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.

One Decade of Drone Strikes in Pakistan

by Micah Zenko Monday, June 16, 2014

In May 2002, Gen. John Keane, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, vowed: “We have broken their will and they are trying to establish another safe haven now in Pakistan…when the time is right, we will deal with that one as well.” Indeed, two years later, his prediction came to pass on June 17, 2004, when a Hellfire missile killed Taliban commander Nek Mohammed, beginning the CIA campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan that continues to this day. One decade later, the United States has conducted a total of 371 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing an estimated 2,878, of which 376 were civilians. Read more »

What Would Air Strikes in Iraq Achieve?

by Micah Zenko Friday, June 13, 2014
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 »

Time to Rethink Syria

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, May 27, 2014
UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi pauses during a news conference at the UN European headquarters in Geneva January 27, 2014. (Balibouse/Courtesy Reuters) UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi pauses during a news conference at the UN European headquarters in Geneva January 27, 2014. (Balibouse/Courtesy Reuters)

Julie Anderson is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

After three years of recurring conflict, an estimated 162,000 people killed (10,000 in the last two months), and millions displaced, international policies to stem the violence in Syria have been a clear failure. These efforts hit a new low on May 13 when United Nations (UN) mediator Lakhdar Brahimi resigned from his post, citing frustrations with the diplomatic process and the lack of common ground from which to build a negotiated solution. As the Syrian government, opposition forces, and international powers, particularly the United States and Russia, continue to stake out entrenched positions, and the regime prepares for sham elections in June, many have questioned if the Syrian conflict is ripe for a mediated solution. Read more »

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

by Micah Zenko Friday, May 23, 2014
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 Friday, May 16, 2014

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 Friday, May 2, 2014
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 Friday, April 25, 2014

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 Thursday, April 3, 2014

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 Tuesday, April 1, 2014
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 »