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.

Guess Who’s Bombing ISIS?

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, February 4, 2015
UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond hosts a meeting with coalition members to discuss the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on January 22, 2015. (Nicholls/Courtesy Reuters) UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond hosts a meeting with coalition members to discuss the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on January 22, 2015. (Nicholls/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, the New York Times reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suspended airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in December, “citing fears for its pilots’ safety after a Jordanian pilot was captured.” The article states that the UAE will not participate until U.S. V-22 Osprey aircraft are based in northern Iraq, rather than Kuwait where they reportedly are now, so they can respond faster to execute a combat search-and-rescue operation to recover a downed pilot. The reason those V-22s are not in northern Iraq is that the airbases located there cannot be adequately secured from the potential threats from ISIS rocket, mortar, and small-arms attacks. Raising the overall level of the security of an airbase, including the approach and departure corridors, in order to station such a valuable air asset would require an estimated three to four hundred American troops. Read more »

Should the United States Give Lethal Aid to Ukraine?

by Micah Zenko Monday, February 2, 2015
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces drive armored vehicles in the town of Volnovakha, eastern Ukraine, on January 18, 2015. (Ermochenko/Courtesy Reuters) Members of the Ukrainian armed forces drive armored vehicles in the town of Volnovakha, eastern Ukraine, on January 18, 2015. (Ermochenko/Courtesy Reuters)

When reading the thoughtful report, Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do, ask: What political objective does it intend to achieve, and will the recommended policies achieve it? That objective is: “The United States and NATO should seek to create a situation in which the Kremlin considers the option of further military action in or against Ukraine too costly to pursue. The combination of closing off that option plus the cumulative impact of Western economic sanctions could produce conditions in which Moscow decides to negotiate a genuine settlement that allows Ukraine to reestablish full sovereignty over Donetsk and Luhansk.” Does the lethal and nonlethal assistance that the report recommends providing to Ukraine create this “situation” or produce these “conditions?” (There is another less concrete political objective—“preserving the credibility of security assurances for the future”—which credibility hawks can attempt to defend.) Read more »

Avoiding a U.S.-China Great Power War

by Micah Zenko Monday, February 2, 2015
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 Tuesday, January 27, 2015
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 Saturday, January 24, 2015

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 Friday, January 23, 2015

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 Friday, January 16, 2015
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 »

Guest Post: Obama’s Legacy-Troop Reductions or Drone Strikes?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Tuesday, January 13, 2015
An MQ-1B Predator, left, and an MQ-9 Reaper taxi to the runway in preparation for takeoff on June 13, 2014 at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. (Clausen/Courtesy U.S. Air Force) An MQ-1B Predator, left, and an MQ-9 Reaper taxi to the runway in preparation for takeoff on June 13, 2014 at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. (Clausen/Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

Amelia M. Wolf is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action and the International Institutions and Global Governance Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In its latest edition, New York Magazine published “The Obama History Project,” in which fifty-three “historians” (actually a mix of sociologists, political scientists, journalists, etc.) responded to a questionnaire about how President Obama and his administration will be viewed in twenty years. Read more »

Tracking Eight Years of Airstrikes in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko Thursday, January 8, 2015

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 Monday, January 5, 2015
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 »