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.

Posts by Author

Showing posts for "Micah Zenko"

Revisiting President Reagan’s Iran Arms-for-Hostages Initiative

by Micah Zenko
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. (Marquette/Reuters) Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. (Marquette/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal published an important story about the Obama administration’s decision in January to ship $400 million, which was first converted into Swiss and Dutch currencies, to Iran on board a cargo plane. The plane delivering the money had reportedly arrived at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport on the same date that four U.S. citizens were released by the government of Iran. Read more »

Diagnosing and Deciding Military Interventions: Insights from Surgical Scholarship

by Micah Zenko
Surgeon poses Professor Karl Oldhafer poses before liver surgery in Hamburg August 15, 2013. (Bimmer/Reuters)

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

Hillary Clinton has reportedly made reassessing U.S. strategy in Syria one of her first agenda items as president. With a history of generally backing interventions and statements of support for no-fly zones and safe zones on the record, an expanded intervention in Syria is likely should Clinton win. Plenty has been written over the past five years on the the risks and potential benefits of intervening in Syria. Consider how similarly invasive, dramatic, and potentially harmful decisions are made outside of foreign policy: an (admittedly unorthodox) analogy can be drawn between a president’s decision to intervene militarily and a surgeon’s decision to operate on a patient. Read more »

Red Team at Aspen

by Micah Zenko
Fallows Zenko Aspen Red Team James Fallows interviews CFR Senior Fellow Micah Zenko on his book, Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 27, 2016.

Late last month, I was honored to be a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival about my book Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy. The Festival, which the Aspen Institute began in 2005, invites a wide array of thinkers and doers from around the world to present their research or performances in an unusually scenic environment, and in front of super smart and challenging attendees. At this year’s festival, the big-name speakers included Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Secretary of State John Kerry, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde. I learned a great deal from the sessions I attended on food insecurity, criminal justice reform, and the expanding universe—I even got to observe evidence of this at night through high-powered telescopes. Read more »

Rogue Justice: A Conversation with Karen Greenberg

by Micah Zenko
Rogue Justice Greenberg book cover Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State by Karen J. Greenberg (Crown 2016).

Today I spoke with Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. We spoke about her comprehensive account of the national security legal debates since 9/11 in her new book, Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State (Crown, 2016), as well as a new report from the Center on National Security that details all 101 publicly known Islamic State-related cases. Karen also offered her sobering and honest advice for young legal and national security scholars. Follow Karen’s work on Twitter @KarenGreenberg3, and listen to my conversation with one of the most respected and knowledgeable scholars in the world of national security, counterterrorism policy, and civil liberties. Read more »

Questioning Obama’s Drone Deaths Data

by Micah Zenko
Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher  Griffin/Reuters). Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher Griffin/Reuters).

Months after promising to release the number of civilians that have been killed in U.S. lethal counterterrorism operations outside of “areas of active hostilities,” the Obama Administration today released its count in a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. According to the numbers provided, there were 473 “strikes” [presumably this includes both manned and unmanned aircraft conducted by both the CIA and the U.S. military] which killed between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants, and between 64 and 116 civilians. Read more »

How Not To Estimate and Communicate Risks

by Micah Zenko
An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket launches in Cape Canaveral, Florida, June 28, 2015 (Michael Berrigan/Reuters). An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket launches in Cape Canaveral, Florida, June 28, 2015 (Michael Berrigan/Reuters).

Estimating and translating the probability of an event for decision-makers is among the most difficult challenges in government and the private sector. The person making the estimate must be able to categorize or quantify a likelihood, and willing to relay that analysis to the decision-maker in a way that is comprehensible and timely. The decision-maker then must consider the probability within the context of other information, and subsequently consider the trade-offs between one course of action over another. The ultimate goal of perceiving and communicating risks is to best assure any institution has managed those risks and made the most sound choice possible in the time allotted. Read more »

Bargaining and Military Coercion: A Conversation with Todd Sechser

by Micah Zenko

Today, I spoke with Todd Sechser, Associate Professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. We spoke about his important new article in Journal of Conflict Resolution, “Reputations and Signaling in Coercive Bargaining,”  his next book with Matthew Fuhrman, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), and why the United States has such a poor record at coercive diplomacy. Todd also provides advice for young scholars in international relations. Listen to my conversation with one of the smartest scholars doing policy-relevant research on coercion, reputations, and U.S. foreign policy. Read more »

The Orlando Massacre and Global Terrorism

by Micah Zenko
blogterrorism People gather at a vigil in solidarity for the victims of the Orlando nightclub mass shooting at Taylor Square in Sydney, Australia, June 13, 2016. (Stringer/Reuters)

A brief note to place Sunday morning’s horrific massacre in Orlando, Florida, within the broader global context of terrorism. In 2014, the last year for which there is complete data, there were eighty-two terror attacks around the world that killed more than fifty people—twenty-eight of them killed over 100 people. This is according to the Global Terrorism Database, which is maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. The country and number of attacks with more than fifty fatalities is listed below. Read more »

What Clinton’s E-mails Reveal About Her Support for CIA Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
Hillary-2011 U.S. Secretary of State Clinton talks before House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington (Larry Downing/Reuters)

A revelation today about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State may indicate her preference using military force over diplomatic considerations. It was known since January that the content of twenty-two emails that went through the private server were classified at the “top secret/SAP [special access programs]” level, referring to highly classified intelligence gathering or covert programs run by the Pentagon and CIA. At the time, Clinton told NPR, “the best we can determine” is that the emails in question consisted solely of a news article about drone strikes in Pakistan. As Clinton stated: “How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off of the New York Times site, I think, is one of the difficulties that people have in understanding what this is about.” Read more »

The State of Global Terrorism in 2015

by Micah Zenko
Jamaat-ud-Dawa-burn-flag-protest Supporters of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa Islamic organization burn a mock U.S. flag during a protest in Peshawar, Pakistan, May 27, 2016. (Fayaz Aziz/Reuters)

Today, the U.S. State Department published its Country Reports on Terrorism: 2015—a congressionally mandated analytical and statistical review of global terrorism. It is important to understand how the U.S. government defines this subjective phenomena: “The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” Read more »