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"

Formalizing Oversight of Military Targeted Killings

by Micah Zenko
Six members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Mac Thornberry (R-TX) who stands at the podium, hold a press briefing at the Pentagon on November 6, 2003 (Ward/Courtesy Department of Defense). Six members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Mac Thornberry (R-TX) who stands at the podium, hold a press briefing at the Pentagon on November 6, 2003 (Ward/Courtesy Department of Defense).

On Friday, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), vice chairman of the house armed services committee (HASC), introduced a bi-partisan bill with twenty-nine co-sponsors. The full text of the bill (H.R. 1914) was only made available today by the Library of Congress. The “Oversight of Sensitive Military Operations Act” essentially formalizes into law existing oversight procedures for non-battlefield capture or targeted killing operations conducted by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces. As Thornberry acknowledged last week, “We’ve been doing a lot of this oversight anyway,” with the military briefing the HASC’s subcommittee on intelligence, emerging threats, and capabilities within “hours or days” after drone strikes or other “lethal targeting actions.” This is much faster reporting than required under current law—a “global update on activity within each geographic combatant command” every three months. Read more »

Syrian Lethal Aid, Drones Over Yemen, and Isolationism

by Micah Zenko
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after reading a statement on chemical weapon use in Syria during a news conference in Abu Dhabi. (Jim Watson/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after reading a statement on chemical weapon use in Syria during a news conference in Abu Dhabi. (Jim Watson/Courtesy Reuters).

Nussaibah Younis, “Why Maliki Must Go,” New York Times, May 2, 2013.

Given the two-year-old Syrian civil war escalating next door, a sectarian crisis and political collapse in Iraq would be a disaster at the worst possible time. It would blur the boundaries between the two conflicts, bring additional misery to Iraq and pose enormous challenges for Iraq’s neighbors and the United States. Read more »

America’s Failing Drone War in Yemen

by Micah Zenko

In February, Eric Schmitt wrote in the New York Times about the Obama administration’s emerging Yemen strategy, whereby U.S. and Yemeni intelligence and military officials would “work together to kill or capture about two dozen of al Qaeda’s most dangerous operatives, who are focused on attacking America and its interests.” Like all previous objectives of America’s Long Third War of drone strikes, the scope of intended targets has expanded far beyond those two dozen individuals, who should have been killed at least nine times over by now.  According to the Long Wars Journal database, there have been forty U.S. airstrikes (drone or fixed-wing) in Yemen this year, up from ten in 2011. These have killed 223 people, an estimated 19 percent of them were civilians. Read more »

Top Twelve Defense Sequestration Scare Tactics

by Micah Zenko
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey hold a news conference at the Pentagon on June 29, 2012 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters). Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey hold a news conference at the Pentagon on June 29, 2012 (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters).

Over a year ago, on August 2, 2011, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. The bipartisan legislation easily passed the House, 269-131, with 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats voting “yes.” The BCA similarly sailed through the Senate, 74-26, with endorsements from 28 Republicans and 45 Democrats. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Israeli Strike on Iran, No-Fly Zone in Syria, and Ernest Hemingway

by Micah Zenko
A man sits in front of houses destroyed during a recent air strike in Azaz, Syria (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters). A man sits in front of houses destroyed during a recent air strike in Azaz, Syria (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).

Benny Morris, “Obama’s Last Chance Before Israel Bombs Iran,” The Daily Beast, August 16, 2012.

(3PA: In this piece, Morris predicts “Israel is likely to strike [Iran] before the American elections.” In July 2008, Morris boldly predicted in the New York Times, “Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months.” Morris also writes of Israel’s 1981 attack on the Iraqi Osirak plutonium reactor, “That successful strike actually put paid to Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program, which was never resurrected.” It is totally untrue that Iraq’s nuclear program was never resurrected. As Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer wrote in the journal International Security: “The attack had mixed effects: it triggered a covert nuclear weapons program that did not previously exist, while necessitating a more difficult and time-consuming technical route to developing nuclear weapons.”) Read more »

Will America Help Israel Attack Iran?

by Micah Zenko
General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with Major-General Gantz, chief of Israeli armed forces, in Tel Aviv (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters). General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with Major-General Gantz, chief of Israeli armed forces, in Tel Aviv (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters).

Yesterday, during a press conference, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observed the following when asked about Israeli military capabilities to undertake unilateral strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities: Read more »

Op-Ed Militarism

by Micah Zenko
A copy of the Wall Street Journal on July 31, 2007 (Shannon Stapleton/Courtesy Reuters). A copy of the Wall Street Journal on July 31, 2007 (Shannon Stapleton/Courtesy Reuters).

In his 1977 study on military and civilian influence on U.S. uses of force, Soldiers, Statesmen, and Cold War Crisis, political scientist Richard Betts examined Cold War military intervention and escalation decisions. Comparing the opinions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with those of civilian leaders, Betts found, “The stereotype of a belligerent chorus of generals and admirals intimidating a pacific civilian establishment is not supported by the evidence.” Read more »

How the Obama Administration Justifies Targeted Killings

by Micah Zenko
U.S. attorney general Holder delivers a speech at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago on March 5, 2012 (Jeff Haynes/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. attorney general Holder delivers a speech at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago on March 5, 2012 (Jeff Haynes/Courtesy Reuters).

Despite almost ten years of operations and nearly four hundred airstrikes that killed an estimated three thousand people (both militants and civilians), both the Bush and Obama administrations have provided limited information about U.S. targeted killings policies. The scope and intensity of the strikes represent an undeclared Third War beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, for which policymakers offer adjectives (“surgical,” “discriminate,” targeted,” and “precise”) but refuse to directly address any questions. According to White House spokesperson Jay Carney in February, “I’m not going to discuss broadly or specifically supposed covert programs.” Read more »

Targeted Killings and Congressional Oversight

by Micah Zenko
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters). The U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters).

Late Friday afternoon, the Obama administration marginally pulled back the curtain on targeted killings conducted by the U.S. military—but not those carried out by the CIA—in Somalia and Yemen. Under the 1973 War Powers Resolution (WPR), whenever the U.S. military is involved in “hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicate by the circumstances,” the president is required to report every six months to Congress “on the status of such hostilities or situation as well as on the scope and duration of such hostilities or situation.” Read more »

U.S. Foreign Policy and Contested Sovereignty

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference on the second day of the NATO Summit in Chicago (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference on the second day of the NATO Summit in Chicago (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters).

In his memoir Decision Points, President George W. Bush described his frustration after reading intelligence reports about a growing Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan in the summer of 2008. Bush recalls an encounter with a Navy Seal in Afghanistan in 2006, who said: “Mr. President, we need permission to go kick some ass inside Pakistan.” Read more »