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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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 »

Highlights of the Worldwide Threats Hearing

by Micah Zenko

Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, “Worldwide Threats,” witnesses: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, February 26, 2015.

CLAPPER:  2014 saw, for the first time, destructive cyberattacks carried out on U.S. soil by nation-state entities, marked first by the Iranian attack against the Las Vegas Sands Casino Corporation a year ago this month and the North Korean attack against Sony in November. Read more »

Ten What’s With…Thanassis Cambanis

by Micah Zenko
"Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story," by Thanassis Cambanis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015). "Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story," by Thanassis Cambanis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Thanassis Cambanis is a fellow at The Century Foundation and a columnist at the Boston Globe. He is the author of a new book, Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story.

1. What is the most interesting project you are currently working on?

Interesting to whom? Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Exports, Somalia, and JFK’s “Ordinary Mortals”

by Micah Zenko

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room, U.S. Department of Defense, February 18, 2015.

Rear Adm. Kirby: These are actually proscriptions in place that we will follow and we will expect anybody that receives these systems to follow…It’s in our best interest to be able to have this kind of control, supervision, and scrutiny over the potential delivery of these systems because it’s a ubiquitous, now, capability. Not every nation has the same sophistication at it as we do, but this is a technology that’s not going away. So, it suits our interests, and I think it should suit the American people’s interests to know that we’re going to be involved, from soup to nuts, on how these systems are eventually transferred. Read more »

Obama’s New ISIS Strategy: Reflecting Reality

by Micah Zenko
A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. (Bruch/Courtesy U.S. Air Force) A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. (Bruch/Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

In his September 10 address to the nation, President Obama declared America’s war aims with regards to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL): “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” I wrote several pieces that pointed out how this was an unrealistic and unachievable strategic objective. Just as Presidents Bush and Obama previously vowed to “eliminate” or “destroy” several militant or terrorist organizations, and failed completely each time, I believed that it was a certainty that the United States would not destroy ISIS. My opinion was, in part, informed by conversations with State Department and Pentagon officials and staffers who unanimously thought that the “destroy” objective was unobtainable and should never have been articulated with such a maximalist term. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Recent Academic Journal Findings

by Micah Zenko
(Free for commercial use/No attribution required) (Free for commercial use/No attribution required)

Simon Frankel Pratt, “Crossing off names: the logic of military assassination,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 26(1), 2015, pp. 3-23.

Those governments or commentators who publically advocate the use of military means to kill specific enemies have in recent times generally preferred terms such as ‘targeted killing.’ (p. 3)

The following proposed definition should not suffer from the problems of its predecessors, and thus offer a solid beginning for further exploration of assassination as a strategic concept: Read more »