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.

What Leon Panetta’s Memoir Says About Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko Friday, October 17, 2014
Former U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta discusses his new book "Worthy Fights" at George Washington University on October 14, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) Former U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta discusses his new book "Worthy Fights" at George Washington University on October 14, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2014), pp. 388-391. Read more »

What Threats or Conflicts Will Emerge or Escalate in 2015?

by Micah Zenko Monday, October 13, 2014
Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Ocotber 8, 2014. (Bektas/Courtesy Reuters) Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Ocotber 8, 2014. (Bektas/Courtesy Reuters)

In March, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated, “Our military’s first responsibility is to prevent and de-escalate conflict.” However, when it comes to the United States’ ability to anticipate and predict conflict or instability, there is room for improvement.  Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently repeated what many military officials acknowledge, “In the last forty years, our record in predicting where we would use military force next, even six months out, is perfect. We’ve never once gotten it right.” Just a year ago, the United States did not anticipate that it would again be deeply engaged in military action in Iraq, let alone in Syria, against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria before the end of 2014. Read more »

Obama Should Change his Counter-ISIS Strategy

by Micah Zenko Sunday, October 12, 2014

Last month, I wrote about how President Obama’s announced end state to “degrade, and ultimately destroy ISIL” would not be achieved, just as previous promises by Bush and Obama administration officials to “destroy” and “eliminate” Al Qaeda and the Taliban were not. I also noted how U.S. officials have offered contradictory end states since then, a practice that continues. For example, on September 22, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. Martin Dempsey declared: “We want them to wake up every day realizing that they are being squeezed from multiple directions. If we can get [ISIS] looking in about five different directions, that’s the desired end state.” That is a plausible strategic objective given the relatively limited military and non-military resources that have been committed by the United States and coalition members. However, it is nowhere near as difficult as “destroy.” Read more »

Guest Post: The U.S. Role in Recruiting and Retaining Female Peacekeepers

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Italian UN peacekeepers stand as honour guards during a visit by Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata to the Italian UN Interim Force in Lebanon. (Hashisho/Courtesy Reuters) Italian UN peacekeepers stand as honour guards during a visit by Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata to the Italian UN Interim Force in Lebanon. (Hashisho/Courtesy 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.

During the frenzy of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, thirty-one countries met on September 26 for a summit on “Strengthening International Peace Operations,” during which the importance of expanding the participation of women in peacekeeping operations was the theme. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Kissinger Attack on Cuba, ISIS, Civilians in Iraq

by Micah Zenko Friday, October 3, 2014
A general view is seen of Bajed Kadal refugee camp southwest of Dohuk September 15, 2014. The camp is for the minority Yazidi sect, who fled violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar. (Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters) A general view is seen of Bajed Kadal refugee camp southwest of Dohuk September 15, 2014. The camp is for the minority Yazidi sect, who fled violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar. (Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters)

Public Law 113-164, 113th Congress, September 19, 2014.

SEC. 149. (a) The Secretary of Defense is authorized, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide assistance, including training, equipment, supplies, and sustainment, to appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups and individuals for the following purposes: Read more »

You Might Have Missed: ISIS, Khorasan, and Psychology of Terrorism

by Micah Zenko Friday, September 26, 2014
A map showing Islamic State ambition is displayed as U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testify on the threat posed by the Islamic State on September 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) A map showing Islamic State ambition is displayed as U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testify on the threat posed by the Islamic State on September 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Hearing on U.S. Policy Towards Iraq and Syria, U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, September 16, 2014.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): I take it from your answer that we are now recruiting these young men to go and fight in Syria against ISIL, but if they’re attacked by Bashar Assad, we’re not gonna help them? Read more »

Why the United States Will Never Defeat ISIS

by Micah Zenko Thursday, September 18, 2014
Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq listens to U.S. Commander Maj. Gen. David Petraeus upon his arrival at Mosul airport in northern Iraq before a short helicopter tour of the city on May 18, 2003.
(Schmidt/Courtesy Reuters) Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq listens to U.S. Commander Maj. Gen. David Petraeus upon his arrival at Mosul airport in northern Iraq before a short helicopter tour of the city on May 18, 2003. (Schmidt/Courtesy Reuters)

On the eve of the Iraq War in 2003, while commanding the 101st Airborne Division, then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly asked Rick Atkinson the rhetorical question: “Tell me how this ends.” What began as a private joke between a military commander and an embedded journalist has become a warning for the need to define clear objectives and be cognizant of unexpected outcomes before going to war.  Last week, President Barack Obama attempted to provide clear strategic guidance for the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), declaring: “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL.” Read more »

Guest Post: Tiptoeing Around Iran in Iraq

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard on August 18, 2014, near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan after Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)insurgents withdrew. (Boudlal: Courtesy Reuters) Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard on August 18, 2014, near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan after Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)insurgents withdrew. (Boudlal: Courtesy Reuters)

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

Iraq appears to be coming apart at the seams. The Sunni terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has expanded dramatically across Iraq over the past few months and murdered more than fourteen hundred Iraqis in August alone, and Iran is one-upping the United States in efforts to regain control. Both countries are actively involved in Iraq’s crisis, but have differing objectives for the future of the country. As the Obama administration strategizes on how to address the threat of ISIS, it should continue to build a coalition and refrain from working solely with Iran. Read more »

U.S. Transparency and the Truth of Targeted Killings

by Micah Zenko Friday, September 5, 2014

This morning, the White House released an unusual statement: “The Department of Defense confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the leader of al-Shabaab, is dead as a result of a U.S. military targeted airstrike in Somalia undertaken over the weekend.” What was particularly unique about the statement is that, previously, the Pentagon has purposely refused to confirm the deaths of terrorist leaders killed with legal counterterrorism strikes. On June 5, 2012, when Pentagon spokesperson then-Capt. John Kirby was asked about the reported death of al Qaeda’s no. 2 official, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Kirby replied: “We don’t discuss the specifics of counterterrorism operations.  So I’m not going to speak to specifics of operations.” Read more »