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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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)

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)

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)

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).

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)

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 »

Understanding Atrocities: A Conversation with Dara Kay Cohen

by Micah Zenko
Rape During Civil War, by Dara Kay Cohen (Cornell University Press 2016).

I spoke with Dara Kay Cohen, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, about her book, Rape During Civil War. To better understand this underexamined wartime atrocity, Dara built an original dataset and conducted extensive interviews in Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, and El Salvador, including with perpetrators and victims. We discuss Dara’s research and her counterintuitive findings, which indicate that rape is often used as a tactic by some groups in civil wars to bond militants. We also talk about the role of academic research in informing policy, and Dara gives advice to young scholars considering a career in academia. A fascinating conversation with a thoughtful and brilliant scholar. Read more »

Military Endorsements and Civ-Mil Relations: A Conversation with Peter Feaver

by Micah Zenko
Retired USMC General John Allen is joined by veterans while addressing at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. (Audette/Reuters)

Last week, I spoke with Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy at Duke University and fellow columnist on ForeignPolicy.com. We talk about how he became interested as a grad student in civil-military relations, and how that led to his seminal book on the subject, Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations. We also discuss Peter’s two experiences on the National Security Council, his concerns about the dangers of military officers’ endorsements in presidential campaigns, and his advice to young scholars on balancing careers with personal lives. A timely discussion given the presidential candidates’ reliance on the non-partisan legitimacy of military officials, listen to my conversation with a leading expert in an important field. Read more »

Trump and the Makings of a Constitutional Crisis

by Micah Zenko
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the third and final debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (not pictured) at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016. (Reuters/Wilking)

During yesterday’s third and (mercifully) final presidential debate, Republican candidate Donald Trump stated explicitly what he has hinted at for months: he will not agree ahead of time to accept the results of the election on November 8. When asked directly by moderator Chris Wallace, Trump only promised: “I will look at it at the time.” Wallace pressed further by explaining the American tradition of a peaceful transition of power, and inquiring, “Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?” The candidate, trailing Hillary Clinton by 6.4 percent in averaged national polls and forecasted a 12.7 percent likelihood of winning, replied: “What I’m saying is I’ll tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, okay?” Read more »

Is it Still 1968? A Conversation with Michael A. Cohen

by Micah Zenko
American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division, by Michael A. Cohen (Oxford University Press 2016)

Today, I spoke with Michael A. Cohen, regular contributor at The Boston Globe, about his new book, American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division (also available on iTunes here). We talk about the chaotic U.S. presidential election of 1968, which not only bears a striking resemblance with the 2016 election, but sowed the seeds for many political currents running through the United States today. Michael also offers his advice to passionate aspiring journalists and writers. Listen to our conversation, check out his last book, Live From the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Campaign Speeches of the Twentieth Century and How They Shaped Modern America, and follow him on Twitter @speechboy71. Read more »

What Threats or Conflicts Will Emerge or Escalate in 2017?

by Micah Zenko
A boy walks past damaged buildings in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of al-Waqf, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, October 9, 2016. (Ashawi/Reuters)

In last night’s presidential debate, it took little time for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to bring up the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Responding to moderator Anderson Cooper’s question about a leaked recording of Trump bragging about groping women, Trump promised that he would “knock the hell out of ISIS.” For the amount of time spent by both candidates talking about defeating terrorists, viewers might think that they pose the greatest threat to the United States. Read more »