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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What Would Air Strikes in Iraq Achieve?

by Micah Zenko
Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 11, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 11, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Demands by current policymakers to use military force are rarely accompanied by a specific objective of what it is intended to achieve. In the binary debate about what to do in Iraq, several policymakers have called for air strikes with some assertion of why and what they would accomplish. See below for an early collection and judge for yourself the validity of their claims. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: One Year After Obama’s Drone Speech

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks about his administration's counterterrorism policy at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks about his administration's counterterrorism policy at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Harold Hongju Koh, “Ending the Forever War: One Year After President Obama’s NDU Speech,” JustSecurity.org, May 23, 2014.

The President’s historic move in that speech was to call for the eventual repeal of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and the end of what I had called at the Oxford Union the “Forever War”… Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Space Fence, Counter-UAV Technologies, and Nigeria

by Micah Zenko

Eric Schmitt and Brian Knowlton, “U.S. Officials Question Ability of Nigeria to Rescue Hostages,” New York Times, May 15, 2014.

Even as terrorist groups throughout the world have engaged in more kidnappings for ransom to finance their operations, Pentagon officials have worried that the success in killing Osama bin Laden and a movie like “Captain Phillips,” which depicted the capture and killing of Somali pirates, have placed unrealistic expectations on the American authorities. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Terrorism, Women in Nonprofits, and China

by Micah Zenko
U.S. secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan listen to the Chinese national anthem during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing April 8, 2014. (Wong/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan listen to the Chinese national anthem during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing April 8, 2014. (Wong/Courtesy Reuters)

Ehud Yaari and Michael Morell, Israel vs. al-Qaeda: Emerging Challenges on Two Fronts,” The Washington Institute, April 29, 2014. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Kissinger, China’s Navy, and Counterinsurgency Wars

by Micah Zenko

The Secretary’s Analytical Staff Meeting on Non-Proliferation,” U.S. Department of State, August 2, 1974.

SECRETARY KISSINGER: I just have a reluctance to have the United States go charging around the world, like Don Quixote, for every conceivable problem, including one of great importance, where there are other countries whose interest in it ought to be even greater, who affirm loudly that they are interested in it, and not make them share some of the responsibility. (page 41-42) Read more »

Evolving State Department-USAID Strategic Goals

by Micah Zenko

In August 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell and USAID administrator Andrew Natsios introduced the first joint State Department – USAID Strategic Plan. These plans are intended to better synchronize the direction of and priorities for the two agencies most responsible for developing and implementing U.S. foreign policy and development assistance programs.  Just yesterday, the fourth Strategic Plan was published, and like the preceding three it lists several broad strategic priorities that are intended to guide State and USAID’s own guidance documents, budgets, directives, and policies. To understand how U.S. foreign policy priorities have shifted between the Bush and Obama administrations in the past decade, please see below for a chart that lists those strategic goals
Read more »

Syria Civil War Total Fatalities

by Micah Zenko
Shiite fighters chant anti- al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and anti-Free Syrian Army (FSA) slogans at the Sayeda Zainab area in Damascus, February 10, 2014. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Courtesy Reuters) Shiite fighters chant anti- al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and anti-Free Syrian Army (FSA) slogans at the Sayeda Zainab area in Damascus, February 10, 2014. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Courtesy Reuters)

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

Estimates released today by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) portray a different picture of the civil war in Syria than U.S. policymakers and media convey. SOHR’s estimated death toll reinforces the point made in an article published on ForeignPolicy.com in September 2013, when they last released updated data: most of the reported deaths in Syria have not been committed by forces under Bashar al-Assad’s command. Additionally, the involvement of various individuals and groups in the conflict has broadened greatly since SOHR’s September 2013 estimate. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Ukraine, Rep. Mike Rogers, and Drones

by Micah Zenko

Jeanne Whalen and Alan Cullison, “Ukraine Battles to Rebuild a Depleted Military,” Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2014.

In recent weeks Mr. Yarema has turned to Washington and NATO for help, but with little luck so far. Ukraine’s military lacks much of an air force, and if fighting breaks out he expects that Russia would be able to pound Ukrainian ground troops with impunity. In meetings with U.S. senators and Western diplomats, he says he asked for help establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors so that his troops could at least count on some zones of safetyRead more »

Ukraine Isn’t a U.S. Priority, As Policymakers Demonstrate

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Senator John McCain and other members of the delegation walk as they visit Kiev, Ukraine, on March 14, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Senator John McCain and other members of the delegation walk as they visit Kiev, Ukraine, on March 14, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

The Russian coercive de facto annexation of the Crimean province of Ukraine poses a dilemma for U.S. policymakers. They claim the need to “send a strong message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin to deter him from authorizing a direct military incursion into the remainder of Ukrainian territory. According to anonymous Pentagon officials, there are around twenty thousand Russian troops poised near the eastern Ukrainian border, including mechanized, infantry, and special operations forces. Read more »