Qaeda affiliate most-capable of plotting terrorist attacks against the United States. Johnsen weaves together the big-picture of the dance between Washington and former-President Ali Abdullah Salih, with on-the-ground details of jailbreaks, motivated Islamist fighters, and U.S. diplomats and spies, who—despite their best efforts— always seem two steps behind the unfolding tribal disputes and civil wars.


Col. M. Shane Riza, Killing Without Heart: Limits on Robotic Warfare in an Age of Persistent Conflict, (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2013).

Those worried about the introduction of fully autonomous lethal robots into future warfare, should read this thoughtful work by an active-duty U.S. Air Force officer. Riza details how technological advances have rapidly increased impunity and reduced risks for combatants. Riza writes: “Our autonomous robots will be able to kill without emotion. Some tout this as a strength, yet if we were talking about a human we would call him a psychopath…War ought to come with consequences—otherwise we are truly doomed to repetitive and persistent conflict.”


Henry Crumpton, The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service, (New York: Penguin Press, 2012).

An engrossing professional memoir from a sharp observer who joined the CIA’s Clandestine Service in 1981, as a twenty-three old, and twenty years later authorized the first-ever U.S. drone strike on foreign soil on October 20, 2001 against a Soviet-era anti-aircraft gun in southern Afghanistan—it missed high, but a second missile destroyed it. Reads well with Mark Mazzetti’s The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Crumpton details how the CIA transformed from an agency focused primarily on collection and analysis to one of detention and lethality.


Open Society Justice Initiative, Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition, February 2013.

A comprehensive catalogue of the 136 individuals who entered into the CIA’s detention and extraordinary rendition program, as well as the fifty-four foreign governments directly complicit in making it possible—from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. This is the sort of essential public accounting of a controversial government program that should have been researched and written by a congressional committee.


Institute of Medicine, Returning Home from Iraq and Afghanistan: Readjustment Needs of Veterans, Service Members, and Their Families, March 2013.

This exhaustive congressionally mandated study—then-Senator Obama was one of its champions—assesses the costs and consequences of the decision to deploy 2.2 million servicemembers to Afghanistan and Iraq since October 2001. The study warns that servicemembers will have more complex emotional trauma than in past wars, in large part because the improved chances for surviving combat has been accompanied by vastly increased rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amputations, and acute depression. Given that veterans’ needs peak several decades after their return to civilian life, the human and financial costs of adequate facilities, rehabilitation, and counseling will be tremendous. In March, Harvard professor Linda Bilmes estimated that the total costs of Afghanistan and Iraq will be between four and six trillion dollars.


Special Issue: Understanding Nonviolent Resistance,” Guest editors: Erica Chenoweth and Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, Journal of Peace Research, May 2013.

Nonviolent resistance is defined in this issue as “the application of unarmed civilian power using nonviolent methods such as protests, strikes, boycotts, and demonstrations, without using or threatening physical harm against the opponent.” The articles provide a rigorous account of how nonviolent tactics have been employed in different political dynamics and countries, and how it compares to the use of violence by non-state actors when trying to achieve regime change, anti-occupation, and self-determination objectives. This issue is free on the JPR website through July 31, so check it out now!

I would value any additional suggestions. 

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Paul Buhler

    I would suggest this title for students studying U.S. foreign policy. Destiny Disrupted
    A History of the World through Islamic Eyes
    Ansary, Mir Tamim
    It might allow a perspective most in the western world do not see.

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