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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How to Use Red Teams and Be a Red Teamer: A Conversation with Mark Mateski

by Micah Zenko
(Pixabay)

I sat down again with Mark Mateski, an expert in red teaming and one of the most insightful people I learned from while writing my book, Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy. In 1997, Mark founded Red Team Journal, a fantastic resource for red teamers and those seeking to learn more about the practice. Mark also gave a presentation at the 2014 Black Hat conference, The Devil Does Not Exist: The Role of Deception in Cyber, which I highly recommend watching. Read more »

Rethinking the U.S. Approach in Northern Syria: A Conversation with Aaron Stein

by Micah Zenko
Kurdish fighters gesture while carrying their parties' flags in Tel Abyad of Raqqa governorate after they said they took control of the area June 15, 2015 (Reuters/Rodi Said).

Yesterday I spoke with Aaron Stein, resident senior fellow in the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council and author of the new Center for Preventive Action paper, “Reconciling U.S.-Turkish Interests in Northern Syria.” We discussed developments on the ground in northern Syria and the many complex and competing interests among the armed groups there. Stein also reviewed the strategic options for the United States going forward and made recommendations for the Donald J. Trump administration to strengthen the U.S.-Turkish relationship while pursuing the U.S. counterterrorism objectives in Syria. Though a young scholar himself, Stein also provides some great advice for professionals just entering the field. Read more »

Being Honest About U.S. Military Strategy in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Marines from the First Battalion Eighth Marines Alpha Company patrol a remote eastern corner of Musa Qala district in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province February 22, 2011 (Reuters/O'Reilly).

Today, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John “Mic” Nicholson, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). Though it remains the longest war in American history, the ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan received little attention during the presidential race and even less since President Trump entered office. You may recall that in December 2009, President Obama authorized the deployment of 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total to 97,000. The vast majority of those troops have returned home; there are 8,400 troops in country now (plus 26,000 military contractors, 9,474 of whom are U.S. citizens). Read more »

Failed States, Rebel Diplomats, and Pirates: A Conversation with Bridget Coggins

by Micah Zenko
Power Politics and State Formation in the Twentieth Century: The Dynamics of Recognition by Bridget Coggins (Cambridge University Press 2016).

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bridget Coggins, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Coggins has a fascinating body of work that examines often overlooked non-traditional security issues and uses fact-based research to counter even the most pervasive conventional wisdom. We discussed her book, Power Politics and State Formation in the Twentieth Century: The Dynamics of Recognition, and her analysis of the politics—and implications—of state recognition. We also talked about her research into the the logic of rebel diplomacy, whether state failure causes terrorism, and the relationship between governance and maritime policy. Read more »

Ending the South Sudan Civil War: A Conversation with Kate Almquist Knopf

by Micah Zenko

Kate Almquist Knopf, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, is the author of a recent Center for Preventive Action report on Ending South Sudan’s Civil War. We discussed the crisis in South Sudan and her outside-the-box proposal to address it, which involves establishing an international transitional administration for the country. She also offered some near-term recommendations for the Trump administration. Read more »

Fifteen Questions Trump Should Answer About His “Safe Zones”

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks after attending a swearing-in ceremony for Defense Secretary James Mattis with Vice President Mike Pence at the Pentagon on January 27, 2017 (Reuters/Carlos Barria).

Yesterday, the White House released the readout of a call between President Donald Trump and the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. The statement featured this remarkable statement: “The President requested and the King agreed to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen, as well as supporting other ideas to help the many refugees who are displaced by the ongoing conflicts.” Read more »

Obama’s Final Drone Strike Data

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Donald Trump greets outgoing President Barack Obama before Trump is inaugurated during ceremonies on the Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017 (Barria/Reuters).

As Donald Trump assumes office today, he inherits a targeted killing program that has been the cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy over the past eight years. On January 23, 2009, just three days into his presidency, President Obama authorized his first kinetic military action: two drone strikes, three hours apart, in Waziristan, Pakistan, that killed as many as twenty civilians. Two terms and 540 strikes later, Obama leaves the White House after having vastly expanding and normalizing the use of armed drones for counterterrorism and close air support operations in non-battlefield settings—namely Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Read more »

Superforecasters, Software, and Spies: A Conversation With Jason Matheny

by Micah Zenko
A center of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, IARPA invests in high-risk/high-payoff research programs (iarpa.gov).

This week I sat down with Dr. Jason Matheny, director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).  IARPA invests in high-risk, high-payoff research programs to address national intelligence problems, from language recognition software to forecasting tournaments to evaluate strategies to “predict” the future. Dr. Matheny shed light on how IARPA selects cutting-edge research projects and how its work helps ensure intelligence guides sound decision- and policymaking.  He also offers his advice to young scientists just starting their careers. Read more »

How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2016?

by Micah Zenko
Obama Biden Dunford U.S. President Barack Obama attends a military full honor review farewell ceremony given in his honor, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden (C) and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford (L) at Joint Base Myer-Henderson in Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017. (Barria/Reuters).

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Jennifer Wilson

[Note: This post was updated to reflect an additional strike in Yemen in 2016, announced by U.S. Central Command on January 12, 2017.] Read more »

Why Trump’s Foreign Policy Appointments Matter: A (Second) Conversation with Elizabeth Saunders

by Micah Zenko
President-Elect Donald Trump, then Republican presidential nominee, speaks along side retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn during a campaign town hall meeting, September 6, 2016 (Reuters/ Segar).

I was lucky enough to again be joined by the brilliant Elizabeth Saunders, assistant professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University, and currently a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. We discussed the role that President-Elect Donald Trump’s advisers will play in shaping his approach to foreign policy and response to international crises. Professor Saunders also talks about two of her recent articles published on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, “What a President Trump Means for Foreign Policy” and “How Much Power Will Trump’s Foreign Policy Advisers Have?” Follow her on Twitter @ProfSaunders and, if you haven’t already, listen to the conversation we had back in March, “Presidents and Foreign Policy.” Read more »