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 Category

Showing posts for "U.S. Foreign Policy"

Why a Syria Safe Zone Still Won’t Work or Protect Civilians

by Micah Zenko
Residents inspect damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held Al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on February 4, 2016. (Ismail/Reuters) Residents inspect damage after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel held Al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on February 4, 2016. (Ismail/Reuters)

Respected former U.S. diplomats Nicholas Burns and James Jeffrey published a Washington Post op-ed today, calling on the U.S. military to lead the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria. The authors propose, “to locate it over twenty-five to thirty miles south of the Turkish border….Its central purpose would be to help local forces drive out the Islamic State and to provide a haven for civilians until the war can be brought to a close.” Burns and Jeffrey further acknowledge some of the difficulties involved with their proposal, admitting that, “the United States would have to deploy U.S. soldiers on the ground inside Syria along the Turkish border in order to recruit the majority of the zone’s soldiers from Turkey and other NATO allies, as well as the Sunni Arab states.” This safe haven would be further protected by a no-fly zone operating primarily out of Turkish airbases. Read more »

Donald Trump as Commander-in-Chief

by Micah Zenko
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up gesture at his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa on February 1, 2016. (Bourg/Reuters) Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up gesture at his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa on February 1, 2016. (Bourg/Reuters)

I have a piece on ForeignPolicy.com that attempts to evaluate what sort of commander in chief Donald Trump might be if actually elected president. After his second place finish in the Iowa caucuses last night, pundits might be writing off his chances to secure the Republican nomination, yet again. However, the Iowa caucus process is wholly unique and may not be representative of Trump’s overall national momentum. In addition, he has retained double-digit leads over his rivals in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the site of the next primaries scheduled for February 9 and 20, respectively. Read more »

Obama’s Drone Warfare Legacy

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement at the National Counterterrorism Center in Mclean, Virginia, on December 17, 2015. (Barria/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement at the National Counterterrorism Center in Mclean, Virginia, on December 17, 2015. (Barria/Reuters)

Today, I have a short piece in the New York Times’ “Room for Debate,” accurately summarized by its title, “Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy.” The piece shows how President Barack Obama institutionalized and normalized the use of drones to target various militant and terrorist suspects. It also includes the most updated data of post-9/11 non-battlefield drone strikes, updating our estimates from the five-hundredth such operation conducted in November 2014. As of today, there have been approximately 550 strikes—50 under George W. Bush, 500 under Obama, which have cumulatively killed an estimated 3,405 militants and 470 civilians. This information is fully presented in the chart below with the sources used. Read more »

Chuck Hagel’s Revealing Insight Into Obama’s Syria Strategy

by Micah Zenko
Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel walks during a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia on January 28, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters) Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel walks during a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia on January 28, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters)

Last week, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave his first extended interview since resigning as Pentagon chief in November 2014. The curated interview with Foreign Policy is worth reading in its entirety, if for nothing else than the insights into how White House officials and staffers micromanaged Department of Defense decisions; Hagel claims that staffers would call generals “asking fifth-level questions that the White House should not be involved in.” (This would not be the first or last White House charged with this degree of oversight.) Read more »

Presidential Candidates Use of Force Tracker

by Micah Zenko and Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich (OH), former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), former governor Jeb Bush (FL), Governor Chris Christie (NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) pose before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 15, 2015. (Becker/Reuters) Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich (OH), former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), former governor Jeb Bush (FL), Governor Chris Christie (NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) pose before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 15, 2015. (Becker/Reuters)

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

Presidential campaigns are largely consequence-free environments unburdened by the pressures and responsibilities that come with actually sitting in the White House. A candidate can say or pledge to do anything no matter how troubling, costly, or unlikely. The one policy recommendation that every presidential candidate has strongly endorsed during this election cycle—with differing degrees of scope and intensity— is the use of military power. With the sixteen-month war against the self-declared Islamic State stalemated and the percentage of Americans naming “national security and terrorism” the top federal government priority having nearly doubled since April, appeals to force have played an unusually significant role this presidential campaign. This is unsurprising, since military force remains the most responsive, fungible, and destructive foreign-policy tool that a candidate can propose. Unfortunately, the military options put forth may sound tough, but they are rarely articulated in a concrete and actionable manner, which makes it difficult to evaluate the wisdom of the proposals. Read more »

