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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Showing posts for "Military Policy"

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 »

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 »

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: 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 »

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 »

Guest Post: Developing a Narrative for Success in the Battle Against ISIS

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with military leaders from twenty-one nations to discuss strategy in the Middle East at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on October 14, 2014. The discussion was part of a ongoing effort to build a coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and integrate capabilities. (Cullen/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense) U.S. President Barack Obama meets with military leaders from twenty-one nations to discuss strategy in the Middle East at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on October 14, 2014. The discussion was part of a ongoing effort to build a coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and integrate capabilities. (Cullen/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense)

Col. Stephen Liszewski, U.S. Marine Corps, is a Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He most recently commanded the 11th Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton, California.

Victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not only a matter of military success; President Obama recently made this point to coalition military leaders. The fight against ISIS is part of a larger struggle with violent extremist ideology. 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 »

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 »

U.S. Transparency and the Truth of Targeted Killings

by Micah Zenko

This morning, the White House released an unusual statement: “The Department of Defense confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the leader of al-Shabaab, is dead as a result of a U.S. military targeted airstrike in Somalia undertaken over the weekend.” What was particularly unique about the statement is that, previously, the Pentagon has purposely refused to confirm the deaths of terrorist leaders killed with legal counterterrorism strikes. On June 5, 2012, when Pentagon spokesperson then-Capt. John Kirby was asked about the reported death of al Qaeda’s no. 2 official, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Kirby replied: “We don’t discuss the specifics of counterterrorism operations.  So I’m not going to speak to specifics of operations.” Read more »