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.

Podcast: Geoeconomics and Statecraft: A Conversation with Jennifer M. Harris

by Micah Zenko Thursday, April 21, 2016
Jennifer M. Harris and Robert D. Blackwill, "War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft" (Belknap Press, 2016). Jennifer M. Harris and Robert D. Blackwill, "War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft" (Belknap Press, 2016).

What is “geoeconomics” and how did it fall out of favor among U.S. officials and policymakers? How do countries like China and India use geoeconomic tools to pursue foreign policy interests? How could the U.S. government better employ geoeconomic tools—like economic sanctions, foreign direct investment, and development assistance—to compete with rising powers? Read more »

Guest Post: Preventing Another Russia-Georgia Confrontation

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, April 14, 2016
Protesters stand near a border sign erected by Russian and Ossetian troops along Georgia's de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia in the village of Khurvaleti, Georgia, on July 14, 2015. (Reuters/Mdzinarishvili) Protesters stand near a border sign erected by Russian and Ossetian troops along Georgia's de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia in the village of Khurvaleti, Georgia, on July 14, 2015. (Reuters/Mdzinarishvili)

Shahin Badkoubei is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The next twelve to eighteen months will be a critical test of already tense and tenuous relations between Russia and Georgia. What could escalate to a level similar to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, territorial disputes over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain unresolved since Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, and are a potential trigger of conflict. Russia has not fulfilled its obligations under the 2008 cease-fire agreement, and continues to push territorial markers in the breakaway regions and grant Russian passports to citizens living there. Upcoming events, including the July Warsaw North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit and Georgia’s parliamentary elections in fall 2016, could escalate tensions or renew confrontation. Read more »

Obama’s Latest Admission on Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko Friday, April 8, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Illinois, on April 7, 2016. (Young/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Illinois, on April 7, 2016. (Young/Reuters)

Yesterday, President Obama was asked a revealing question at the end of an appearance at the University of Chicago defending the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  A student inquired about the president’s unilateral authority to authorize drone strikes outside of traditional battlefields, asking specifically:  “How are these killings morally and legally justified, and what kind of message does this drone program send about American values to the world, the American people, and to law students like myself who refuse to put trust in an opaque process.”  Naturally, Obama did not respond directly to the student’s question, but this twelve minute video segment (starting at 1:10:42) is worth reviewing in its entirety, as it is Obama’s longest unscripted reflection of the drone strikes that have come to define his approach to counterterrorism. Read more »

Podcast: Presidents and Foreign Policy: A Conversation with Elizabeth Saunders

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, March 29, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro shake hands during their first meeting on the second day of Obama's visit to Cuba, in Havana on March 21, 2016. (Ernst/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro shake hands during their first meeting on the second day of Obama's visit to Cuba, in Havana on March 21, 2016. (Ernst/Reuters)

Can high-level diplomatic visits, such as President Obama’s recent trip to Cuba, fundamentally transform bilateral relations? Why do two presidents facing the same foreign conflict diagnose the nature of the underlying threat differently, and thus pursue different intervention strategies? Do American voters really care about foreign policy?  I discuss these questions—plus her current research and career advice for young scholars—with Elizabeth N. Saunders, assistant professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University, and currently a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at CFR. Read more »

Guest Post: Mounting Pressure Threatens Stability in Jordan

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, March 24, 2016
Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders, wait to cross into Jordan after a group of them crossed into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, east of the capital Amman, on January 14, 2016. (Reuters/Hamed) Syrian refugees stuck between the Jordanian and Syrian borders, wait to cross into Jordan after a group of them crossed into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, east of the capital Amman, on January 14, 2016. (Reuters/Hamed)

Tina Huang is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the Syrian civil war continues at lower levels of violence, neighboring countries face enduring security threats and international pressures to protect refugees pouring across their borders. In a new Center for Preventive Action (CPA) Contingency Planning Memorandum Update, “Growing Stress on Jordan,” Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), and David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at WINEP, discuss the implications of Jordan reaching its “saturation point” for accepting Syrian refugees. Satloff and Schenker state that the risk of domestic unrest stemming from economic privatization, corruption, and a lack of reform—which was the focus on their 2013 report, “Political Instability in Jordan”—has since diminished, while spillover from the Syrian civil war is an increasing threat. They offer policy recommendations for how the U.S. government can support its partner in the Middle East. Read more »

Ten Whats With…Adam Segal

by Micah Zenko Monday, March 21, 2016
"The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age" by Adam Segal (New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2016). "The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age" by Adam Segal (New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2016).

