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.

Posts by Author

Showing posts for "Micah Zenko"

Why Secretary Chuck Hagel Resigned

by Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after announcing Hagel's resignation at the White House on November 24, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) President Barack Obama embraces Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after announcing Hagel's resignation at the White House on November 24, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Gopal Ratnam, “Picking Up the Pieces at the Pentagon,” ForeignPolicy.com, November 25, 2014.

Although the White House portrayed Hagel’s departure as a usual cabinet change post a midterm election that resulted in Democrats losing their Senate majority, unnamed administration officials have said that Hagel wasn’t up to the task of leading the fight against the militant group also known as ISIS and ISIL that now controls broad parts of Iraq and SyriaRead more »

America’s 500th Drone Strike

by Micah Zenko

The most consistent and era-defining tactic of America’s post-9/11 counterterrorism strategies has been the targeted killing of suspected terrorists and militants outside of defined battlefields. As one senior Bush administration official explained in October 2001, “The president has given the [CIA] the green light to do whatever is necessary. Lethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway.” Shortly thereafter, a former CIA official told the New Yorker, “There are five hundred guys out there you have to kill.” It is quaint to recall that such a position was considered extremist and even morally unthinkable. Today, these strikes are broadly popular with the public and totally uncontroversial in Washington, both within the executive branch and on Capitol Hill. Therefore, it is easy to forget that this tactic, envisioned to be rare and used exclusively for senior al-Qaeda leaders thirteen years ago, has become a completely accepted and routine foreign policy activity. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Obama on Proxies, and U.S.-China Military Relations

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama waves after holding a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Brisbane on November 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama waves after holding a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Brisbane on November 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Remarks by President Obama at G20 Press Conference, White House, November 16, 2014.

Obama: But we’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles. And one of those principles is that you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: FSA fighters, ISIS, and Cruise Missiles

by Micah Zenko

General John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,Interview with Al Jazeera Arabic News Channel, October 29, 2014.

QUESTION: The mission of the train Syrian fighters is confined for war against ISIL. How can you guarantee that you are not going fight the regime? Read more »

What Leon Panetta’s Memoir Says About Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
Former U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta discusses his new book "Worthy Fights" at George Washington University on October 14, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) Former U.S. secretary of defense Leon Panetta discusses his new book "Worthy Fights" at George Washington University on October 14, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2014), pp. 388-391. Read more »

What Threats or Conflicts Will Emerge or Escalate in 2015?

by Micah Zenko
Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Ocotber 8, 2014. (Bektas/Courtesy Reuters) Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Ocotber 8, 2014. (Bektas/Courtesy Reuters)

In March, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated, “Our military’s first responsibility is to prevent and de-escalate conflict.” However, when it comes to the United States’ ability to anticipate and predict conflict or instability, there is room for improvement.  Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently repeated what many military officials acknowledge, “In the last forty years, our record in predicting where we would use military force next, even six months out, is perfect. We’ve never once gotten it right.” Just a year ago, the United States did not anticipate that it would again be deeply engaged in military action in Iraq, let alone in Syria, against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria before the end of 2014. Read more »

Obama Should Change his Counter-ISIS Strategy

by Micah Zenko

Last month, I wrote about how President Obama’s announced end state to “degrade, and ultimately destroy ISIL” would not be achieved, just as previous promises by Bush and Obama administration officials to “destroy” and “eliminate” Al Qaeda and the Taliban were not. I also noted how U.S. officials have offered contradictory end states since then, a practice that continues. For example, on September 22, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. Martin Dempsey declared: “We want them to wake up every day realizing that they are being squeezed from multiple directions. If we can get [ISIS] looking in about five different directions, that’s the desired end state.” That is a plausible strategic objective given the relatively limited military and non-military resources that have been committed by the United States and coalition members. However, it is nowhere near as difficult as “destroy.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Kissinger Attack on Cuba, ISIS, Civilians in Iraq

by Micah Zenko
A general view is seen of Bajed Kadal refugee camp southwest of Dohuk September 15, 2014. The camp is for the minority Yazidi sect, who fled violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar. (Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters) A general view is seen of Bajed Kadal refugee camp southwest of Dohuk September 15, 2014. The camp is for the minority Yazidi sect, who fled violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar. (Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters)

Public Law 113-164, 113th Congress, September 19, 2014.

SEC. 149. (a) The Secretary of Defense is authorized, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide assistance, including training, equipment, supplies, and sustainment, to appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups and individuals for the following purposes: Read more »

You Might Have Missed: ISIS, Khorasan, and Psychology of Terrorism

by Micah Zenko
A map showing Islamic State ambition is displayed as U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testify on the threat posed by the Islamic State on September 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) A map showing Islamic State ambition is displayed as U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testify on the threat posed by the Islamic State on September 16, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Hearing on U.S. Policy Towards Iraq and Syria, U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, September 16, 2014.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): I take it from your answer that we are now recruiting these young men to go and fight in Syria against ISIL, but if they’re attacked by Bashar Assad, we’re not gonna help them? Read more »

Why the United States Will Never Defeat ISIS

by Micah Zenko
Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq listens to U.S. Commander Maj. Gen. David Petraeus upon his arrival at Mosul airport in northern Iraq before a short helicopter tour of the city on May 18, 2003.
(Schmidt/Courtesy Reuters) Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq listens to U.S. Commander Maj. Gen. David Petraeus upon his arrival at Mosul airport in northern Iraq before a short helicopter tour of the city on May 18, 2003. (Schmidt/Courtesy Reuters)

On the eve of the Iraq War in 2003, while commanding the 101st Airborne Division, then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly asked Rick Atkinson the rhetorical question: “Tell me how this ends.” What began as a private joke between a military commander and an embedded journalist has become a warning for the need to define clear objectives and be cognizant of unexpected outcomes before going to war.  Last week, President Barack Obama attempted to provide clear strategic guidance for the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), declaring: “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL.” Read more »