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.

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 »

What Leon Panetta’s Memoir Says About Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko Friday, October 17, 2014
Former U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta discusses his new book "Worthy Fights" at George Washington University on October 14, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) Former U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta discusses his new book "Worthy Fights" at George Washington University on October 14, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2014), pp. 388-391. Read more »

What Threats or Conflicts Will Emerge or Escalate in 2015?

by Micah Zenko Monday, October 13, 2014
Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Ocotber 8, 2014. (Bektas/Courtesy Reuters) Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Ocotber 8, 2014. (Bektas/Courtesy Reuters)

In March, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated, “Our military’s first responsibility is to prevent and de-escalate conflict.” However, when it comes to the United States’ ability to anticipate and predict conflict or instability, there is room for improvement.  Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently repeated what many military officials acknowledge, “In the last forty years, our record in predicting where we would use military force next, even six months out, is perfect. We’ve never once gotten it right.” Just a year ago, the United States did not anticipate that it would again be deeply engaged in military action in Iraq, let alone in Syria, against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria before the end of 2014. Read more »

Obama Should Change his Counter-ISIS Strategy

by Micah Zenko Sunday, October 12, 2014

Last month, I wrote about how President Obama’s announced end state to “degrade, and ultimately destroy ISIL” would not be achieved, just as previous promises by Bush and Obama administration officials to “destroy” and “eliminate” Al Qaeda and the Taliban were not. I also noted how U.S. officials have offered contradictory end states since then, a practice that continues. For example, on September 22, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. Martin Dempsey declared: “We want them to wake up every day realizing that they are being squeezed from multiple directions. If we can get [ISIS] looking in about five different directions, that’s the desired end state.” That is a plausible strategic objective given the relatively limited military and non-military resources that have been committed by the United States and coalition members. However, it is nowhere near as difficult as “destroy.” Read more »

Guest Post: The U.S. Role in Recruiting and Retaining Female Peacekeepers

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Italian UN peacekeepers stand as honour guards during a visit by Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata to the Italian UN Interim Force in Lebanon. (Hashisho/Courtesy Reuters) Italian UN peacekeepers stand as honour guards during a visit by Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata to the Italian UN Interim Force in Lebanon. (Hashisho/Courtesy Reuters)

Amelia M. Wolf is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action and the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

During the frenzy of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, thirty-one countries met on September 26 for a summit on “Strengthening International Peace Operations,” during which the importance of expanding the participation of women in peacekeeping operations was the theme. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Kissinger Attack on Cuba, ISIS, Civilians in Iraq

by Micah Zenko Friday, October 3, 2014
A general view is seen of Bajed Kadal refugee camp southwest of Dohuk September 15, 2014. The camp is for the minority Yazidi sect, who fled violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar. (Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters) A general view is seen of Bajed Kadal refugee camp southwest of Dohuk September 15, 2014. The camp is for the minority Yazidi sect, who fled violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar. (Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters)

Public Law 113-164, 113th Congress, September 19, 2014.

SEC. 149. (a) The Secretary of Defense is authorized, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide assistance, including training, equipment, supplies, and sustainment, to appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups and individuals for the following purposes: Read more »