Weekend Reading, 20 Sept 2013

September 20, 2013

Greetings, War on the Rocks friends. We’re here again to round up the week’s best reads on national security and foreign policy. Feel free to send us your feedback or send us a Tweet with your recommendations for next week’s reading list @WarontheRocks.

To Space and Back in a Day: This week, Gizmodo ran a piece on those crazy kids at DARPA and their plans to build a spacejet. Yes, they want to build a vehicle that can fly to space and back in one day. Here are the specs:

  • Flying 10 times in 10 days
  • Achieving speeds of Mach 10+ at least once and launching a representative payload to orbit
  • Reduce the cost of access to space for small (3,000- to 5,000-pound) payloads by at least a factor of 10, to less than $5 million per flight

If this sounds reasonable to you, be sure to go to their open forum on October 7th.

Happy Birthday, Air Force: The U.S. Air Force turned 66 this week and the National Journal has collected 18 great photos to celebrate its big day.

More Feel-good News out of Afghanistan. Not. The L.A. Times has a disturbing feature on a “rehabilitation” center in Afghanistan for teenagers aspiring to be suicide attackers. The article gives little hope that these children will reform; rather, they seem to just be biding their time until their release, when they can fulfill their dreams of martyrdom.

Open Source for All: This Foreign Affairs piece traces the history of the economics of computer software versus computer hardware and the question of whether both should require the same legal protection offered by governments. The history examines the challenge programmers around the globe have faced trying to keep free software free, or the “copyleft” form of licensing. In the present day, free software has been embraced in countries such as Brazil; however, it also represents “a challenge to capitalism at large: a radical critique of the very idea of property, and, perhaps, a model for new ways of organizing.” Thus, as the free software debate continues, it fuels as tension between North-South ideologies.

Must See: All we can say is Outside the Beltway’s weekly caption contest is not to be missed this week. We’d love to read your suggestions.

Lessons Learned: The Lawfare blog published a great book review this week of A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja by Joost R. Hiltermann, which was published in 2007. The book traces the history of the use of chemical weapons by Iraq in the 1980s. The review itself draws great comparisons between U.S. policy towards Iraq in 1988 and U.S. policy today towards Syria, advising that policy-makers must learn from the past in approaching Syria. Author Kenneth Anderson writes, “The Obama administration invites calculations of risk, where it should be inducing fear of uncertainties.”

Syrian Crisis Reveals Tension Among Senior Leadership: The Washington Post published a good article yesterday on the uneasy relationship between President Obama and the military (it also quotes our own Peter Munson and Thomas Gibbons-Neff). The article points out the growing tension between Obama and senior military leaders as he pushed for a strike in Syria, while the latter had deep reservations. As the White House draws up its long-term plan plans for the military, it seems the relationship between senior civilian and senior military officials will continue to be turbulent.

And from Yours Truly: WOTR posted some great pieces this week, and two from our columnists are definitely worth a re-read. Peter Munson criticizes the Obama’s administration acceptance of a diplomatic solution towards Syria over military intervention, stating, “…the acceptance of diplomacy was not so much reflective of a realpolitik mindset on the part of the American parties, but rather a sigh of relief.”  American leadership needs to prioritize diplomacy as an active policy choice, rather than a policy last resort.

Second, the newest member of the WOTR team, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, looks at Buzzfeed’s photo essays from Syria along aside lists of grumpy cats and pop culture icons. What does it say about consumerism when wars across the world are now being summed in thirty-three photos and some hashtags?

Using Science in Bars: While we normally write about foreign policy and security, from time to time we dedicate some space to our other favorite topic: drinking. Popular Science published an article this week on a new study following how body language affects who bartenders serve. Even cooler, the results will be used to help teach a robotic barkeep to recognize new customers. Robot bartenders?! We can’t decide if we’re excited or scared, but let us know what you think.

In 25 words or less, give your thumbnail version of the “American Way of War”: Check out our contest. Winner gets a War on the Rocks flask!

Lauren Katzenberg is an assistant editor at War on the Rocks.