Weekend Reading: August 16

August 16, 2013

Weekend Reading: August 16

 Happy Friday, WOTR readers. We’re halfway through August, which certainly has been living up to its reputation as a month when international crises tend to crop up. To stay on top of it all, here’s what our team is reading this weekend:

The world’s youngest spy? From Gregory Johnsen comes the truly fascinating story of Barq al-Kulaybi, an 8-year-old who was adopted by a Yemeni terrorist on the U.S. kill list. Late last year, Yemen’s Republican Guard used Barq to plant electronic chips on his caretaker, Adnan al-Qadhi. A week later – the day after Barack Obama was elected to a second term – U.S. drones killed al-Qadhi. Don’t miss this riveting look into the U.S. war on terror in Yemen.

(Want more? We enjoyed Mark Bowden’s essay, also in The Atlantic, on the debate over drone warfare. On a topic that has proven highly polarizing, Bowden’s is one of the fairest treatments.)

“The chief geopolitical prize is…” Eurasia – as it’s been for years. This piece in Small Wars Journal argues that the new Great Game in Afghanistan is, for the United States, largely about containment of China. The author, Joseph Fallon, takes as his starting point Sir Halford John Mackinder’s view of  Eurasia as central to geopolitical dominance. Tracing the evolution of Mackinder’s concept through George Kennan and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Fallon uses this idea to explain American and Chinese objectives in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

(Want more? Don’t forget about Russia. In The Diplomat, Andrew Bowen analyzes the Russian perspective on Afghanistan post-2014, focusing on the impact that the U.S. withdrawal could have on the stability of Central Asia.)

Egypt between Scylla and Charybdis: Hussein Ibish has always been someone to follow on Egyptian politics, and this week was no exception. Ibish has an excellent piece in the Daily Beast about the state of emergency in Egypt. With both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood facing a slew of unappealing choices, the only thing that seems certain is that the people of Egypt will be caught in the middle for a long time.

(Want more? Egypt’s own history offers lessons for the current crisis. In The National Interest, WOTR editor-in-chief Ryan Evans looks back to the 1950s and the 1960s to understand the trajectory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and offers some thoughts on what Washington’s next moves should be.)

At a glance (or several): Open this one on your big work monitor, not your iPhone.  This crazy “histomap” from 1931 details 4,000 years of world history in one fascinating chart.

 (Want more? Like, a lot more? This week, the Washington Post Worldviews blog did the world a favor with this great feature, “40 maps that explain the world.” From the best and worst countries to be a mother to economic inequality to global cigarette smoking, you’re guaranteed to find something interesting.)

“Big Brother and Big Data:” Meet Alex Karp, the eccentric brain behind Palantir. Palantir, Karp’s data-mining startup, is being used by the NSA, FBI, and CIA, and is rumored to have helped bring about the raid on Osama Bin Laden. Andy Greenberg of Forbes profiles Karp in the latest issue. In addition to some fascinating tidbits on Karp (he studied under Jurgen Habermas), Greenberg’s piece is an important look into the expanding relationship between Silicon Valley and the Washington intelligence community.

Naval gazing, Indian edition: The Indian navy has had quite the week. The nuclear reactor on the INS Arihant was activated, the Russian-made aircraft carrier Vikramaditya was trotted out, and, in a tragic turn of events, the Sindhuraksha (also a Russian-made submarine) exploded, leaving 18 naval officers likely dead. In light of all this, we found this piece by Shashank Joshi in The Diplomat a worthwhile read. Joshi addresses the debate about whether India could impose a naval blockade on China. The piece highlights some similarities between the U.S. and India in terms of competition with China and broader strategic and budgetary questions underlying maritime strategy.

In case you missed it: We got to this a little late, but last week Kori Schake had an interesting essay about how the Obama/Putin scuffle shows that this White House isn’t as realist as it thinks it is. As you know, readers, this is a favorite topic of ours, so we’re interested in your thoughts on Schake’s piece.

Harsh critique: “What did Edward Snowden get wrong? Everything.” That’s the brutally honest title of an LA Times op-ed by Andrew Liepman, who points out the damaging effects of Snowden’s actions on the day-to-day operations of the intelligence community. Liepman has some timely – and provocative – comments on the role of intelligence collection, public trust in government, and the tradeoff between privacy and security.

(Want more? People have been buzzing all week about this long piece in the New York Times Magazine about Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald’s little-known reporting partner who’s at the center of the Edward Snowden saga.)

Because we know you were wondering: Are you seeing Elysium this weekend? If so, check out this fun read in War is Boring about the real-life versions of the gadgets that appear in the film. Matthew Gault shows that, from Matt Damon’s protective exoskeleton to deadly robots, the technology featured in Elysium isn’t all that futuristic.