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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Obama’s Drone Strikes Reforms Don’t Apply to 46 Percent

by Micah Zenko
A MQ-1B Predator drone that is part of Task Force Odin stands inside a hangar at Bagram Air Field in the Parwan province of Afghanistan on January 3, 2015. (Jackson/Courtesy Reuters) A MQ-1B Predator drone that is part of Task Force Odin stands inside a hangar at Bagram Air Field in the Parwan province of Afghanistan on January 3, 2015. (Jackson/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, Adam Entous reported the latest confirmation about what informed citizens already knew: the White House’s purported policy guidance for U.S. lethal counterterrorism strikes issued on May 23, 2013 does not apply to CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The CIA may still target unknown individuals, and they do not have to pose a purported “imminent threat” to the United States. This was widely reported at the time publicly, and I was told by a then-member of a congressional oversight committee that this exception was made clear to them as well. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Strike Policies, North Korea, and Conflict Prevention

by Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama pauses during remarks at an Organizing for Action summit in Washington, DC on April 23, 2015. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) President Barack Obama pauses during remarks at an Organizing for Action summit in Washington, DC on April 23, 2015. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, White House, April 23, 2015.

John Earnest, White House Spokesperson:  I can tell you that Mr. Gadahn was not specifically targeted.  But in a fashion that was similar to the operation that we were discussing that resulted in the death of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto, the operation was against an al Qaeda compound.  So again, this is a scenario where U.S. officials had determined with near certainty that an operation could be carried out against an al Qaeda compound that was frequented, or at least where at least one al Qaeda leader was locatedAnd that operation did result in the death of Mr. Gadahn… Read more »

Is Operation Desert Fox a Useful Comparison for Bombing Iran?

by Micah Zenko
Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, briefs reporters at the Pentagon on December 21, 1998, on his assessment of Operation Desert Fox. (Ward/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense) Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, briefs reporters at the Pentagon on December 21, 1998, on his assessment of Operation Desert Fox. (Ward/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense)

 

In an interview with the Family Research Council last week, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) described what U.S. military action against Iran’s nuclear-related facilities would entail:

The president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case. Read more »

Ten Whats With…Sheila A. Smith

by Micah Zenko
"Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China," by Sheila A. Smith (Columbia University Press, 2015). "Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China," by Sheila A. Smith (Columbia University Press, 2015).

Sheila A. Smith is a senior fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China (Columbia University Press, 2015) and Japan’s New Politics and the U.S.-Japan Alliance (Council on Foreign Relations, 2014).  Read more »

CIA Director: We’re Winning the War on Terror, But It Will Never End

by Micah Zenko
CIA Director John Brennan speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 7, 2015. (Ertl/Courtesy Reuters) CIA Director John Brennan speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 7, 2015. (Ertl/Courtesy Reuters)

Last night, Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan participated in a question-and-answer session at Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. The first thirty-seven minutes consisted of an unusually probing exchange between Brennan and Harvard professor Graham Allison (full disclosure: Graham is a former boss of mine). Most notably, between 19:07 and 29:25 in the video, Allison pressed Brennan repeatedly about whether the United States is winning the war on terrorism and why the number of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups has only increased since 9/11: “There seem to be more of them than when we started…How are we doing?” Read more »

Yemen: The Worst Reason for War

by Micah Zenko
People stand on the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike, launched by the Saudi-led coalition targeting Houthi militia, near Sanaa Airport in Yemen on March 31, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters) People stand on the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike, launched by the Saudi-led coalition targeting Houthi militia, near Sanaa Airport in Yemen on March 31, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters)

The excellent New York Times journalists David K. Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim have an article tacking stock of the nine-day old Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi and Houthi-affiliated fighting forces in Yemen. On the evening of the first airstrikes, the White House revealed that the United States was aiding this intervention: “President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]-led military operations.” Read more »

Putting Iran’s Nuclear Program in Context

by Micah Zenko
U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Robert Malley of the National Security Council, and European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and others wait for a meeting in Switzerland to continue negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. (Smialowski/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Robert Malley of the National Security Council, and European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and others wait for a meeting in Switzerland to continue negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. (Smialowski/Courtesy Reuters)

The April 24, 1984, edition of the British defense publication Jane’s Defence Weekly informed its readers: “Iran is engaged in the production of an atomic bomb, likely to be ready within two years, according to press reports in the Persian Gulf last week.” Subsequent warnings from U.S. and foreign sources about Iran’s imminent acquisition of a nuclear weapon have been offered over the past four decades. These false guesses are worth bearing in mind as news from the P5+1 nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland emerges. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Yemen, Islamic State, and MDGs

by Micah Zenko
Shiite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 26, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters) Shiite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen on March 26, 2015. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters)

Lt. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski and Lt. Gen. James M. Holmes, “Presentation to the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, House of Representatives,” U.S. Department of the Air Force, March 26, 2015, p. 16.

All three mission areas (Stand-Off, Direct Attack, and Penetrator munitions) in the Air-to-Surface munitions inventory are short of inventory objectives. Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and SDB weapons along with Low Observable platforms are force multipliers in a highly contested environment and their shortage could increase friendly force attrition driving a much higher level of effort enabling the attack of other critical targets. Read more »

How the U.S. Military Thinks About Complexity

by Micah Zenko
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 6, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 6, 2014. (Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

If you routinely read Pentagon reports, speeches, hearings transcripts, and news articles, you occasionally come across an assumption or claim that stands out. Yesterday, the Pentagon released a news article that summarized a speech given by Director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. David Goldfein at the Brookings Institution. The article included the line: “Last year was the most complex year since 1968, the general said.” Read more »