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.

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You Might Have Missed: Military Intervention, Drones, and al-Qaeda.

by Micah Zenko
February 10, 2012

An explosion after airstrikes by NATO-led forces during fighting against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Parwiz Parwiz). An explosion after airstrikes by NATO-led forces during fighting against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan (Courtesy Reuters/Parwiz Parwiz).


The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015.

According to some estimates, the commercial drone market in the United States could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars once the FAA clears their use. The agency projects that 30,000 drones could be in the nation’s skies by 2020.

“Al-Qaeda wasn’t as good as we thought they were on 9/11,” said Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict.

The true limitations of al-Qaeda are one of two key reasons that America has not suffered a major terrorist attack since 2001.

“The other reason is that we actually responded … and crushed al-Qaeda immediately after 9/11, and continually for the last 10 years,” Sheehan said. “We are better than we often give ourselves credit for. We have a very polarized political system and it’s very difficult for anybody to actually give credit or receive credit for how good we are.”

Washington has proposed a bilateral space security dialogue with China patterned after a U.S.-Russian forum that kicked off in mid-2010 and expanded last summer into a direct hotline connecting U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center in California with the Russian Space Surveillance & System Command Center in Moscow.

In a seminal 2007 study for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Pentagon analyst Michael Pillsbury reported some 30 Chinese proposals and scholarly articles advocating the development and deployment of a variety of weapons that could disable or destroy satellites.

Frank Rose [deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy] said direct strategic dialogue with China…are important for preventing misperceptions and miscalculations.

The report, by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found that at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile. The bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.

A senior American counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, questioned the report’s findings, saying “targeting decision are the product of intensive intelligence collection and observation.” The official added: “One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists who plot to kill civilians has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions—there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help al-Qaeda succeed.”

(3PA: According to this poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News with 1,000 Americans, 83 percent approve the “use of unmanned ‘drone’ aircraft against terrorist suspects overseas” and 79 percent approve the use of drones against suspected terrorists who are U.S. citizens.)

The number of people who die annually of malaria is roughly double the current estimate, with a huge overlooked death toll in adults who, according to conventional teaching, rarely die of the tropical disease. That’s the conclusion of a new study that, if widely accepted, could affect billions of dollars of charitable spending and foreign aid in the developing world. The new estimate is likely to spur increased competition for global health spending, which has stalled in the economic downturn.

The total for 2010 suggests that the previous year may have been more of an aberration than a trend. The number of suspects dropped by over half, from 47 in 2009 to 20 in 2010. This brings the total since 9/11 to 161 Muslim-Americans terrorist suspects and perpetrators.

Much of the spike in 2009 was due to a group of 17 Somali-Americans who had joined alShabaab in Somalia; it appears that only one additional Somali-American (Farah Mohamed Beledi) was indicted in 2010 for joining al-Shabaab. However, the number of individuals plotting against domestic targets also dropped by half, from 18 in 2009 to 10 in 2010.

The U.S. should be involved in the diplomatic effort, but it is not within U.S. power to assure a specific outcome. U.S. preference for a specific outcome ought not paralyze U.S. efforts to oust Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The U.S. should not commit to any post-Taliban military involvement, since the U.S. will be heavily engaged in the antiterrorism effort worldwide.

(3PA: That was written 3,573 days ago.)

  • Colin Powell, My American Journey, Random House, Inc., September 1995, pg. 280.

I was developing a strong distaste for the antiseptic phrases coined by State Department officials for foreign interventions which usually had bloody consequences for the military, words like “presence,” “symbol,” “signal,” “option on the table,” “establishment of credibility.” Their use was fine if beneath them lay a solid mission. But too often these words were used to give the appearance of clarity to mud.

(3PA: Powell provides a useful list of terms to avoid when proposing to use military force to actually destroy things and kill people.)

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