Weekend Reading, August 23

August 23, 2013

Weekend Reading – August 23

Have no fear, WOTR readers: after a busy few days in the national security world, it’s almost the weekend. Make sure you catch up on the week’s best writing before Monday – here are our picks:

Bread and Teletubbies in Syria: Those are just two of the things that jihadists in Syria are handing out to civilians, as part of an effort to create and maintain state-like institutions. In an important piece called “How Syria’s Jihadists Win Friends and Influence People,” WOTR contributor Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Phillip Smyth examine how Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadi groups are attempting to bolster their legitimacy by providing services and supplies ranging from electricity to kids’ carnivals. 

At a glance: We loved this interactive map from Deutsche Welle, showing the different countries making  territorial claims to the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Play around with it to see which countries are involved, as well as the types and locations of some of the resources being contested.

Death of a prime minister: Early this week, former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf was charged with the high-profile murder of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Unsurprisingly, though, it’s more complicated than it seems. If you want to wade into the controversy, start with this excerpt of Getting Away with Murder, UN investigator Heraldo Muñoz’s new book on the Bhutto assassination).

(Want more? Revisit Owen-Bennett Jones’ intriguing essay, published last year in the London Review of Books, about the controversy surrounding Bhutto’s death).

Tough choices on Egypt: In The National Interest, WOTR’s own Stephen Tankel breaks down the debate over the future of US aid to Egypt. He argues for clear thinking and honesty about the costs we’re likely to incur regardless of which path we choose: “as Al Qaeda turns twenty-five and Egypt’s generals once again close down space within the political system for the country’s Islamists, the jihadist problem just got bigger.”

Petraeus vs. Biden: Peter Beinart has an interesting piece on the Obama administration’s internal debate over Afghanistan, one that pits David Petraeus and COIN against VP Joe Biden and ‘counterterrorism plus.’ Beinart argues that Biden’s approach didn’t simply win out – it would go on to influence the way the administration dealt with the entirety of the Arab world.

Finally: In another long piece in The National Interest, Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr. of the Stimson Center lays out a proposal for how America can handle Syria. Bloomfield’s pieces addresses a number of the concerns that skeptics have raised regarding the wisdom of American involvement, including end-state planning, weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, interagency coordination, and more. Don’t miss Bloomfield’s piece, and be sure to let us know what you think.

From Arnold to Manning: How far we’ve come – or not. As debate over the Manning trial continues, here’s a slideshow on TIME.com covering 9 of the most notable military trials in American history. General George Custer, for instance, was court-martialed for going AWOL to visit his wife. Talk about perspective.

(Want more? In case you missed it, check out WOTR editor-in-chief Ryan Evans’ take on the controversy, in which he argues that, contrary to the court’s ruling, Manning was guilty of aiding the enemy – just not the one most of us are thinking of.)

Not satisfied: And we probably never will be, writes Adam Elkus at Abu Muqawama. Elkus takes issue with the notion of “unsatisfying wars” put forth by Col. Gian Gentile, noting that conflicts traditionally seen as ‘successful’ were, in reality, far more complicated than we remember. The piece makes a key distinction between war and politics, arguing that, contra Clausewitz, the two often exist in very different spheres. 

Disruption destruction: Are you sick of hearing the term ‘disruptive being applied to defense thinkers, defense papers, and seemingly everything in between? You’re not the only one. At the New Republic, Judith Shulevitz has some fighting words for those using this word to describe “every act of cultural defiance or technical derring-do, whether it has to do with business or not.” She points out the original and much more circumscribed meaning of ‘disruptive’ in this context, and argues that the term’s inflation actually has a pernicious effect on how we think about technology and institutions.