Adam Segal is the Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies and Director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is author of The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age (New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2016). Read more »

Guest Post: Clinton vs. Trump on Defeating the Islamic State

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, March 11, 2016
A combination photo shows Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida and Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Miami, Florida at their respective Super Tuesday primaries campaign events on March 1, 2016. (Audette and Galeano/Reuters) A combination photo shows Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida and Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Miami, Florida at their respective Super Tuesday primaries campaign events on March 1, 2016. (Audette and Galeano/Reuters)

Tina Huang is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State will be a leading foreign policy issue for the incoming administration. Thus, it is crucial to understand the proposed policies of the candidates. The current results of the primary elections indicate that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump will likely win their party’s nominations. Though both candidates use strikingly similar rhetoric to describe how to counter the Islamic State, a close analysis of the details they each have provided exposes starkly different approaches. Read more »

Remembering the Iraqi Uprising Twenty-Five Years Ago

by Micah Zenko Saturday, March 5, 2016
Iraq's deposed dictator Saddam Hussein appears before an Iraqi tribunal in Iraq on July 1, 2004. (New/Reuters) Iraq's deposed dictator Saddam Hussein appears before an Iraqi tribunal in Iraq on July 1, 2004. (New/Reuters)

On February 15, 1991, four weeks into Operation Desert Storm, President George H.W. Bush, using identical language twice—at the White House and later at a Raytheon defense plant in Massachusetts—encouraged “the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.” Bush’s message was beamed into Iraq via every international television and radio channel, while coalition aircraft dropped leaflets calling on Iraqi soldiers and civilians to “fill the streets and alleys and bring down Saddam Hussein and his aides.” Kurdish rebels in the north and the Shias in the south began building upon years of clandestine planning to topple Hussein. Read more »

Red Teaming Nuclear Intelligence: The Suspected Syrian Reactor

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, March 1, 2016
This undated combination image released by the U.S. Government shows the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon and the nuclear reactor under construction in Syria. The White House on April 24, 2008 broke its official silence on the mysterious September 6, 2007 Israeli air strike. (U.S. Government/Reuters) This undated combination image released by the U.S. Government shows the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon and the nuclear reactor under construction in Syria. The White House on April 24, 2008 broke its official silence on the mysterious September 6, 2007 Israeli air strike. (U.S. Government/Reuters)

In former CIA and NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden’s new memoir, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, he describes the case of Al Kibar, in which Israeli officials informed the United States in 2007 about a building under construction in Syria that they thought was a nuclear reactor. Hayden writes, “Then we gave the data to a red team, dedicated contrarians, and directed they come up with an alternative explanation. Build an alternative case as to why it’s not a nuclear reactor; why it’s not intended to produce plutonium for a weapon; why North Korea is not involved.” (p. 258) Read more »

Sen. Ted Cruz and the Myth of Carpet Bombing

by Micah Zenko Monday, February 29, 2016
Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a rally at the Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows in Reno, Nevada on February 22, 2016. (Glover/Reuters) Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a rally at the Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows in Reno, Nevada on February 22, 2016. (Glover/Reuters)

On December 5, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) while speaking at the FreedomWorks “Rising Tide” Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, made the alarming pledge, “If I am elected president, we will utterly destroy ISIS…We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!” Cruz’s promise to authorize the commitment of war crimes, presumably in an effort to sound “tough,” was met with derision by most other Republican presidential candidates, politicians of both parties, and senior military officials. Cruz subsequently amended his initial promise to say, “you would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops…you have embedded special forces to direction [sic] the air power. But the object isn’t to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists.” Read more »