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.

Drone Memos: A Conversation With Jameel Jaffer

by Micah Zenko Thursday, December 1, 2016
The Drone Memos: Targeted Killing, Secrecy, and the Law, ed. by Jameel Jaffer (The New Press, 2016) The Drone Memos: Targeted Killing, Secrecy, and the Law, ed. by Jameel Jaffer (The New Press, 2016)

This week, I spoke with Jameel Jaffer, inaugural director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. We discussed his new book, The Drone Memos: Targeted Killing, Secrecy, and the Law, and the judicial precedents for targeted strikes and secrecy set during the Obama administration. We also talked about Jameel’s concerns for protecting civil liberties and human rights under the Trump administration. Jameel spoke about his transition from the private sector to the American Civil Liberties Union, where he worked as deputy legal director and headed the Center for Democracy, and also shared his advice for young conscientious  lawyers. Read more »

Ending War in South Sudan: A New Approach

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, November 30, 2016
South Sudan National security members ride on their truck as they protect internally displaced people during a reallocation at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound at the UN House in Jebel, in South Sudan's capital Juba, August 31, 2016. (Solomun/Reuters) South Sudan National security members ride on their truck as they protect internally displaced people during a reallocation at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound at the UN House in Jebel, in South Sudan's capital Juba, August 31, 2016. (Solomun/Reuters)

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

On December 15, South Sudan will have been at civil war for three years. In 2013, just two years after the country seceded from Sudan and gained independence, fighting broke out in the capital between forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. The political struggle between Kiir and Machar dating back to the 1990s, and divisions within the ruling party, quickly devolved into full-scale civil war, pitting tribal groups against each other. Leaders manipulated ethnic identities and mobilized members of their respective tribes. Forces loyal to Kiir were mainly from the Dinka tribe, and were pitted against Machar’s tribe, the Nuer. Read more »

Thinking About Long-Term Cybersecurity: A Conversation With Steven Weber and Betsy Cooper

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, November 22, 2016
People peer into a server room during the grand opening of Hewlett-Packard's Executive Briefing Center in Palo Alto, California January 16, 2013. (Lam/Reuters) People peer into a server room during the grand opening of Hewlett-Packard's Executive Briefing Center in Palo Alto, California January 16, 2013. (Lam/Reuters)

I had a fascinating conversation with Professor Steven Weber and Dr. Betsy Cooper of the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC). We discussed several scenarios that CLTC developed that could emerge over the next five years, like a destabilizing “war for data” where hundreds of firms whose value is primarily data-driven suddenly collapse. We also talk about bridging the gap between the policy and technical realms, and CLTC’s new report, “Cybersecurity Policy Ideas for a New Presidency,” which identifies top priorities for the Trump administration. Professor Weber and Dr. Cooper also offer their advice to young professionals and scholars hoping to work in cyber policy. Listen to my conversation with two leaders about their inter-disciplinary and innovative approach to one of the most pressing policy challenges today. Read more »

Kabila’s Repression: A Consequence of UN Inaction

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, November 18, 2016
Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans during a march to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 19, 2016. (Katombe/Reuters) Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans during a march to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 19, 2016. (Katombe/Reuters)

Susanna Kalaris an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As Americans flocked to polling stations on November 8, United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were hit by a grenade blast that killed one and injured thirty-two others. Since 1999, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and its successor, MONUSCO, have deployed peacekeepers to implement a ceasefire, disarm combatants, and protect civilians following an international war that killed an estimated 5.4 million people between 1996 and 2003 and plunged the country into economic and political chaos. Yet despite more than seventeen years, twelve billion dollars spent, and twenty-thousand personnel dispatched across the country, the peacekeeping missions have left an unfulfilled mandate and a local government that recognizes and profits from its failures. President Joseph Kabila and his government are emboldened to maintain the political status quo; while peacekeeping troops struggle to contain violence, the government violates democratic processes and civil rights with impunity, knowing MONUSCO will not stop it anytime soon. Read more »

U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, Versus Drone Strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia

by Micah Zenko Thursday, November 10, 2016
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing undergoes a postflight inspection (Reuters/U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Effrain Lopez/Handout) A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing undergoes a postflight inspection (Reuters/U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Effrain Lopez/Handout)

Yesterday, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) published an updated estimate of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Previously, the Pentagon had acknowledged just 55 civilian casualties for the air war that began in August 2014. The new CENTCOM estimate listed a total of 24 civilian casualty incidents, which “regrettably may have killed 64 civilians.” This makes the new official estimate of civilian fatalities 119. Read more »

How Everything Became War: A Conversation With Rosa Brooks

by Micah Zenko Monday, November 7, 2016
How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, by Rosa Brooks (Simon & Schuster, 2016). How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, by Rosa Brooks (Simon & Schuster, 2016).

