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.

How the U.S. Military Thinks About Complexity

by Micah Zenko Thursday, March 19, 2015
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 6, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 6, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

If you routinely read Pentagon reports, speeches, hearings transcripts, and news articles, you occasionally come across an assumption or claim that stands out. Yesterday, the Pentagon released a news article that summarized a speech given by Director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. David Goldfein at the Brookings Institution. The article included the line: “Last year was the most complex year since 1968, the general said.” Read more »

Guest Post: U.S. Interest in Tunisia’s Successful Democratic Transition

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, March 13, 2015

Brian Garrett-Glaser is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tunisia’s transition to inclusive democracy is not a fait accompli. Despite holding successful 2014 elections and recently receiving a “free” rating for political rights and civil liberties from Freedom House, the small North African nation is struggling with significant economic and security challenges as well as eroding popular support for democratic reforms. The Jasmine Revolution, which ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in early 2011 and sparked a wave of protests across the Middle East, was as much a call for better economic conditions and stability as democracy and human rights. Yet, absent the expansion of economic opportunities and improved security, democratic reforms in Tunisia will not satiate the previous demands for change. Read more »

Guest Post: Looming Succession Crisis in Zimbabwe

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Monday, March 9, 2015
Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe addresses a crowd gathered for his 91st birthday celebration on February 28, 2015. (Bulawayo/Courtesy Reuters) Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe addresses a crowd gathered for his 91st birthday celebration on February 28, 2015. (Bulawayo/Courtesy Reuters)

Helia Ighani is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Last week, the United States extended sanctions on Zimbabwe’s “president for life”—Robert Gabriel Mugabe—who recently turned ninety-one. He has been Zimbabwe’s only ruler since the country gained independence from Rhodesia in 1980 after more than a decade of war. However, his presidential reign will end and the world should be ready for the likely unstable aftermath. Read more »

Guest Post: Preventing Cultural Destruction by ISIS

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, March 6, 2015
The Assyrian city of Nimrud before it was looted and bulldozed by Islamic State fighters. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons) The Assyrian city of Nimrud before it was looted and bulldozed by Islamic State fighters. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Aliza Litchman is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The U.S.-led coalition has been unsuccessful in halting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS or ISIL) second largest revenue stream: illegal artifacts. A March 6 UNESCO report attempted to call attention to the ISIS’ bulldozing of the three thousand-year-old city of Nimrud, and a February 25 video shows ISIS militants ransacking the central museum in Mosul. However, the most damage to Iraq and Syria’s cultural heritage is not inflicted with bulldozers and sledgehammers, but through illegal sales in foreign markets, which have thus far provided ISIS with over $100 million U.S. officials estimate. Antiquities dealings are ISIS’ second largest source of funding, and control of over four thousand archaeological sites ensures this revenue source will not expire. Read more »

Highlights of the Worldwide Threats Hearing

by Micah Zenko Saturday, February 28, 2015

Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, “Worldwide Threats,” witnesses: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, February 26, 2015.

CLAPPER:  2014 saw, for the first time, destructive cyberattacks carried out on U.S. soil by nation-state entities, marked first by the Iranian attack against the Las Vegas Sands Casino Corporation a year ago this month and the North Korean attack against Sony in November. Read more »

Ten What’s With…Thanassis Cambanis

by Micah Zenko Friday, February 27, 2015
"Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story," by Thanassis Cambanis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015). "Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story," by Thanassis Cambanis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Thanassis Cambanis is a fellow at The Century Foundation and a columnist at the Boston Globe. He is the author of a new book, Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story.

1. What is the most interesting project you are currently working on?

Interesting to whom? Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Exports, Somalia, and JFK’s “Ordinary Mortals”

by Micah Zenko Friday, February 20, 2015

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room, U.S. Department of Defense, February 18, 2015.

Rear Adm. Kirby: These are actually proscriptions in place that we will follow and we will expect anybody that receives these systems to follow…It’s in our best interest to be able to have this kind of control, supervision, and scrutiny over the potential delivery of these systems because it’s a ubiquitous, now, capability. Not every nation has the same sophistication at it as we do, but this is a technology that’s not going away. So, it suits our interests, and I think it should suit the American people’s interests to know that we’re going to be involved, from soup to nuts, on how these systems are eventually transferred. Read more »

Guest Post: The Unknown Limits of Synthetic Biology

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, February 13, 2015
A technician poses for the media with a test tube for testing against pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus in the national reference laboratory at the Robert Koch scientific institute in Berlin on October 2, 2009. (Bensch/Courtesy Reuters) A technician poses for the media with a test tube for testing against pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus in the national reference laboratory at the Robert Koch scientific institute in Berlin on October 2, 2009. (Bensch/Courtesy Reuters)

Helia Ighani is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Since 2001, major metropolitan cities have increasingly conducted gas and chemical attack simulations in subway systems. Police departments carry out these exercises with odorless, colorless, and non-toxic gases to determine how to evacuate passengers in the event of an actual biological or chemical attack, and identify safeguards that could be implemented to prevent potentially catastrophic consequences. Read more »

Obama’s New ISIS Strategy: Reflecting Reality

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, February 10, 2015
A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. (Bruch/Courtesy U.S. Air Force) A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. (Bruch/Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

In his September 10 address to the nation, President Obama declared America’s war aims with regards to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL): “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” I wrote several pieces that pointed out how this was an unrealistic and unachievable strategic objective. Just as Presidents Bush and Obama previously vowed to “eliminate” or “destroy” several militant or terrorist organizations, and failed completely each time, I believed that it was a certainty that the United States would not destroy ISIS. My opinion was, in part, informed by conversations with State Department and Pentagon officials and staffers who unanimously thought that the “destroy” objective was unobtainable and should never have been articulated with such a maximalist term. Read more »