Weekend Reading: Thanksgiving Edition

November 29, 2013
GI Joe

Happy Black Friday from all of us here at War on the Rocks! We hope those of you who celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday are recovering nicely from your food comas/in-laws/etc. Whether you’re waiting in line at the mall, taking a long plane flight or scouring your parents’ fridge for leftovers, you’ll need something to read this weekend. The WOTR team has you covered, with this week’s top picks.

How the Iran deal is playing: After diplomats made a long-awaited breakthrough in nuclear negotiations with Iran last weekend, Israel made no secret about its feelings about the deal. But how are other regional and global players affected by this potential sea change? Here’s F. Gregory Gause in the New Yorker on why Saudi Arabia is miffed by the deal, George Friedman of Stratfor summarizing the view from Israel and Saudi Arabia, and The Diplomat‘s Zachary Keck on the perspective of Asian countries.

(Want more? There are a lot of questions to be answered within Iran as well. Here’s a Q and A with WOTR’s Afshon Ostovar on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including how they may react to the latest developments. The interview is based on Afshon’s new book, which we can’t wait to read).

Rethinking the Guns of August: In his LRB review of Christopher Clark’s new book on the leadup to World War I, Thomas Laqueur prompts us to revisit the conventional wisdom about how the war started. He focuses on Barbara Tuchman’s seminal The Guns of August, and more broadly on what he calls the “necessity-contingency divide” that exists in scholarship on the origins of the war. As we approach the centennial of WWI, Laqueur’s timely review is a great place to start examining the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of this conflict and others.

SOF longread: In Small Wars Journal, Grant Martin writes that there’s a fundamental paradox to Special Operations Forces: “in order to be more effective in the “human domain” we have to paradoxically dump the concept.” His paper examines ways in which SOF can move away from traditional, bureaucratically focused modes of thinking and become more effective in the so-called human domain.

Six Chinese wars: China’s recent escalation of tensions surrounding its maritime territorial dispute with Japan has provoked much analysis about China’s motives and what conflict in East Asia could look like. For a different take, here’s an interesting blog post by Geoff Wade, who suggests that the inclination to irredentist grievances is deeply ingrained into Chinese politics and culture.

(Want more? What’s all the fuss about, anyway? Here’s Takashi Ikeda writing in The Diplomat with a refresher on the history of the contested islands).

Heated debate: We’ve heard a lot lately about AirSea Battle, and we know some of you are wondering whether the debate is becoming less than productive. To offer some valuable perspective on the issue, here’s Harry Kazianis taking a long view on the ASB debate, including a refutation of Colonel Scott Gerber’s Foreign Policy piece.

“Clearly,” he sensibly concludes, “the real debate is not over AirSea Battle, but about the future orientation of America’s armed forces, the challenges they could face, and how best to prepare for such challenges.”

(Want more? In our pages, Elbridge Colby also penned a long response to Colonel Gerber’s article. If you missed it, take a look).

Has the battle begun? Hussein Ibish has a piece in The National examining the much-discussed “Battle for Qalamoun” in Syria. Ibish points out that there’s more to the regime’s conquest of Qara than meets the eye, but also notes that Qalamoun is shaping up to be a high-stakes prize, and not just domestically: “As with all things Syrian now,” he notes “there is an added international dimension to what might otherwise be local battles over small areas.”

WOTR roundup: We saw lots of great writing in our virtual pages this week. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Thomas Lynch sets the record straight on the relevance of al-Qaeda and its role within the broader Salafi jihadist movement;
  • Patrick Cronin argues that China’s swing between assertiveness and engagement is part of a calculated strategy of ‘tailored coercion;’ and
  • W.J. Rue pushes back against questionable accounting when it comes to military personnel costs.


Usha Sahay is an assistant editor at War on the Rocks.


Photo credit: Denny Deluxe