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.

Does U.S. Foreign Policy Spur National Security Threats?

by Micah Zenko Monday, June 1, 2015
CIA Director John Brennan listens to remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Director of National Intelligence Office to mark its 10th anniversary on April 24, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters) CIA Director John Brennan listens to remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Director of National Intelligence Office to mark its 10th anniversary on April 24, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters)

Yesterday on “Face the Nation,” CIA Director John Brennan made an unnoticed but significant acknowledgement about the conduct and consequences of U.S. foreign policy and the ongoing war on terrorism. Asked whether President Obama “seems to be just trying to buy time here, that he’s not ready to make a full commitment here in this war on terrorism and basically is just trying to keep things together well enough that he can leave it to the next president to resolve it. Do you see that?” Brennan responded: Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Assassination Plots, Drone Strikes, and Women Special Operators

by Micah Zenko Friday, May 29, 2015
Second Lt. Johanna Shaffer shares a cookie with an Afghan child while under the security of Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, during her all-female team's first mission in Farah Province in 2009. (Burton/Reuters) Second Lt. Johanna Shaffer shares a cookie with an Afghan child while under the security of Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, during her all-female team's first mission in Farah Province in 2009. (Burton/Reuters)

Memorandum From the President’s Counselor (Marsh) to President Ford, Foreign Relations of the United States 1917-1972, Volume XXXVIII, Part 2, Document 55, U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, October 29, 1975. Read more »

Guest Post: Looking Forward on UN Peacekeepers Day

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, May 28, 2015
Members of the armed forces of the Philippines contingent joining the UN Peacekeeping Force in Haiti salute during a sending-off ceremony at the Villamor air base in Manila on September 22, 2014. (Ranoco/Reuters) Members of the armed forces of the Philippines contingent joining the UN Peacekeeping Force in Haiti salute during a sending-off ceremony at the Villamor air base in Manila on September 22, 2014. (Ranoco/Reuters)

Amelia M. Wolf is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action and the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In 2002, the UN General Assembly designated May 29 as the International Day of UN Peacekeepers to honor current and former peacekeepers, and well as those who have lost their lives. In the sixty-seven years since the first peacekeeping mission was established, more than one million people have served in seventy-one peacekeeping operations, and 3,358 military, police, and civilian personnel died while serving. Read more »

Guest Post: Promoting a Ukraine-EU Agenda on Human Trafficking

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, May 22, 2015
Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko shakes hands with European Council president Donald Tusk before the Eastern Partnership Summit session in Riga, Latvia on May 22, 2015. (Kalnins/Reuters) Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko shakes hands with European Council president Donald Tusk before the Eastern Partnership Summit session in Riga, Latvia on May 22, 2015. (Kalnins/Reuters)

Luke Drabyn is a former intern for global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ukraine has one of the highest levels of human trafficking in Europe. Over 120,000 Ukrainian men, women, and children have been exploited for labor and sex since the country became independent in 1991. The Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit in Riga, Latvia provides a valuable forum to discuss collaboration on human trafficking between the European Union (EU) and Ukraine. For Ukraine, successful reform and a display of leadership could instill trust among its disillusioned citizens. For the EU, fulfilling its commitments under the 2012–2016 Strategy Toward the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings could protect it from criticism. Many of the EU’s 90 migration-related projects to non-EU countries since 2012 have included anti-trafficking provisions. However, none address trafficking in Ukraine specifically. At its most basic level, human trafficking—the second most lucrative illicit industry worldwide—is a moral issue that contributes to the collective “deprivation of liberty and denial of freedom of movement” for vulnerable men, women, and children alike. Ukraine-EU collaboration on human trafficking would not only be mutually beneficial, but it is also feasible, and the EaP Summit provides this opportunity. Read more »

Preventing Conflict in Cyberspace Triggered by Miscalculation

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, May 20, 2015
A technician monitors power output in the control room at the operating nuclear power plant in France. (Tessier/Courtesy Reuters) A technician monitors power output in the control room at the operating nuclear power plant in France. (Tessier/Courtesy Reuters)

What constitutes an act of war in cyberspace? What should be U.S. response options to a consequential cyberattack? These questions are repeatedly asked at Congressional hearings with U.S. officials struggling to provide satisfactory answers.

