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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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). 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). 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). 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 »

The Politics of Proliferation: A Conversation with Matthew Fuhrmann

by Micah Zenko
Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy, by Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann (Cambridge University Press 2017). Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy, by Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann (Cambridge University Press 2017).

I spoke with Matthew Fuhrmann, associate professor of political science at Texas A&M University, visiting associate professor at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and one of the  most innovative scholars of nuclear proliferation. We discussed Matt’s soon-to-be released book Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). The book was co-authored with University of Virginia associate professor of politics Todd Sechser, whom I spoke with earlier this year. Read more »

Drone Memos: A Conversation With Jameel Jaffer

by Micah Zenko
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 »

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

by Micah Zenko
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 »

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

by Micah Zenko
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
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
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 »