Weekend Reading: Christmas Edition

December 20, 2013

Happy Friday and happy holidays to all of our War on the Rocks readers! The final countdown to Christmas has officially begun, so we’re bringing you the top reads of the week to help you get through a weekend, which for many of us, includes awkward family Christmas parties. Be sure to check out these great stories and all of our WOTR posts to dull the pain.

From all of us at War on the Rocks, have a very Merry Christmas!!

DoD’s Strategy to Take Down the North Pole Revealed! Mother Jones lays out what the Pentagon’s plans are should the U.S. ever feel compelled to take down Santa and those creepy elves. Fingers crossed the war on Christmas never comes to this.

Increasing Iranian Influence in Iraq: Foreign Policy had an exclusive this week detailing evidence that reveals how Iranian commandos took part in an attack on Camp Ashraf in Iraq, killing at least 50 members of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a group which had disarmed at the request of the U.S. military after the invasion of Iraq and received promises of protection.  The attack demonstrates Iran’s increasing influence and involvement inside Iraq, and raises questions about any Iranian commitment to improving relations with the U.S.

Jihadist Camps Targeting Children Emerge in Syria: The Washington Post has a report this week on the emergence of training camps in Syria for boys, also known as “Zarqawi’s Cubs.” According to author Joby Warrick, these camps suggest a more systematic effort to engage young Syrians in the ongoing conflict who have largely grown up under secularist rule. Also included is a video posted last month on YouTube by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) of these camps.

Keeping an Eye on South Sudan: Unclear what’s going on in Juba? Africa security analyst Lesley Warner has some great coverage on her personal blog this week of ongoing events in South Sudan and the alleged coup by former VP Riek Machar. Warner is also providing updates via Twitter, so be sure to follow her as events continue to unfold in the country.

The Utility of Land Power: Peter Singer, writing from the Armed Forces Journal, lays out a set of questions that he argues must be asked if the U.S. military is to ensure the viability and utility of land power in its strategy through the twenty-first century. In offering these questions, Singer hopes to give a more focused agenda for exploration to advance the narrative.

How to Use Social Media to Track Jihadist fighters: The Washington Institute as an interesting piece by Aaron Zelin this week in which he analyzes how monitoring jihadist social media networks can offer insight into where jihadists fighting in Syria are coming from. Determining fighters’ points of origin is the first step to halting the overall flow entering Syria.

Has the TV Show Homeland Gone too Far?: Raise your hand if you have any concept of U.S. foreign policy and yet still watch the Showtime thriller Homeland. This week, Michael Cohen, writing for the Guardian, breaks down the shortcomings of season three, making the case that while it’s not only “f-cking stupid”, it also “misunderstands the Middle East, it fetishizes the worst elements of American power and misrepresents how and why international political change occurs.”

Some Insight into Assad: New Republic has a profile this week of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad detailing how those who know him describe him as a people-pleaser and “easygoing.” While this easygoingness has been characterized by others as weakness, the profile suggests that Assad has learned how to turn his shortcomings into his strong assets. While other conflicts in the Middle East have led to the downfall of dictators, Assad, surprising many, “has proved exceptionally talented in the art of self-preservation.”

WOTR Weekly Roundup: We’ve had a great week here at War on the Rocks, and here are some of the highlights of the last seven days’ commentary and analysis.

  • Kori Schake, Robert Killebrew,  and Christopher Mewett each contribute to the debate over the preservation of Army end strength.
  • W. Jonathan Rue offers valuable insight on the recent federal budget agreement providing $63 billion in sequester relief and what it means for defense.
  • Marc Tyrrell takes down a Wall Street Journal essay, arguing why the U.S. and Canada should not merge into one single, political entity.
  • Patrick Cronin has a great overview of Japan’s new five-year defense strategy under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which demonstrates the country’s desire to end its long stretch of self-imposed pacifism.
  • And for all your procrastinators out there who still have Christmas presents to buy, check out our WOTR Holiday Reading List with book recommendations from our regular contributions and editorial team.


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


Photo credit: Joseph Nadler