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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Preventive Priorities Survey for 2015

by Micah Zenko
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters) Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, we at the Center for Preventive Action released our Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) for 2015. This is the seventh in our annual effort to harness crowd wisdom and foreign policy expertise in order to identify plausible sources of political instability and violence and to rank them into three tiers based on their impact to U.S. interests and likelihood of happening in the upcoming year. The goal of the PPS is to help officials and policymakers focus on the most important conflict prevention demands. Despite all the early warning analysis done in the U.S. government, there is neither a systematic process that does this, nor a routine system for bringing such information to the attention of senior officials. The PPS represents our best effort to provide this once a year and, given the feedback we receive from officials, the survey is highly coveted and widely read. Read more »

How U.S. Officials and Congress Have Defended Drone Strikes in Light of the Torture Report

by Micah Zenko

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, White House, December 11, 2014.

Q: And finally, has the President ever sought a formal assessment from the intelligence community about whether the drone program is a net asset, either because of our moral authority, or in terms of creating more enemies than it takes off the battlefield? Read more »

The CIA’s Torture Report Response

by Micah Zenko
An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Florida on May 3, 2014. (Bainter/Courtesy U.S. Air Force) An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field, Florida on May 3, 2014. (Bainter/Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

There will be a tremendous number of reactions to the graphic and troubling findings contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) study’s executive study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. There will be far fewer reactions to the CIA response to the SSCI, in the form of a June 27, 2013, memo that the CIA released today. According to a forward from Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan, “The CIA’s comments on the Study were the result of a comprehensive and thorough review of the Study’s 20 conclusions and 20 case studies.” However, there is one CIA acknowledgment that should be as disturbing as anything that is contained within the SSCI study itself. Read more »

Why Secretary Chuck Hagel Resigned

by Micah Zenko
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

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
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

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 »

What Leon Panetta’s Memoir Says About Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
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
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 »