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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Podcast: Entrepreneurship: A Conversation with Elmira Bayrasli

by Micah Zenko
"From The Other Side of The World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places" by Elmira Bayrasli  (PublicAffairs, 2015). "From The Other Side of The World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places" by Elmira Bayrasli (PublicAffairs, 2015).

What is an entrepreneur? How do entrepreneurs in other countries, such as Turkey, Nigeria, Pakistan, Mexico, India, Russia, and China, differ from those in the United States? To what extent is entrepreneurship innate within the individual, or can be cultivated by the conditions, including governance or society, in which they grow up? Read more »

Are Drones More Precise Than Manned Aircraft?

by Micah Zenko
A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters) A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

In our latest piece at ForeignPolicy.com, we evaluate the Obama administration’s long-standing claim that drone strikes are more “precise” and cause fewer civilian fatalities than airstrikes by manned aircraft. We approach this challenge recognizing the limits of understanding who is being targeted and killed by all U.S. aerial operations. In addition, we admit that there are no wholly reliable or independently verifiable data sources, either from the U.S. government or research NGOs. Read more »

Podcast: Geoeconomics and Statecraft: A Conversation with Jennifer M. Harris

by Micah Zenko
Jennifer M. Harris and Robert D. Blackwill, "War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft" (Belknap Press, 2016). Jennifer M. Harris and Robert D. Blackwill, "War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft" (Belknap Press, 2016).

What is “geoeconomics” and how did it fall out of favor among U.S. officials and policymakers? How do countries like China and India use geoeconomic tools to pursue foreign policy interests? How could the U.S. government better employ geoeconomic tools—like economic sanctions, foreign direct investment, and development assistance—to compete with rising powers? Read more »

Obama’s Latest Admission on Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Illinois, on April 7, 2016. (Young/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Illinois, on April 7, 2016. (Young/Reuters)

Yesterday, President Obama was asked a revealing question at the end of an appearance at the University of Chicago defending the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  A student inquired about the president’s unilateral authority to authorize drone strikes outside of traditional battlefields, asking specifically:  “How are these killings morally and legally justified, and what kind of message does this drone program send about American values to the world, the American people, and to law students like myself who refuse to put trust in an opaque process.”  Naturally, Obama did not respond directly to the student’s question, but this twelve minute video segment (starting at 1:10:42) is worth reviewing in its entirety, as it is Obama’s longest unscripted reflection of the drone strikes that have come to define his approach to counterterrorism. Read more »

Podcast: Presidents and Foreign Policy: A Conversation with Elizabeth Saunders

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro shake hands during their first meeting on the second day of Obama's visit to Cuba, in Havana on March 21, 2016. (Ernst/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro shake hands during their first meeting on the second day of Obama's visit to Cuba, in Havana on March 21, 2016. (Ernst/Reuters)

Can high-level diplomatic visits, such as President Obama’s recent trip to Cuba, fundamentally transform bilateral relations? Why do two presidents facing the same foreign conflict diagnose the nature of the underlying threat differently, and thus pursue different intervention strategies? Do American voters really care about foreign policy?  I discuss these questions—plus her current research and career advice for young scholars—with Elizabeth N. Saunders, assistant professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University, and currently a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at CFR. Read more »

Ten Whats With…Adam Segal

by Micah Zenko
"The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age" by Adam Segal (New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2016). "The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age" by Adam Segal (New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2016).

Adam Segal is the Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies and Director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is author of The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age (New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2016). Read more »

Remembering the Iraqi Uprising Twenty-Five Years Ago

by Micah Zenko
Iraq's deposed dictator Saddam Hussein appears before an Iraqi tribunal in Iraq on July 1, 2004. (New/Reuters) Iraq's deposed dictator Saddam Hussein appears before an Iraqi tribunal in Iraq on July 1, 2004. (New/Reuters)

On February 15, 1991, four weeks into Operation Desert Storm, President George H.W. Bush, using identical language twice—at the White House and later at a Raytheon defense plant in Massachusetts—encouraged “the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.” Bush’s message was beamed into Iraq via every international television and radio channel, while coalition aircraft dropped leaflets calling on Iraqi soldiers and civilians to “fill the streets and alleys and bring down Saddam Hussein and his aides.” Kurdish rebels in the north and the Shias in the south began building upon years of clandestine planning to topple Hussein. Read more »

Red Teaming Nuclear Intelligence: The Suspected Syrian Reactor

by Micah Zenko
This undated combination image released by the U.S. Government shows the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon and the nuclear reactor under construction in Syria. The White House on April 24, 2008 broke its official silence on the mysterious September 6, 2007 Israeli air strike. (U.S. Government/Reuters) This undated combination image released by the U.S. Government shows the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon and the nuclear reactor under construction in Syria. The White House on April 24, 2008 broke its official silence on the mysterious September 6, 2007 Israeli air strike. (U.S. Government/Reuters)

In former CIA and NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden’s new memoir, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, he describes the case of Al Kibar, in which Israeli officials informed the United States in 2007 about a building under construction in Syria that they thought was a nuclear reactor. Hayden writes, “Then we gave the data to a red team, dedicated contrarians, and directed they come up with an alternative explanation. Build an alternative case as to why it’s not a nuclear reactor; why it’s not intended to produce plutonium for a weapon; why North Korea is not involved.” (p. 258) Read more »

Sen. Ted Cruz and the Myth of Carpet Bombing

by Micah Zenko
Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a rally at the Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows in Reno, Nevada on February 22, 2016. (Glover/Reuters) Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a rally at the Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows in Reno, Nevada on February 22, 2016. (Glover/Reuters)

On December 5, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) while speaking at the FreedomWorks “Rising Tide” Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, made the alarming pledge, “If I am elected president, we will utterly destroy ISIS…We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!” Cruz’s promise to authorize the commitment of war crimes, presumably in an effort to sound “tough,” was met with derision by most other Republican presidential candidates, politicians of both parties, and senior military officials. Cruz subsequently amended his initial promise to say, “you would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops…you have embedded special forces to direction [sic] the air power. But the object isn’t to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists.” Read more »

Evaluating Michael Hayden’s Defense of CIA Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
An MQ-9 Reaper takes off on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on December 5, 2015. (Cloys/U.S. Air Force) An MQ-9 Reaper takes off on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on December 5, 2015. (Cloys/U.S. Air Force)

Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Gen. Michael Hayden has an op-ed in today’s New York Times: “To Keep America Safe, Embrace Drone Warfare.” The two-thousand-word piece provides some unique insights into the process by which CIA directors authorize—including over the phone—individual drone strikes and even order the specific munition to be used. Moreover, Hayden provides a more plausible and granular defense than those offered by other former CIA chiefs, including George Tenet, Leon Panetta, and Michael Morrell. He even makes some effort to engage directly with certain prominent criticisms of these lethal operations. Read more »