Today, the Center for Preventive Action released a Contingency Planning Memorandum, “Strategic Risks of Ambiguity in Cyberspace,” which I am tremendously proud to say directly addresses these issues and much more. Read more »

Is U.S. Foreign Policy Making Americans Less Safe?

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, May 19, 2015
FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters) FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters)

Senior U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials increasingly warn of the threat of “lone wolf” individuals attempting terror attacks within the United States. These potential perpetrators are characterized as externally motivated, but predominantly self-directed in plotting and attempting acts of politically and/or ideologically motivated violence. They need not travel to purported foreign “safe havens” to receive training or guidance, nor be in direct contact with terrorist organizations based abroad. Rather, their inspiration, in large part, appears to stem from the principles and narratives promoted by Islamist jihadist groups. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Islamic Violence, the Bush Legacy, and Rubio on Libya

by Micah Zenko Friday, May 15, 2015
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes questions at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada on May 13, 2015. (Glover/Reuters) Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes questions at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada on May 13, 2015. (Glover/Reuters)

Michael Morell, with Bill Harlow, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism from Al Qa’ida to ISIS (New York, NY: Twelve, 2015), p. 63.

[On September 15, 2001], a senior State Department official walked over and expressed the opinion to the president that it was critical that America’s first response to the [September 11] attack be diplomatic—that we should reason with the Taliban and ask them to turn over Bin Laden and his senior al Qa’ida leadership. Read more »

Nine Months of Coalition Air Strikes Against the Islamic State

by Micah Zenko Friday, May 8, 2015
A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters) A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters)

Today marks the nine month anniversary since the start of the U.S.-led air campaign, later named Operation Inherent Resolve, against the self-declared Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. The air war, which Secretary of State John Kerry then described as definitively not a war, but rather “a heightened level of counterterrorism operation,” shows no sign of ending. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee in March, “The enemy is now in a ‘defensive crouch,’ and is unable to conduct major operations.” The Pentagon has released a series of maps that purportedly detail the loss of territory under control by IS. However, the number and competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces required to ultimately defeat IS militants on the ground, and then control, secure, and administer newly freed territory, are lacking. In an unnoticed indicator found in the prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, two U.S. Air Force lieutenant generals acknowledged: “These combat operations are expected to continue long-term (3+ years).”   Read more »

Guest Post: The Islamic State’s Water War

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, May 5, 2015
A general view of Mosul Dam in northern Iraq September 20, 2014.  (Jalal/Reuters) A general view of Mosul Dam in northern Iraq September 20, 2014. (Jalal/Reuters)

Allyson Beach is an intern for energy and environment at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As a requisite resource, water and its infrastructure are decisive targets in the self-declared Islamic State’s (IS) strategy for regional expansion in the Middle East. Although IS has not demonstrated the capacity to operate technologically intensive water infrastructure, it continues to pursue control of dams and water systems in Iraq and Syria that, if acquired and adequately maintained could partially legitimize its rule, or alternatively be exploited as a weapon. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Strikes, Nation-building, and the U.S. Aviation Inventory

by Micah Zenko Friday, May 1, 2015

Elisabeth Bumiller, “Soldier, Thinker, Hunter, Spy: Drawing a Bead on Al Qaeda,” New York Times, September 3, 2011.

In Mr. [Michael] Vickers’s [top adviser to then-secretary of defense Leon E. Panetta] assessment, there are perhaps four important Qaeda leaders left in Pakistan, and 10 to 20 leaders over all in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Even if the United States kills them all in drone strikes, Mr. Vickers said, “You still have Al Qaeda, the idea.” Read more »