Weekend Reading: January 17-19

Weekend Reading: January 17-19


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Happy Friday, War on the Rocks readers! It’s been another exciting week in the realm of national security and as you get ready for this long holiday weekend, be sure to check these recommended readings that caught our attention from the last week.

The Wrong Criticism of the NSA: This week Paul Pillar of the National Interest looks at conventional wisdom that criticizes U.S. government agencies, commonly accusing it of ineptitude. Specifically, “intelligence failures” within intelligence agencies are viewed as a result of organizational incompetence, rather than the alternative: ill intent. However, recent revelations about the NSA demonstrate that it employs some of the best and brightest and is actually quite competent when it comes to its central mission: breaking codes. Therefore, the question is not whether the NSA is capable is fulfilling its mission effectively, but whether this mission should be more deeply expanded on.

For more on the NSA leading up to President Obama’s speech today, read the New York Times’ piece tracing Obama’s path from from critic to defender of government surveillance.

Weird Roundup of the Week: NPR has a roundup of the bizarre items that world leaders present one another when gathering for meetings. The list includes whale teeth (Fiji to the U.K.), a camel (Mali to France), and a giant coffee bean (Colombia to the U.S.).

Reflections by Gates: With this week’s publication of Former defense secretary Robert Gates’ memoir Duty, the Washington Post has a stirring review not just of the book, but also Robert Gates, a man coming to terms with his past and the role he played in both the Iraq and Afghan wars. The second sentence is enough to get you to keep reading: “The war is fought in the throat, and lost in the eyes.” Excerpts of the book stirred controversy even before its publication, and we look forward to readers’ feedback now that the book is available for purchase.

Sticking with the Gulf War Paradigm: In the winter 2014 issue of Orbis, published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philip A. Brown and M. L. R. Smith have a great article analyzing the U.S. armed forces’ focus on high-tech capability and “decisive force” as a means to win wars following the success of these tactics in the Gulf War. However, the “Gulf War paradigm” proved inadequate in the 2000s as the U.S. found itself in a two-front war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and military doctrine shifted towards a strategy of counterinsurgency. However, Brown and Smith make the case that as the duration of these wars extended, the U.S. military reverted back to the Gulf War paradigm. Rather than configuring its strategy to meet the unique challenges presented in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military reverted back to the form of warfare that it knows best.

(Note: this article may only be available to users with access to Science Direct, however, it is well worth the read for those who have a chance to download it.)