Weekend Reading, September 6

September 6, 2013

Good morning, readers and welcome to another edition of the Weekend Reading List. As always we’re bringing you the top reads of the week to stimulate your mind and prepare you for a weekend of engaging conversation. Don’t forget to send us your feedback or send us a Tweet with your recommendations for next’s reading list @WarontheRocks.


Africa’s Most Impressive and Repressive Leader: In this New York Times magazine piece, Jeffrey Gettleman offers up a very interesting profile of Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, and the change Rwanda has undergone since Kagame came into power in 2000 with the help of international aid, which floods the country thanks to Kagame’s hardline anti-corruption policies.  One line sums this profile up quite well: “Kagame is not the only African leader who is both impressive and repressive, though he may be the most impressive and among the most repressive.” Already buzzing on the Twitter feed, this compelling story is not to be missed.

Fighting Brutality with Brutality: The New York Times delivers again with a story by C.J. Chivers documenting the brutality of the tactics some Syrian rebels have adopted in dealing with captured Syrian soldiers. While brutality poses one concern for the West, a bigger issue is the number of rebels who are actually extremists. Two extremists groups in particular—the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)— are closely affiliated with al Qaeda, thereby forcing the U.S. to find a delicate policy balance in strengthening secular rebels and isolate extremists. Once you’ve read this, see Brian Fishman’s piece for WOTR, Al Qaeda: Rockin’ the Levant Like It’s 2006, for more details on the Nusra Front and ISIS.

The Cost of Stability: The New Republic breaks down the amount of money that the Gulf has spent to maintain stability at home as uprisings continue to take place across the region. This money goes primarily to government programs that benefit and keep citizens satisfied. For instance, in February 2011, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah announced $130 billion n new social spending, including a minimum-wage hike. He also pledged to build 500,000 subsidized housing units and create 60,000 new jobs.

When it’s Time to Intervene: Richard Price writes for Foreign Affairs and examines why countries such as the United States have singled out the use of chemical weapons as a justification for military action, as opposed to the death of over 60,000 who have been killed since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. Don’t have a Foreign Affairs subscription? Don’t worry, this story is free.

In Pursuit of the Right Intelligence: Paul Pillar makes some great argument in this blog post for The National Interest. In this piece, Pillar points out the differences between the pursuit of “conclusion-bolstering” intelligence to support a policy decision already made and objective intelligence that then informs policy decisions. While summarizing historical periods when intelligence was used to improve the credibility of military action, Pillar implies that the same may be the case with the Obama’s administration policy on Syria.

At a Glance: The Washington Post posted this data visualization of the 2013 budget of the National Intelligence Program that it revealed last week. We thought it summarized the $52.6 billion budget in one image quite well, and the colors are just so darn pretty.

The Battle America Lost: From the author of Our Man in Kandahar, the profile of a powerful Afghan druglord/criminal and key U.S. ally in the heartland of the Taliban, comes a new piece that relives the night fifteen Taliban dressed up as American soldiers, snuck onto one of the U.S.’s largest military bases in Afghanistan, and destroyed $200 million worth of American aircraft. Matthieu Aikens brings us the untold story of the battle at Camp Bastion in only a way he can write, laying out every detail as if he was a fly on the wall.

Three-part Guide to Analyzing Humans: The Small Wars Journal just published a three-part series by Michael L. Haxton that analyzes the human dimension of conflict. The first part lays out exactly what the analytics of the human dimension means and entails. The second article proposes a set of guiding principles for analytics of the human dimension in order to understand socio-cultural behavior, relationships, and dynamics. This final part of this series discusses the types and sources of data that must be accounted for in the human dimension, specifically data on thoughts, behaviors, and context. While the series is not the easiest of reads, it offers valuable insight in complex analysis that is critical to U.S. national security.

GIF of the week: The week the ACLU released a great GIF that demonstrates the NSA’s “three hops” standard for collecting data. Check out the GIF and read the ACLU’s take on it here.

Finally, don’t forget to read WOTR’s Syria commentary from the past week:

  • WOTR Assistant editor Usha Sahay parallels the divide between Congress and Obama on Syria with Operation Infinite Reach, the cruise missile strikes launched by President Bill Clinton on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in August 1998.
  • Editor-in-Chief, Ryan Evans, clarifies when war isn’t war.
  • Peter Munson takes on McCain’s casual pro-strike stance with Syria. Earlier in the week, Munson explained why he believes American foreign policy making to be broken.
  • J. Michael Barrett weighs the costs of military intervention in an age of cyber activism/terrorism and how response to such intervention is neither predictable nor proportional.


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

Photo Credit: Craig Webb