Weekend Reading, Sept 27-29

September 27, 2013

Happy Friday to all of our readers. We officially said goodbye to summer this week and welcomed in autumn. While you spend the weekend coping with another season come and gone, be sure to check out this week’s recommended reading list. Feel free to send us your feedback or send us a Tweet with your recommendations for next week’s reading list @WarontheRocks.

An Inside-ish Look at North Korea: National Geographic has a great piece and accompanying photo gallery that offers a rare view of North Korea.  Author Tim Sullivan and photographer David Guttenfelder are part of small team of Associated Press journalists permitted to visit the country regularly. Through these visits, they are trying to assemble “a collection of fragile and often confusing moments into a picture of a country that works hard to make itself difficult to understand.”

Media Framing and ‘Otherness’ Follies: Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote a great blog piece this week called “Nairobi Westgate Mall Terror Attack, And The Folly Of ‘Otherness’ – What Al-Shabaab Revealed About Us” in which he criticizes western media outlets for their excessive focus on the Westgate mall as a popular hangout for foreigners. He further argues that the only reason this event received such worldwide coverage was because westerners were involved and killed in the attack. Onyango-Obbo makes the case that within media framing, it’s time to stop over-emphasizing culture, religion, and race and reclaim some humanity.

Adventures with the Karla of Iran: Dexter Filkins has an excellent piece in The New Yorker on Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Quds Force, the “Karla” of Iran after John Le Carre’s KGB mastermind.  It is a must-read for Middle East watchers seeking to understand Iran, the civil war in Syria, and Hizballah. WOTR head honcho Ryan Evans was reportedly heard saying he has a man crush on Filkins.  Just a rumor.

Abandoning the Good Guys?: This article comes out of the New Yorker and tells the story of Afghan interpreter Mohammad Janis Shinwari who spent years performing some of the most dangerous missions imaginable for the U.S. military—and even saved a soldier’s life—and the battle he now faces trying to get a Special Immigrant Visa to keep himself and his family safe once the U.S. leaves Afghanistan. Shinwari’s visa was actually approved; however, the Embassy has now backtracked and revoked the initial approval. Shinwari’s story is just one of thousands as Afghans working for the U.S. military and government now wait, sometimes for years, as American bureaucracy  and politics determines their date.

Tired of Counterinsurgency Yet? We didn’t think so: When the RAND Corporation released Victory Has a Thousand Fathers: Sources of Success in Counterinsurgency in 2010, it created a big stir in the defense world.  The Afghan surge was reaching its height and the United States military was desperate understand if they were doing counterinsurgency “right.”  The report offered a checklist approach to assessing success. It got a lot of attention, not all of it positive.  Fast forward three years later and the same authors, led by Christopher Paul, have a sequel: Paths to Victory: Lessons from Modern Insurgencies

Starting a Start-up Culture in Cairo: The Atlantic has an interesting story on the emergence of a technology start-up culture in Cairo. While Egypt is a long way from being the next Silicon Valley, its volatile environment makes start-ups cheap to invest in.

In the Past, Warfare Drove Societal Evolution: Wired published a story this week on a new study that uses data as a means of predicting the future, and also as a way of testing theories about what happened in the past. The study, conducted by a team from the University of Connecticut, University of Exeter, and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, used cliodynamics to showed that “competitions between societies, which historically took the form of warfare, drive the evolution of complex societies.” This finding disproves the long-standing theory that agriculture drove the development of complex society in the past. The team is already working on their next project, which will utilize crop yield data.

In Memoriam: Check out this British-led installation of 9,000 silhouettes on a D-Day Landings beach to mark international Peace Day, which occurred last Saturday, September 21st. While the project started with only 60 people, by the end, over 500 people volunteered to take part.

This week’s WOTR ‘Best Of’: Don’t miss this week’s War on the Rocks podcast with  Elbridge Colby, William Rosenau, Afshon Ostovar Brian Fishman, Bill Braniff, and Ryan Evans as they discussed President Obama’s and President Rouhani’s speeches at the United Nations, whether or not Rouhani’s election means there is a real opening on the Iranian nuclear program, the Syrian civil war, why the attack in Nairobi has gotten so much more press than the church attack in Pakistan, and what the Elizabeth O’Bagy PhD scandal says about the think tank sector’s ability to “self-police.”

Our guest contributor this week, Admiral John C. Harvey Jr. retired Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, defines what military readiness really means and what issues lead to readiness gaps. Motivated by continual decreases in defense budgets, Harvey poses three key questions that need to be answered in determining military readiness: Readiness for what? Readiness of what? Readiness for when and for long how?


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


Photo Credit: Abulic Monkey, Flickr