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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Avoiding a U.S.-China Great Power War

by Micah Zenko
Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army General Fang Fenghui hold a joint news conference after their meeting at the Pentagon in Washington on May 15, 2014. (Gripas/Courtesy Reuters) Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army General Fang Fenghui hold a joint news conference after their meeting at the Pentagon in Washington on May 15, 2014. (Gripas/Courtesy Reuters)

In book one of The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides provided his explanation for why the Spartans (or Lacedaemonians) broke the thirty years’ truce treaty with the Athenians after just fourteen years: “I consider the truest cause the one least openly expressed, that increasing Athenian greatness and the resulting fear among the Lacedaemonians made going to war inevitable.”  Thucydides reiterates later how the Spartans assembly voted “that the treaty had been broken and that they must go to war not so much because they were persuaded by the arguments of their allies as because they feared further increase in the power of the Athenians, seeing the greater part of Hellas under their control.” Read more »

Challenging the Terrorist Safe Haven Myth

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President George W. Bush during a briefing at the Pentagon on September 17, 2001, at which he said the United States wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." (McNamee/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President George W. Bush during a briefing at the Pentagon on September 17, 2001, at which he said the United States wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." (McNamee/Courtesy Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

For thirteen years, U.S. counterterrorism strategy has relied on an assumption that arose after 9/11: international terrorist attacks against the United States require a safe haven. Denying safe havens in Iraq and Afghanistan took nearly seven thousand American lives and will have an eventual estimated cost of $4 to $6 trillion.  More recently, this assumption served as the rationale for launching an open-ended war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is nearing its sixth month of engagement. Read more »

What the Pentagon Wants in a New AUMF: Perpetual Warfare

by Micah Zenko

During his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress “to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant].” The White House has claimed repeatedly that such an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) is not legally required because the president already has the authority to conduct operations “against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces” as provided in the 2001 AUMF. Given that the United States began bombing Iraq on August 8, it is clear that Congress tacitly accepts this interpretation and is in no hurry to pass an updated authorization for ISIL, just as they have never made serious efforts to reform the 2001 AUMF. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: ISIS, Defense Contractors, and Yemen

by Micah Zenko

Tim Starks, “Congress on Yemen,” Roll Call, January 22, 2015.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC):  ISIL is a bigger threat to us than anything I can think of right now.

(3PA: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) has killed 3 Americans, while non-communicable diseases killed 2,337,280 Americans in 2013. For a list of much bigger threats than ISIS, see here.) Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Pilots, Press Freedom, and CIA Accountability

by Micah Zenko
RPA Pilots, Senior Airman Travis and Captain Ben, fly an MQ-1 Predator during the wings two million flying hour milestone on October 22, 2013. (Staff Sgt. N. B./Courtesy: U.S. Air Force) RPA Pilots, Senior Airman Travis and Captain Ben, fly an MQ-1 Predator during the wings two million flying hour milestone on October 22, 2013. (Staff Sgt. N. B./Courtesy: U.S. Air Force)

Daily Press Briefing, U.S. Department of State, January 15, 2015.

MARIE HARF: So clearly, we think that media organizations should have the right publish what they want. Doesn’t mean they have to prove that they can. It’s obviously a decision for them to make. Read more »

Tracking Eight Years of Airstrikes in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

On October 7, 2001, the United States and United Kingdom, as part of the military campaign to topple the Taliban, began conducting airstrikes in Afghanistan. The air attacks were carried out by five B-1 and ten B-52 bombers operating out of Diego Garcia, twenty-five F-14 and F-18 fighter aircraft launched from naval carriers in the Arabian Sea, two B-2 bombers from Whiteman air force base in Missouri, as well as some fifty cruise missiles fired from off shore. Those initial airstrikes were against thirty-one targets consisting of air defense radars, Taliban airfields and command-and-control facilities, and al-Qaeda training camps. After the Taliban was removed from power and remnants of concentrated al-Qaeda fighters had dispersed, airstrikes were significantly curtailed by the end of December 2001. According to the U.S. Air Force, during the initial 76 days of bombing, some 6,500 strike sorties were flown, with 17,500 munitions dropped on over 520 targets. Read more »

If Cyberattacks Are Terror, Who’s the Biggest Terrorist?

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 10, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 10, 2014. (Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Yesterday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union where he proposed placing North Korea on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Menendez contended that the additional sanctions announced by the White House last week were insufficient, and that “we need to look at putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would have far more pervasive consequences.” Beyond claiming this would have additional consequences for North Korea, he disagreed with President Obama’s characterization of the alleged Sony hack as “an act of cyber vandalism”: Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Civilian Casualties in Iraq, High-Value Targets, and Treaties

by Micah Zenko
Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, briefs reporters on the mission and provides an update on operations at the Pentagon, December 18, 2014. (Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/Courtesy Department of Defense) Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, briefs reporters on the mission and provides an update on operations at the Pentagon, December 18, 2014. (Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/Courtesy Department of Defense)

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Lt. Gen. Terry in the Pentagon Briefing Room, U.S. Department of Defense, December 18, 2014.

Q: I was hoping you could clarify how airstrikes are being conducted without any JTACs [joint terminal attack controllers] on the ground in most cases. And also how you assess civilian casualties in those cases, if at all. Read more »

Preventive Priorities Survey for 2015

by Micah Zenko
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters) Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), walk toward the Syrian border near Sinjar, Iraq, August 11, 2014. (Rodi Said/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, we at the Center for Preventive Action released our Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) for 2015. This is the seventh in our annual effort to harness crowd wisdom and foreign policy expertise in order to identify plausible sources of political instability and violence and to rank them into three tiers based on their impact to U.S. interests and likelihood of happening in the upcoming year. The goal of the PPS is to help officials and policymakers focus on the most important conflict prevention demands. Despite all the early warning analysis done in the U.S. government, there is neither a systematic process that does this, nor a routine system for bringing such information to the attention of senior officials. The PPS represents our best effort to provide this once a year and, given the feedback we receive from officials, the survey is highly coveted and widely read. Read more »

How U.S. Officials and Congress Have Defended Drone Strikes in Light of the Torture Report

by Micah Zenko

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, White House, December 11, 2014.

Q: And finally, has the President ever sought a formal assessment from the intelligence community about whether the drone program is a net asset, either because of our moral authority, or in terms of creating more enemies than it takes off the battlefield? Read more »