Weekend Reading: Friday the 13th Edition
Happy Friday the 13th from WOTR, where we’re truly learning the difference a week can make when it comes to international diplomacy. A lot has happened in the last few days, so to help you process it all over the weekend, take a look at what our team has been reading.
Have a great weekend! We’ll see you on Monday.
Life imitates Godfather: We already heard from Mark Stout about what Liam Neeson would do about Syria. Now, here’s Harvard’s Graham Allison weighing in on the lessons The Godfather has to offer Obama. What’s the equivalent of the severed horse head for Bashar al-Assad? Allison’s piece predates most of this week’s rapidly developments, but it nonetheless offers useful insights about how leaders might think creatively about handling the Syria crisis. Oh, and we can’t wait for this movie.
And while we’re at it… Why not ask Brian Eno what he thinks, too? A hilarious piece by Jeffrey Lewis looks at Russia’s Syria proposal through the lens of Eno’s Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards with cryptic messages intended to promote more creative problem-solving. But all jokes aside, Lewis offers some reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the potential opportunity presented by this week’s proposal from Putin and Assad.
(Want more? Free advice, that is? Vlad thought you’d never ask! You’ve probably seen it already, but here’s Vladimir Putin on the New York Times op-ed page telling Americans that they should be more cautious about military action, and try not be so darn exceptionalist.)
Just a reminder: As the world considers the remarkable prospect of Syria giving up its chemical weapons, it’s worth remembering that even aside from the diplomatic heavy lifting, neither securing nor destroying chemical weapons is easy. There’s been a flurry of commentary on the feasibility of the proposal. Here’s Shashank Joshi of RUSI arguing that it can be done, as well as a roundtable from the BBC with four different perspectives.
(Want more? The question of how chemical weapons can be secured or disposed of has been a tough one for years. If you want dig back really deep, check out this Wired piece from a whole decade ago in which Noah Shachtman investigated the setbacks plaguing the U.S.’ own plan to dispose of its chemical arms.)
Huntington 20 years later: To mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of “the Clash of Civilizations,” Zachary Keck takes a look at how Samuel Huntington’s seminal essay has done in terms of explaining the post-Cold War world. Keck argues that modern conflicts have tended to be geopolitical, not cultural or civilizational, in nature. “The continued primacy of geopolitics in the post-Cold War era,” he concludes, ”underscores just how little the essence of international relations changes over time.”
Lessons learned: We were fascinated by this Boston Globe article contending that the brief intervention in Granada in 1983 led to major organizational improvements in the US military. Phil Kukielski argues that the “sloppy success” in Granada produced an impetus to tackle inter-service parochialism, leading to the military reforms codified in the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.
A different sort of nuclear triad: A useful article in The National Interest by Dhruva Jaishankar examines the question of why India’s developed nuclear weapons, parsing the roles that Pakistan and China play in India’s strategic calculus. The piece (which responds to this essay by Zachary Keck) takes on much of the conventional wisdom about, in particular, the India-Pakistan relationship. It’s an interesting look at how India, Pakistan and China became a volatile trio of nuclear neighbors.
Ain’t no party like a cryptoparty: This longread from the Atlantic delves into the underworld of “encryption pirates.” These are privacy and free speech activists who are holding “crytoparties” all over the world to teach people how to encrypt their data against government intrusion. The piece includes insights from a number of German crypto-warriors about the surveillance state and the tradeoffs between security and privacy.
ISIS twofer: The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, is rapidly becoming a key player in the Syrian conflict. This week, Aaron Zelin has two short but highly informative primers on ISIS. The first talks about what the group has been doing right, and the second looks to the mistakes other jihadist groups have made for clues on how ISIS might generate pushback among Syrians.
“I was wrong:” Robert Kaplan of Stratfor reflects back on the Iraq war with five reasons that he now believes he was mistaken to support the war. Kaplan goes on to explain how each of those reasons might well apply today to a war with Syria. The Syria-Iraq parallel is well-known, but Kaplan’s piece is worth reading for its careful look back at what exactly supporters of the Iraq invasion got wrong and why.
Quick read: We can’t make this stuff up. From Vocativ comes the bizarre story of a socialist congressman from Venezuela who has joined the Assad army. He has no combat experience, but not to worry – he’s tweeting updates on the regular.
(Want more? There are two sides to that coin. Eli Lake reports that a small but potentially significant number of Americans have joined the Syrian rebellion, which one of his sources calls a “jihadist magnet.”)
WOTR roundup: In case you missed the great pieces that ran on WOTR this week, here are some of the highlights:
- John Amble on Omar Hammami parting ways with al-Shabaab;
- A probing analysis from Jack Mulcaire of the struggle between Syrian rebels and government forces to take Qalamoun, a key territory near Damascus;
- Bill Rosenau’s review of a new book on Robert Komer, one of the architects of Vietnam War policymaking; and
- Tom Hone on the Battle of Midway and how it affected the course of WWII.
Usha Sahay is an assistant editor at War on the Rocks.