Ten What’s With…Michael Horowitz

by Micah Zenko
"Why Leaders Fight" by Michael C. Horowitz, Alan C. Stam, and Cali M. Ellis (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2015). "Why Leaders Fight" by Michael C. Horowitz, Alan C. Stam, and Cali M. Ellis (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Michael C. Horowitz is an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and the associate director of Penn’s Perry World House. His research interests include leadership, military innovation, the future of war, forecasting, and the relationship between religion and international politics. He has published in a wide array of peer-reviewed journals, as well as more popular outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico and Foreign Policy. He is the author of the award-winning book, The Diffusion of Military Power (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). Professor Horowitz previously worked in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He received his PhD in government from Harvard University and his BA in political science from Emory University. Read more »

From No Boots to Nightmare Fuel in Syria

by Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Orly airport near Paris, France, on December 1, 2015. (Gaillard/Reuters) President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Orly airport near Paris, France, on December 1, 2015. (Gaillard/Reuters)

Yesterday, while being interviewed by Norah O’Donnell of CBS News, President Barack Obama made a revealing statement about the careful manner in which U.S. military interventions are made. O’Donnell asked Obama if he was going back on his word by authorizing an expansion of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria with the deployment of what the Pentagon calls a “specialized expeditionary targeting force.” The president earnestly replied, “You know, when I said no boots on the ground, I think the American people understood generally that we’re not going to do an Iraq-style invasion of Iraq or Syria with battalions that are moving across the desert.” Read more »

How the U.S. Government Condemns or Ignores Indiscriminate Bombing

by Micah Zenko
People walk at the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on October 28, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters) People walk at the site of a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on October 28, 2015. (Abdullah/Reuters)

If you watch U.S. government press conferences, you will occasionally come across a moment of incidental but illuminating honesty. Yesterday, one such moment occurred during a routine press briefing with Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the command element for the war against the self-declared Islamic State. Col Warren was asked about the growing number of disturbing allegations of Russia’s indiscriminate use of airpower in Syria. Just the day before, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “it appears the vast majority of [Russian] strikes, by some estimates as high as 85 percent to 90 percent, use dumb bombs.” Warren echoed Carter’s assessment, claiming that, “Russians have chosen to use a majority of really, just dumb bombs, just gravity bombs, push them out the back of an airplane, and let them fall where they will.” Read more »

Guest Post: Unfreezing the Ukraine Conflict

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. (Lamarque/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. (Lamarque/Reuters)

Andrew Kenealy is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations

For some in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the ongoing low-level skirmish between Ukrainian and Russian/separatist forces has faded into the background of daily life. The nightly shelling barely affects the normal existence of Ukrainians: grocers have enough to sell in shops, public gathering spots are crowded on warm days, and reservations are still difficult to book at the best restaurants on the weekends. But despite the perception of calm, the death toll from the conflict is unsettling. After eighteen months of fighting, nearly eight thousand lives have been lost, another thirty thousand people have been wounded, and more than 1.5 million are internally displaced. Read more »

What Threats or Conflicts Will Emerge or Escalate in 2016?

by Micah Zenko
A follower of the Houthi movement raises his rifle during a rally against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on October 2, 2015. (al-Sayaghi/Reuters) A follower of the Houthi movement raises his rifle during a rally against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on October 2, 2015. (al-Sayaghi/Reuters)

Along with presidential campaigns comes an array of what candidates deem the greatest threat to the United States. Senator Ted Cruz said in July, “The single greatest threat to the United States, if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, is that of an electromagnetic pulse,” while Dr. Ben Carson during September’s presidential debate referred to “global jihadists” as an “existential threat to our nation.” Read more »