Weekend Reading: December 27

December 27, 2013

Happy Friday and happy holidays from the War on the Rocks team! This is our last Weekend Reading of 2013, so we’d like to thank all of our readers for helping us to end the year on a strong finish. We’re looking forward to great things in 2014.

And now for your weekend reads:

Talking to The Man Who Stayed Behind: 120 years ago yesterday, December 26th, Mao Zedong was born. To mark the day, The Atlantic has a fascinating interview with Sidney Rittenberg, who spent over three decades in Communist China and was a close confident of Chairman Mao’s. Rittenberg discusses Mao’s fascination with America, his own arrest at the hands of Chinese leadership, and what the Chairman might think of China today.

 FYI: Want to join our team? We’re looking for a social media ninja. For more info and to apply, send your CV to editor (at) warontherocks.com!

Scandal in Turkey gets the BuzzFeed treatment: What conspiracy theory explains the recent corruption scandal in Turkey? From Mike Giglio at BuzzFeed, here are 9 conspiracy theories floating around to explain Ankara’s recent troubles – everything from Fetullah Gulen to the global financial order. (Sorry, TM).

(Want more? For some perspective on the political dynamics underlying the Turkish crisis, check out Joshua Walker’s latest on War on the Rocks, detailing the rift between once-allies Gulen and the AKP. And Michael Koplow at Ottomans and Zionists has a great take in his article, “This Is What A Panicked Erdoğan Looks Like.”)

WW1 counterfactual: What if the First World War had ended differently? That’s the question posed by Martin Kettle in this thought-provoking piece in The Guardian. Kettle argues that counterfactuals can be valuable thought experiments for historians, and asks what Europe – and the 20th century – might have looked like if Ludendorff had taken Paris early in 1918 and Germany had won the war.

“Springing up from the grave”? Hussein Ibish worries that al-Qaeda has become a monster that we can’t kill. He discusses the increasingly nebulous nature of the organization and the “siege” narrative that allows it to continue thriving. To combat this, Ibish argues, regional and global actors will need to “firmly reject the popular narratives whose fringes feed this kind of extremism.”

(Want more? If you’re interested in this topic, we recommend Adam Elkus’ WOTR piece from earlier this year which took a close look at the leadership structure of Al-Qaeda.)

Are we living in 1984? No, writes Robert Colls: “there is nothing anything as murderous or delusional in Snowden’s world as there is in Winston’s.” On the Oxford University Press blog, Colls debunks the notion that the Snowden revelations should make us fear that the NSA has created an Orwellian world.

(Want more? This week, we saw some great reflections on surveillance, the war on terror, and other questions right here at WOTR, from Mark Stout.)

An alliance going strong: In the Los Angeles Times, Haim Saban pushes back against the idea that the US-Israel relationship is fraying over nuclear negotiations with Iran. Addressing the question of chilly relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Saban notes, “international relationships needn’t be love affairs between leaders.” Ultimately, the article argues, the US and Israel will remain bound by the convergence of their interests in the region. What do you think, readers?

The Worm up to no good: In case the ‘basketball diplomacy’ being conducted with North Korea via Dennis “The Worm’ Rodman wasn’t weird enough already, Josh Rogin is reporting that some questionable forms of entertainment may be incentivizing Rodman to visit the Hermit Kingdom. Rogin spoke with a number of bewildered experts who point out, among other things, that high-level American diplomats have never received the red-carpet treatment that Rodman enjoys in Pyongyang.