Micah Zenko

Obama's Armed Drones in Iraq Reek of Mission Creep

Why the administration’s muddy logic for intervention on behalf of a deeply unpopular central government will get America engaged in a Middle Eastern civil war.

Don't worry if you missed it. I mean, what do you buy for the drone war that has everything? Yes, the 10-year anniversary of the CIA's drone strike campaign in northwest Pakistan unsurprisingly passed without mention in Washington, but it has potential lessons for the unfolding deterioration of security in Iraq, as the Islamic State (formerly ISIS or ISIL) continues to seize territory, declaring an Islamic caliphate over portions of Iraq and Syria.

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When All You've Got Is an F-16…

Why is bombing the only option in Washington's policy toolkit?

Just two days after the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) captured territory and military installations in Iraq, Washington foreign policy commentators and policymakers are considering options for responding. And unsurprisingly, the scope of the debate about what to do in Iraq has broken down into bombing, or not bombing. Sen. Lindsey Graham declared on the Senate floor, "I think American airpower is the only hope to change the battlefield equation in Iraq." President Barack Obama later said "I don't rule out anything," to which White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later explained, "We are not contemplating ground troops. The president was answering a question specifically about air strikes." The debate shrinks immediately around whether and how to use the tactic of force.

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The Less Things Change…

It's been a year since Obama’s big speech about reforming the U.S. targeted killing program. Here are 10 things about the forever war that have hardly budged at all.

Since one-year anniversaries are deemed appropriate occasions to revisit major policy initiatives, get ready for a glut of articles reviewing U.S. drone strike policies since President Barack Obama's May 23, 2013, counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University (NDU). This speech was the culmination of a series of interagency reviews into controversial U.S. targeted killings policies, which the Obama administration decided to give because it was concerned that its ability to conduct drone strikes -- like other controversial counterterrorism tactics -- could become unduly constrained by domestic and international political pressure, or the denial of basing and overflight rights. The speech may have been criticized for being a whole lot of nothing, but the cynic could argue that it's been effective. Indeed, there is little domestic or international pressure to change anything; the drone strike program continues apace and the United States is reportedly likely to retain access to Jalalabad Airfield in Afghanistan to continue drone strikes into northwest Pakistan.

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Space Jam

Is the Pentagon's plan for outer-space dominance as muddled as it seems?

In my last column, I wrote about Gravity and the threat of thousands of shards of space debris ripping through America's orbiting satellites -- and the global governance challenge that poses. This column considers the more prosaic, though important, matter of how U.S. civilian and military officials think about national security space issues. Indeed, one common concern that I have heard from government space officials and staffers is that senior civilian officials rarely think about the domain at all. When they do, it is primarily about "stars and the space shuttle," as one State Department official described it, or that space is an unfettered celestial extension of the blue skies above them.

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Waste of Space

135 million pieces of junk are orbiting Earth at 18,000 mph -- and U.S. space dominance is in danger of being ripped to shreds.

By the time the film Gravity won seven Academy Awards in March, casual viewers probably knew it as much for its arresting visual imagery as for its lengthy list of technical errors. Amplified by the Twitter feed of celeb astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, space watchers identified problems with Sandra Bullock's hair (why wouldn't if float in a zero-G environment), and why would the Hubble telescope and International Space Station have the same sight lines (given they are over 100 miles apart). However, the one tweet from deGrasse Tyson that got overlooked was that the movie was plausible: "The film #Gravity depicts a scenario of catastrophic satellite destruction that can actually happen."

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