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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Is U.S. Foreign Policy Making Americans Less Safe?

by Micah Zenko
FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters) FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters)

Senior U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials increasingly warn of the threat of “lone wolf” individuals attempting terror attacks within the United States. These potential perpetrators are characterized as externally motivated, but predominantly self-directed in plotting and attempting acts of politically and/or ideologically motivated violence. They need not travel to purported foreign “safe havens” to receive training or guidance, nor be in direct contact with terrorist organizations based abroad. Rather, their inspiration, in large part, appears to stem from the principles and narratives promoted by Islamist jihadist groups. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Islamic Violence, the Bush Legacy, and Rubio on Libya

by Micah Zenko
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes questions at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada on May 13, 2015. (Glover/Reuters) Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes questions at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada on May 13, 2015. (Glover/Reuters)

Michael Morell, with Bill Harlow, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism from Al Qa’ida to ISIS (New York, NY: Twelve, 2015), p. 63.

[On September 15, 2001], a senior State Department official walked over and expressed the opinion to the president that it was critical that America’s first response to the [September 11] attack be diplomatic—that we should reason with the Taliban and ask them to turn over Bin Laden and his senior al Qa’ida leadership. Read more »

Nine Months of Coalition Air Strikes Against the Islamic State

by Micah Zenko
A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters) A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters)

Today marks the nine month anniversary since the start of the U.S.-led air campaign, later named Operation Inherent Resolve, against the self-declared Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. The air war, which Secretary of State John Kerry then described as definitively not a war, but rather “a heightened level of counterterrorism operation,” shows no sign of ending. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee in March, “The enemy is now in a ‘defensive crouch,’ and is unable to conduct major operations.” The Pentagon has released a series of maps that purportedly detail the loss of territory under control by IS. However, the number and competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces required to ultimately defeat IS militants on the ground, and then control, secure, and administer newly freed territory, are lacking. In an unnoticed indicator found in the prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, two U.S. Air Force lieutenant generals acknowledged: “These combat operations are expected to continue long-term (3+ years).”   Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Strikes, Nation-building, and the U.S. Aviation Inventory

by Micah Zenko

Elisabeth Bumiller, “Soldier, Thinker, Hunter, Spy: Drawing a Bead on Al Qaeda,” New York Times, September 3, 2011.

In Mr. [Michael] Vickers’s [top adviser to then-secretary of defense Leon E. Panetta] assessment, there are perhaps four important Qaeda leaders left in Pakistan, and 10 to 20 leaders over all in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Even if the United States kills them all in drone strikes, Mr. Vickers said, “You still have Al Qaeda, the idea.” Read more »

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 »