Weekend Reading: Friday the 13th Edition

December 13, 2013

Happy Friday and happy Friday the 13th, WOTR readers! We could make a bunch of jokes about avoiding bad luck today, but we’ll spare you and cut right to the good stuff: the best articles our editorial team read this week. As always, if you’d like to be included in next week’s roundup, tweet us your article suggestions @WarOnTheRocks.

Happy reading!

Top story: Yesterday, the Associated Press reported the results of an ongoing investigation of Robert Levinson, an American who disappeared in Iran several years ago. The AP story, which was held for years at the request of the government, reveals that Levinson in fact had ties to the CIA. Read on for more crazy details.

Alternate contender: When TIME announced that Pope Francis was its person of the year, many suggested that Edward Snowden deserved the award instead. Over at the Worldviews blog, Max Fisher argues that the title should in fact go to Vladimir Putin. Fisher notes a number of major world events where Putin has had an impact, concluding that Vlad seems intent to “prove to us all that Russia is his, whether we like it or not.”

WOTR readers, we’re curious: who are your picks for Person of the Year?

Bottom line: This week’s big news was that the House and Senate agreed on a budget deal. What does it mean for the DoD? Nora Bensahel has a quick summary of what defense-watchers need to know, over at the Center for a New American Security blog.

 “Lion of a man”? In the New York Review of Books, Christopher de Bellaigue has a thought-provoking piece about political trends in Turkey. He suggests that “a vindictive authoritarianism is taking hold” in the country, placing the lion’s share of the blame on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

A tale of thirteen prisoners: Here’s a fascinating and timely story about the behind-the-scenes efforts to get thirteen Jewish prisoners out of Iranian prison. Robert Collier tells the inside story of  Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein and diplomat Giandomenico Picco, who were instrumental in the successful negotiations. As Collier points out, while the lesson of the story may not be cut and dry, the incident  is certainly relevant to all those watching today’s ongoing negotiations with Tehran.

(Want more? It’s a little bit dated, but in case you missed it, Christi Parsons had a similarly wild story in November, this time about the secret efforts to build up goodwill with Iran through the return of a silver chalice.

“Reports of the death of the aircraft carrier have been greatly exaggerated:” Last week, Tom Ricks had an op-ed in the Post titled “To improve the US military, shrink it.”  The piece spawned several responses, including one from our own Bryan McGrath. McGrath takes issue with Ricks’ criticism of the aircraft carrier, particularly with the contention that the aircraft carrier hasn’t evolved over time.

(Want more? For more on the carrier, make sure you don’t miss Commander Elton Parker’s take on the same issue, right here at WOTR.)

What was that all about? Seymour Hersh caused something of a stir in foreign policy circles with an LRB article suggesting that the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad” earlier this year. In response, here’s Eliot Higgins, better known as Brown Moses, explaining what Hersh got wrong.

Corpses of empires, shattered predictions: Here’s WOTR’s own Daveed Gartenstein-Ross with an essay in Pragati, looking at Afghanistan’s future through the lens of its past. Noting that “One thing the history of Afghanistan is littered with—in addition to, supposedly, the corpses of empires—is shattered predictions,” Gartenstein-Ross points out a number of geopolitical and historical factors analysts should consider when speculating about Afghanistan’s future.

(Want more? Robert Farley has a rejoinder to those who are bearish about Afghanistan after 2014. Farley points out that Afghanistan isn’t likely to experience a repeat of the early 1990s because the international community has a greater interest today in preventing the state from collapsing.)

Looking ahead: The Obama administration will release an updated national security strategy next year. John Bennett and Paul McLeary, writing for Defense News, take a look at the debate underway about what the administration should prioritize. Have a look to see what a number of experts had to say about administration policy, including WOTR’s own Frank Hoffman.

Dessert: We loved this review of “Measuring and Mapping Space,”  an exhibit on Greek and Roman cartography that’s showing in New York for a few more weeks. Be sure to catch it if you’re in town, or play around with its online features.