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 Risky Was the Osama bin Laden Raid?

by Micah Zenko Monday, April 30, 2012
President Obama is pictured announcing the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters/Jason Reed). President Obama is pictured announcing the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters/Jason Reed).

Last week, the Obama campaign released a video starring Bill Clinton, in which he extolled the president’s decision to authorize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden one year ago. In the video, Clinton hypothesized: “Suppose the Navy Seals had gone in there, and it hadn’t been bin Laden. Suppose they’d been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for [Obama].” According to the former president, Obama’s decision was “the harder and more honorable path.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: China, Air Power, and Bahrain’s Democracy Deficit

by Micah Zenko Friday, April 27, 2012
A woman runs from an air strike by the Sudanese air force in Rubkona, South Sudan (Courtesy Reuters/Goran Tomasevic). A woman runs from an air strike by the Sudanese air force in Rubkona, South Sudan (Courtesy Reuters/Goran Tomasevic).

Background Briefing on the U.S. Military Realignment in Japan, April 26, 2012.

QUESTION: And then how this [US-Japan security agreement] fits into the emerging strategic view of this building that rotational, small forces are better than these colossal bases that have been historically our footprint? Read more »

The Pentagon’s Threat Smorgasbord

by Micah Zenko Thursday, April 26, 2012
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gets his lunch aboard the USS Peleliu (Courtesy Reuters/Mike Blake). U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gets his lunch aboard the USS Peleliu (Courtesy Reuters/Mike Blake).

Last week, while discussing U.S. military planning for the Korean Peninsula, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned, “No question we’re within an inch of war almost every day in that part of the world.” As a follow up, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Secretary Panetta what other issues kept him up at night. He responded: “Well, obviously Iran, Syria, the whole issue of turmoil in the Middle East, the whole issue of cyber war, the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction, rising powers—all of those things are threats that the United States faces in today’s world.” (Yesterday, Panetta inflated the worrisome geography to include “transnational threats” like “turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa” and the “threat of natural disasters.”) Read more »

America’s Third War

by Micah Zenko Monday, April 23, 2012
File photo of a Predator drone flying above the USS Carl Vinson (Courtesy Reuters/Handout). File photo of a Predator drone flying above the USS Carl Vinson (Courtesy Reuters/Handout).
“The only valid national security reason for classifying information is that a hostile element whose goal is to damage the interests of the United States should not have use of the information.” Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1986 Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Threat Inflation, and Corruption

by Micah Zenko Friday, April 20, 2012
Joseph Kony. Joseph Kony.

The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said. Read more »

The CIA Wants Your Kids

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, April 18, 2012
An aerial view of the National Security Agency (NSA). An aerial view of the National Security Agency (NSA).

The U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) is a sprawling network of roughly 210,000 civilian and military employees across seventeen agencies as well as approximately 30,000 private contractors. With a budget of $75 billion between the national and military intelligence programs, the IC is authorized to carry out a range of activities and programs, including monitoring suspected nuclear weapons programs, killing suspected terrorists, and analyzing ongoing events for everyone from President Obama to soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Night Raids, and the Appeal and Cost of Nuclear Weapons

by Micah Zenko Friday, April 13, 2012
Afghan Special Forces participate in a night raid training exercise in Kabul April 11, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Mohammad Ismail). Afghan Special Forces participate in a night raid training exercise in Kabul April 11, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Mohammad Ismail).

Private security teams patrol the decks of around 40% of large vessels in the “high-risk area” that stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Seychelles in the south and the Maldives in the east. When pirates attack, these armed guards respond with flares or warning shots. This usually scares off assailants (or sends them in search of easier prey). If it fails, they fire at an attacking boat’s engine, before finally turning their sights on the pirates. No ship carrying armed guards has so far been hijacked. Read more »

U.S. Foreign Policy and Inflated Threats

by Micah Zenko Thursday, April 12, 2012
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, DC, in February 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Yuri Gripas). Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, DC, in February 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Yuri Gripas).

On February 15, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee: “I can’t impress upon you that in my personal military judgment, formed over thirty-eight years, we are living in the most dangerous time in my lifetime, right now.” Two weeks later, during a House Budget Committee hearing, when asked to expand upon his earlier statement, he replied: Read more »

America’s Role in Reducing Violence in Central America

by Micah Zenko Monday, April 9, 2012
A policeman takes photos at the scene of a deadly shootout near Zacapa, Guatemala (Courtesy Reuters/Daniel Leclair). A policeman takes photos at the scene of a deadly shootout near Zacapa, Guatemala (Courtesy Reuters/Daniel Leclair).

A casual observer of world events might believe that interstate wars, civil wars, and terrorism, given the prominence of media coverage, are the primary causes of violent deaths. In fact, of the estimated 526,000 people killed by lethal violence in 2010, only 10.5 percent were direct conflict deaths—in other words, due to armed conflict, political violence, or terrorism. Victims of intentional homicide account for a staggering 75 percent of all violent deaths. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: WMDs, Libya, and Drone Strikes in Yemen

by Micah Zenko Saturday, April 7, 2012
Members of the Abida tribe point as they look for a drone aircraft flying at a high altitude over Wadi Abida in the eastern Yemeni province of Maarib (Courtesy Reuters/Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi). Members of the Abida tribe point as they look for a drone aircraft flying at a high altitude over Wadi Abida in the eastern Yemeni province of Maarib (Courtesy Reuters/Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi).

Mexicans personally feel less safe in their own neighborhoods in 2011 than they did at the onset of the drug war. While perceptions about safety have fluctuated, the 42% who said they feel safe walking alone at night in 2011 is down 15 percentage points from 57% in 2007. Read more »