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.

Reviewing the Pentagon’s ISIS Body Counts

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Strike Eagles Iraq Syria A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, in September 2014.

Four months after President Obama pledged to the nation in September 2014 “we will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” reporters challenged Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby about his assertion that “We know that we’ve killed hundreds of their forces.” One reporter asked directly, “can you be more specific on that number?” Kirby replied tersely: Read more »

Why Donald Trump is Wrong About NATO

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 9, 2016
NATO soldiers during a military exercise in Portugal  on October 20, 2015. (Marchante/Reuters) NATO soldiers during a military exercise in Portugal on October 20, 2015. (Marchante/Reuters)

Dan Alles is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

At the 2016 Warsaw Summit last month, leaders from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced that they will deploy four multinational battalions to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. This decision sends an important and reassuring message to the world at a time when some, like Donald Trump, are questioning the reliability and sustainability of the alliance altogether. Although Trump’s comments about burden-sharing have some merit, his judgements are misguided; weakening the current deterrence posture or abandoning the alliance would be disastrous for U.S. and global security. NATO is not only a collective deterrent against Russian aggression, but also a political and military organization that has adapted to meet twenty-first century challenges. Through these developments, NATO has become an indispensable part of U.S. security, and despite some limitations, it should not be abandoned. Read more »

Revisiting President Reagan’s Iran Arms-for-Hostages Initiative

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. (Marquette/Reuters) Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan waves to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. (Marquette/Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal published an important story about the Obama administration’s decision in January to ship $400 million, which was first converted into Swiss and Dutch currencies, to Iran on board a cargo plane. The plane delivering the money had reportedly arrived at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport on the same date that four U.S. citizens were released by the government of Iran. Read more »

Diagnosing and Deciding Military Interventions: Insights from Surgical Scholarship

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Surgeon poses Professor Karl Oldhafer poses before liver surgery in Hamburg August 15, 2013. (Bimmer/Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Jennifer Wilson.

Hillary Clinton has reportedly made reassessing U.S. strategy in Syria one of her first agenda items as president. With a history of generally backing interventions and statements of support for no-fly zones and safe zones on the record, an expanded intervention in Syria is likely should Clinton win. Plenty has been written over the past five years on the the risks and potential benefits of intervening in Syria. Consider how similarly invasive, dramatic, and potentially harmful decisions are made outside of foreign policy: an (admittedly unorthodox) analogy can be drawn between a president’s decision to intervene militarily and a surgeon’s decision to operate on a patient. Read more »

How the U.S. Military Can Battle Zika

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, July 28, 2016
A Cuban military reservist fumigates inside a home as part of the preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Havana on the outskirts of Cuba, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino A Cuban military reservist fumigates inside a home as part of the preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Havana on the outskirts of Cuba, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Gabriella Meltzer is a research associate in the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Aaron Picozzi is the research associate for the military fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Coast Guard veteran, and currently serves in the Army National Guard. Read more »

Red Team at Aspen

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Fallows Zenko Aspen Red Team James Fallows interviews CFR Senior Fellow Micah Zenko on his book, Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 27, 2016.

Late last month, I was honored to be a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival about my book Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy. The Festival, which the Aspen Institute began in 2005, invites a wide array of thinkers and doers from around the world to present their research or performances in an unusually scenic environment, and in front of super smart and challenging attendees. At this year’s festival, the big-name speakers included Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Secretary of State John Kerry, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde. I learned a great deal from the sessions I attended on food insecurity, criminal justice reform, and the expanding universe—I even got to observe evidence of this at night through high-powered telescopes. Read more »

Rogue Justice: A Conversation with Karen Greenberg

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Rogue Justice Greenberg book cover Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State by Karen J. Greenberg (Crown 2016).

Today I spoke with Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. We spoke about her comprehensive account of the national security legal debates since 9/11 in her new book, Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State (Crown, 2016), as well as a new report from the Center on National Security that details all 101 publicly known Islamic State-related cases. Karen also offered her sobering and honest advice for young legal and national security scholars. Follow Karen’s work on Twitter @KarenGreenberg3, and listen to my conversation with one of the most respected and knowledgeable scholars in the world of national security, counterterrorism policy, and civil liberties. Read more »

Chilcot Report: Lessons Learned or Mistakes to Be Repeated?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Monday, July 11, 2016
Journalists examine copies of The Iraq Inquiry Report by Sir John Chilcot, at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016. (Mitchell/Reuters) Journalists examine copies of The Iraq Inquiry Report by Sir John Chilcot, at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, London, Britain July 6, 2016. (Mitchell/Reuters)

Jennifer Wilson is a Research Associate for national security at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Last week, the results of a seven-year British investigation into the decision to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq were released. The 2.6 million-word Chilcot Report (after former civil servant Sir John Chilcot) details the faulty decision-making and flawed intelligence that contributed to the 2003 invasion, placing much of the blame on Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government. The report offers a comprehensive review of failures in leadership and is intended to offer lessons to safeguard against their repetition. Chilcot, in his statement accompanying the release of the report, observes that military intervention may be necessary in the future, and his report will prepare future leaders to make better decisions. However, the report’s principal conclusions—which confirm what is already known about the war in Iraq—highlight shortcomings that could very well precipitate the inevitable next war. Read more »

Guest Post: Preventing a Strategic Reversal in Afghanistan

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Friday, July 8, 2016
Marines Helmand Afghanistan U.S. Marines prepare to depart upon the end of operations for Marines and British combat troops in Helmand October 27, 2014. (Sobhani/Reuters)

Jared Wright is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

President Barack Obama’s recent announcement that 8,400 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan at the end of his administration, nearly 3,000 more troops than his previous timeline, reflects the tenuous stability that Afghanistan has achieved after nearly fifteen years of U.S. involvement. A resurgent Taliban and the appearance of self-proclaimed Islamic State forces have tested the ability of the increasingly fragile central government to provide security and political stability and demonstrated the limits of U.S. training and support. Meanwhile, economic and political frustrations across all levels of Afghan society have gone largely unaddressed by the National Unity Government (NUG). The security situation in Afghanistan could worsen, which would threaten U.S. interests in the region. Read more »

Questioning Obama’s Drone Deaths Data

by Micah Zenko Friday, July 1, 2016
Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher  Griffin/Reuters). Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher Griffin/Reuters).

Months after promising to release the number of civilians that have been killed in U.S. lethal counterterrorism operations outside of “areas of active hostilities,” the Obama Administration today released its count in a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. According to the numbers provided, there were 473 “strikes” [presumably this includes both manned and unmanned aircraft conducted by both the CIA and the U.S. military] which killed between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants, and between 64 and 116 civilians. Read more »