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: Israel, Iran, and Drone Strikes in Pakistan and Somalia

by Micah Zenko
March 2, 2012

President Obama meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu in September 2011 (Courtesy Reuters/Kevin Lamarque). President Obama meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu in September 2011 (Courtesy Reuters/Kevin Lamarque).

I saw how hollow such leadership can be when I attended an expensive Darfur peace conference in Sirte, Libya, in 2007. What fascinated and attracted the rebels was not the plenary sessions or the one-on-one meetings with United Nations officials. It was the all-you-can-eat hotel buffet where turbaned figures laughed as they heaped mountains of rice and meat onto their plates and drank gallons of Pepsi. None of the Darfurian rebels I talked to at that conference could tell me what he was fighting for. In fact, although I had spent much time in the region they came from, it was hard to know if any of these men were fighting at all. The leaders I had met in the field were not there.

Only 19 percent of Israelis polled expressed support for an attack without U.S. backing, according to a poll I conducted — fielded by Israel’s Dahaf Institute Feb. 22-26 — while 42 percent endorsed a strike only if there is at least U.S. support, and 32 percent opposed an attack regardless.

A majority of Israelis polled, roughly 51 percent, said the war would last months (29 percent) or years (22 percent), while only 18 percent said it would last days. About as many Israelis, 44 percent, think that an Israeli strike would actually strengthen Iran’s government as think it would weaken it (45 percent).

(3PA: Only 19 percent of Israelis support attacking Iran without the United States, but fully 51 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. government should remain neutral in the event of an Israeli attack.)

Panetta’s comments about the need for tax increases came as he reiterated his long-standing warnings that so-called sequestration – the roughly $600 billion in automatic defense cuts which would take effect if no debt-cutting deal is reached by the end of the year – would hollow out the nation’s armed forces and directly threaten U.S. national defense.

In his typically colorful language, Panetta derided the sequester mechanism as a “meat axe” which would impose dangerous across-the-board cuts rather than the targeted plans the administration has also unveiled for shaving $487 billion out of the Pentagon’s budget over the next 10 years.

(3PA: In 2009, it cost $515,000 to keep one U.S.  servicemember in Afghanistan per year. Today, it costs $850,000, according to Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale.)

The AP was told by the villagers that of at least 194 people killed in the attacks, about 70 percent—at least 138—were militants. The remaining 56 were either civilians or tribal police, and 38 of them were killed in a single attack on March 17.

(3PA: For other estimates on the range of Pakistani civilian casualties from drone strikes: senior U.S. official: .0025%; Counter-Terrorism Committee: 3.5%; Long War Journal: 9.5%; New America Foundation: 20%; Bureau of Investigative Journalism: 17-27%.)

Replying to a question at a news conference following an international conference on Somalia, Clinton said: “I am not a military strategist, but I think I know enough to say air strikes would not be a good idea and we have absolutely no reason to believe anyone, certainly not the United States, is considering that.”

(3PA: That very same day, a U.S. drone strike killed four people in Somalia—apparently the United States was doing more than considering air strikes.)

  • Matthew M. Aid, Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror (New York: Bloomsbury Press).

A few mid-level American intelligence officials opposed the new policy, arguing that instead of killing al-Qaeda operatives, some effort should be made to try and capture these men if and when the opportunity presented itself. According to two former CIA counterterrorism officials, because no senior or even mid-level al-Qaeda official had been captured for years prior to the initiation of the policy, the CIA’s knowledge of al-Qaeda’s internal organizational structure and management dynamics, as well as the group’s plans and intentions, remained very spotty. But their appeals were rejected on purely utilitarian grounds. According to a senior U.S. intelligence official interviewed in 2009, “Capturing al-Qaeda officials is a bother. It is so much easier to just kill ‘em when you can find them.” (139)

Since entering office in 2009, the Obama administration has continued the policy initiated during the Bush administration of killing al-Qaeda leaders and fighters whenever and wherever they are found. The widely held sentiment inside the U.S. intelligence community remains that the only sure way to ensure that there will be no more 9/11s is, as one current senior administration official starkly put it in a 2009 interview, “We have to kill them all, every last one of them.” (145)

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  • Posted by Kir Komrik

    Hi, I enjoyed your article and the examples it provides.

    “None of the Darfurian rebels I talked to at that conference could tell me what he was fighting for. ”

    This is abhorrent and unconscionable. These people are catching bullets for someone’s margin. Failure to enforce global rule of law to prevent this kind of anarchy could be viewed by future observers as criminal negligence.

    If Israel manages to get itself into a conflict with the IRI or any other middle eastern country USG will have little choice but to end the conflict to Israel’s favor. There is too much overlap of the Selfish Actor interests between these two countries to allow the potential for a power vacuum in the middle east, imo.

    “Panetta’s comments about the need for tax increases came as he reiterated his long-standing warnings that so-called sequestration – the roughly $600 billion in automatic defense cuts which would take effect if no debt-cutting deal is reached by the end of the year – would hollow out the nation’s armed forces and directly threaten U.S. national defense.”

    I would sumit to the reader that the best security option for the United States, and the one with the greatest bang for the buck, would be to spend that 600 billion on international public relations efforts, clandestine operations, de facto bribes of public officials and outright buy-outs of foreign governments and treasuries to press forward for the ratification of a constitution for a General Federation, which I’ve described here ( -> http://wp.me/p26aPU-9B).

    This would constitute the most dramatic advance in the management of human society in all recorded history. And the United States is the plankowner and proper inheritor of this calling since it was here that federalism, in its nascent stages, was first formulated and put into practice. The United States holds that honor.

    “The widely held sentiment inside the U.S. intelligence community remains that the only sure way to ensure that there will be no more 9/11s is, as one current senior administration official starkly put it in a 2009 interview, “We have to kill them all, every last one of them.”

    Nice. This “current senior administration offiical” just offiically declared what I’ve known for some time now; Rule of Law is no King in the United States. I would like to thank this administration for finally seeing things clearly and publicly acknowledging the in-practice elision of rule of law in the application in America of Law and Equity.

    Now, the next step is to consider the remedy. And the remedy for the latter problem is the former solution.

    - kk

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