I was lucky enough to speak with Rosa Brooks about her recent book, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales From the Pentagon. Rosa is law professor at Georgetown University, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, and a fellow columnist for Foreign Policy. We talk about her unique and compelling experiences at the Pentagon, where she served as a counselor to the undersecretary of defense for policy. Rosa also shares her thoughts on the role of retired military officers in election politics, and the difficulties (or lack thereof) in addressing the most pressing challenges to U.S. national security policy and law. She also gives some important advice for young policy professionals starting their careers. Read more »

Five Ways Trump’s Foreign Policy Would Be a Disaster

by Micah Zenko Thursday, November 3, 2016
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton finish their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 19, 2016. (Blake/Reuters) Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton finish their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 19, 2016. (Blake/Reuters)

I have a new column today on Foreign Policy—“Trump Is Less Hawkish Than Hillary. Who Cares?”—which summarizes my evaluation of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s foreign-policy positions. I have published a number of pieces focusing on both candidates, from Clinton’s call for a no-fly zone in Syria, to Trump’s convenient amnesia about strongly endorsing a U.S. ground intervention in Libya in February 2011. This campaign has been marked more by perceptions of the candidates’ behavior, temperaments, and familial or professional connections than actual policies. Read more »

Understanding Atrocities: A Conversation with Dara Kay Cohen

by Micah Zenko Monday, October 31, 2016
Rape During Civil War, by Dara Kay Cohen (Cornell University Press 2016). Rape During Civil War, by Dara Kay Cohen (Cornell University Press 2016).

I spoke with Dara Kay Cohen, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, about her book, Rape During Civil War. To better understand this underexamined wartime atrocity, Dara built an original dataset and conducted extensive interviews in Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, and El Salvador, including with perpetrators and victims. We discuss Dara’s research and her counterintuitive findings, which indicate that rape is often used as a tactic by some groups in civil wars to bond militants. We also talk about the role of academic research in informing policy, and Dara gives advice to young scholars considering a career in academia. A fascinating conversation with a thoughtful and brilliant scholar. Read more »

Military Endorsements and Civ-Mil Relations: A Conversation with Peter Feaver

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Retired USMC General John Allen is joined by veterans while addressing at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. (Audette/Reuters) Retired USMC General John Allen is joined by veterans while addressing at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. (Audette/Reuters)

Last week, I spoke with Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy at Duke University and fellow columnist on ForeignPolicy.com. We talk about how he became interested as a grad student in civil-military relations, and how that led to his seminal book on the subject, Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations. We also discuss Peter’s two experiences on the National Security Council, his concerns about the dangers of military officers’ endorsements in presidential campaigns, and his advice to young scholars on balancing careers with personal lives. A timely discussion given the presidential candidates’ reliance on the non-partisan legitimacy of military officials, listen to my conversation with a leading expert in an important field. Read more »

Trump and the Makings of a Constitutional Crisis

by Micah Zenko Thursday, October 20, 2016
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third and final debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016.  (Reuters/Wilking) Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third and final debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016. (Reuters/Wilking)

During yesterday’s third and (mercifully) final presidential debate, Republican candidate Donald Trump stated explicitly what he has hinted at for months: he will not agree ahead of time to accept the results of the election on November 8. When asked directly by moderator Chris Wallace, Trump only promised: “I will look at it at the time.” Wallace pressed further by explaining the American tradition of a peaceful transition of power, and inquiring, “Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?” The candidate, trailing Hillary Clinton by 6.4 percent in averaged national polls and forecasted a 12.7 percent likelihood of winning, replied: “What I’m saying is I’ll tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, okay?” Read more »