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 the Pentagon Announces Killing Terrorists Versus Civilians 

by Micah Zenko
Kurds watch smoke rise Turkish Kurds watch the smoke rises from Syrian town of Kobani, October 18, 2014 (Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach).

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

Last week, the U.S. military announced an accomplishment that has come to define progress in the war on terrorism—the death of yet another senior terrorist leader. These now-routine reports are touted by officials as bringing “justice” to terrorists, delivering a “significant blow” to their ability to maneuver and operate, and even “eradicating” the threats they pose. Read more »

State Death, War Declarations, and Battle Deaths: A Conversation with Tanisha Fazal

by Micah Zenko
state death book cover State Death: The Politics and Geography of Conquest, Occupation, and Annexation by Tanisha M. Fazal (Princeton University Press, 2007).

I was honored to talk to Tanisha Fazal, professor of political science and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, about her extensive and impressive body of policy-relevant work. Fazal is a faculty member at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and a co-director of the Notre Dame International Security Center. In addition to the book State Death: The Politics and Geography of Conquest, Annexation, and Occupation, she is also the author of many excellent works including her more recent article “Rebellion, War Aims, and the Laws of War” and blog post entitled “How Norms Die,” with Seva Gunitsky. Read more »

Obama’s Worst Foreign Policy Decision, Two Years Later

by Micah Zenko
People look through a hole caused by a Saudi-led air strike on a bridge in Yemen's capital Sana'a March 23, 2016 (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah).

You probably missed it, but Saturday was the second anniversary of President Barack Obama’s worst and most indefensible foreign policy decision. Late on the evening of March 25, 2015, the White House posted a statement from National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on its website: “President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]-led military operations. While U.S. forces are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a Joint Planning Cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support.” Read more »

Entrepreneurship, Erdogan, and Interrupting: A Conversation with Elmira Bayrasli

by Micah Zenko
Cover art from World Policy Journal's 2016/2017 winter issue by Molly Crabapple.

The wonderful Elmira Bayrasli joined me again for discussion that ranged from the rise of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to women’s role in shaping foreign policy. Elmira is a fellow in New America’s International Security program, a professor at NYU School of Professional Studies and Bard College’s Global and International Affairs program, author of From the Other Side of the World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places. (In case you missed it, you can listen to our talk last April about From the Other Side of the World here) She is also co-founder with Lauren Bohn of Foreign Policy Interrupted (FPI), an education and media startup dedicated to increasing female foreign policy voices in the press. Read more »

A New U.S. Strategy for Russia? A Conversation with Kimberly Marten

by Micah Zenko
Putin talks to servicemen Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to servicemen during a training exercise at the Donguz testing range in Orenburg region, Russia, September 19, 2015 (Reuters/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool).

While policymakers continued to struggle with investigating Russian interference in the U.S. election, I sat down with Professor Kimberly Marten to talk about how the Trump administration can effectively manage the increasingly tense relationship with Russia. Marten is the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, a faculty member of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, and director of the Program on U.S.-Russia Relations at Columbia’s Harriman Institute. She is also the author of a recent Center for Preventive Action Council Special Report, Reducing Tensions Between Russia and NATO. Read more »

The (Not-So) Peaceful Transition of Power: Trump’s Drone Strikes Outpace Obama

by Micah Zenko
Women walk past a graffiti, denouncing strikes by U.S. drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa, Yemen February 6, 2017 (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah).

[Note: This post was updated to reflect the announcement on April 3 that there have been more than seventy strikes in Yemen since February 28.]

As a candidate, President Donald Trump was deeply misleading about the sorts of military operations that he would support. He claimed to have opposed the 2003 Iraq War when he actually backed it, and to have opposed the 2011 Libya intervention when he actually strongly endorsed it, including with U.S. ground troops. Yet, Trump and his loyalists consistently implied that he would be less supportive of costly and bloody foreign wars, especially when compared to President Obama, and by extension, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This might be true, but nonetheless the White House is considering deploying even more U.S. troops to Syria, loosening the rules of engagement for airstrikes, and increasing the amount of lethal assistance provided to Syrian rebel groups. Read more »

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 »