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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What’s the Pentagon’s Plan for the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund and Syria?

by Micah Zenko

On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing with senior Pentagon officials to review the Pentagon’s FY2015 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget request of $58.6 billion. Included in that request are $5 billion for the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund, of which $500 million would go to training and equipping Syrian rebels. By definition, OCO funding is outside of the normal budgeting process, and is intended to fund requirements that emerged after the federal budget was proposed on March 4. However, the hearing revealed that there is no publicly articulable plan for how the Pentagon will spend this money, only that it is being developed. Thus, given all of the existing security assistance budget authorities, many congressional members have legitimate concerns that this could become a slush fund. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Israel-Palestine Death Toll, Iraq Drone Strikes, and Afghan Civilians

by Micah Zenko
Smoke and flames are seen following what police said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 9, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) Smoke and flames are seen following what police said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 9, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Media Availability with Secretary Hagel at Eglin AFB, Florida, U.S. Department of Defense, July 10, 2014.

SEC. HAGEL: A lot of questions always come with any possibility or decision whether to take strikes or not. So those are all questions that are being asked and factors are being—are put into the process. And those are still options. Read more »

One Decade of Drone Strikes in Pakistan

by Micah Zenko

In May 2002, Gen. John Keane, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, vowed: “We have broken their will and they are trying to establish another safe haven now in Pakistan…when the time is right, we will deal with that one as well.” Indeed, two years later, his prediction came to pass on June 17, 2004, when a Hellfire missile killed Taliban commander Nek Mohammed, beginning the CIA campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan that continues to this day. One decade later, the United States has conducted a total of 371 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing an estimated 2,878, of which 376 were civilians. Read more »

What Would Air Strikes in Iraq Achieve?

by Micah Zenko
Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 11, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, June 11, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

Demands by current policymakers to use military force are rarely accompanied by a specific objective of what it is intended to achieve. In the binary debate about what to do in Iraq, several policymakers have called for air strikes with some assertion of why and what they would accomplish. See below for an early collection and judge for yourself the validity of their claims. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: One Year After Obama’s Drone Speech

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks about his administration's counterterrorism policy at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks about his administration's counterterrorism policy at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Harold Hongju Koh, “Ending the Forever War: One Year After President Obama’s NDU Speech,” JustSecurity.org, May 23, 2014.

The President’s historic move in that speech was to call for the eventual repeal of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and the end of what I had called at the Oxford Union the “Forever War”… Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Space Fence, Counter-UAV Technologies, and Nigeria

by Micah Zenko

Eric Schmitt and Brian Knowlton, “U.S. Officials Question Ability of Nigeria to Rescue Hostages,” New York Times, May 15, 2014.

Even as terrorist groups throughout the world have engaged in more kidnappings for ransom to finance their operations, Pentagon officials have worried that the success in killing Osama bin Laden and a movie like “Captain Phillips,” which depicted the capture and killing of Somali pirates, have placed unrealistic expectations on the American authorities. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Terrorism, Women in Nonprofits, and China

by Micah Zenko
U.S. secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan listen to the Chinese national anthem during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing April 8, 2014. (Wong/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan listen to the Chinese national anthem during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing April 8, 2014. (Wong/Courtesy Reuters)

Ehud Yaari and Michael Morell, Israel vs. al-Qaeda: Emerging Challenges on Two Fronts,” The Washington Institute, April 29, 2014. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Kissinger, China’s Navy, and Counterinsurgency Wars

by Micah Zenko

The Secretary’s Analytical Staff Meeting on Non-Proliferation,” U.S. Department of State, August 2, 1974.

SECRETARY KISSINGER: I just have a reluctance to have the United States go charging around the world, like Don Quixote, for every conceivable problem, including one of great importance, where there are other countries whose interest in it ought to be even greater, who affirm loudly that they are interested in it, and not make them share some of the responsibility. (page 41-42) Read more »

Evolving State Department-USAID Strategic Goals

by Micah Zenko

In August 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell and USAID administrator Andrew Natsios introduced the first joint State Department – USAID Strategic Plan. These plans are intended to better synchronize the direction of and priorities for the two agencies most responsible for developing and implementing U.S. foreign policy and development assistance programs.  Just yesterday, the fourth Strategic Plan was published, and like the preceding three it lists several broad strategic priorities that are intended to guide State and USAID’s own guidance documents, budgets, directives, and policies. To understand how U.S. foreign policy priorities have shifted between the Bush and Obama administrations in the past decade, please see below for a chart that lists those strategic goals
Read more »