Weekend Reading: New Year Edition

January 3, 2014

Happy Friday and a very happy new year to all of our War on the Rocks readers. We hope everyone survived the holidays and is ready for an exciting new year. We at WOTR have lots of exciting plans for 2014 and we look forward to sharing them with you all. In the meantime, here are the top reads from the past week to help you get through the weekend.

The End of the Defense Lobby Regime: Writing for the National Journal, Sara Sorcher describes how historically the defense lobby was untouchable; it was considered “the Beltway powerhouse that made Congress cower.” These days, however, sequestration cuts have desecrated the defense lobby and while the first round of cuts led to much exaggeration of their impact in 2012, it seems unclear in what state the upcoming round of cuts will leave the defense industry. Either way, it seems lobbyists of lost control of their fate.

What your Drink of Choice says about your Politics: The Washington Post posted a graph this week, which demonstrates what your favorite drink says about your voting habits and political stances. Turns out Kendall-Jackson and Columbia Crest drinkers are the most likely to vote.

Transparency in the Media, or a lack thereof: Also from the Washington Post this week, blogger Erik Wemple makes the case that while the Obama administration has been called one of the most manipulative and secretive administrations covered by the media, media organizations themselves have failed to live up to the transparent values they demand from the U.S. government. From 60 Minutes to Politico, Wemple cites examples from 2013 demonstrating the increasingly “messy and sprawling” politics of media coverage, particularly when it comes to government.

Afghanistan: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network Thomas Ruttig offers a very thorough review of 2013 in Afghanistan: what went wrong, what went right, what got worse, and what’s been achieved. Covering the security situation, the domestic political landscape, the economy, rule of law, education, social protection, and foreign aid, Ruttig concludes that one of Afghanistan’s biggest problems is the exaggerated optimism promulgated by foreign governments, which will ultimately stand in the way of identifying real priorities for the upcoming year.

For more on Afghanistan, don’t miss Ryan Evans’ WOTR piece that breaks down some of the assumptions of the U.S. Civil-Military Strategic Framework for Afghanistan, which details U.S. strategy post-2014. The assumptions reveal that official U.S. strategic thought fails to grasp our country’s shortcomings in the region, particularly as they relate to Afghan security and sustainability.

Throwback video: Check out this World War I training video released by the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force from its Early Years gallery.  From the U.S. declaration of war on Germany in April 1917, after which the video reports that it was “necessary to build a force to fight in the air,” it was only ten months before a full American squadron was in action, an astonishingly short time to stand up a combat ready aviation program.  Also, if you weren’t in awe of the pioneers of American air combat before, you will be after watching footage of the “recovery from a tailspin” lessons.

Learning from History: The National Interest has a comparative piece this week juxtaposing present-day global politics climate with similar situations that existed a century ago leading to the Great War. Specifically, author Graham Allison warns that while war between the U.S. and China is unlikely in 2014, it is naïve and dangerous to consider it “inconceivable”.  In addition to this piece, don’t miss Frank Hoffman’s WOTR piece from earlier this week, “Culpable Complacency and U.S. National Security”, in which he makes a similarly compelling argument.

ISIS Impact in Syria: Sarah Birke, writing from The New York Review of Books, has a detailed piece this week on Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and its impact on the ongoing conflict in Syria. ISIS’s appearance in Syria has forced a two-front fight for the mainstream Syrian opposition; obstructed the movement of aid into the country; and forced foreign governments to rethink their strategy of supporting moderate opposition group against Assad, for fear that this will only lead to the empowerment of an Islamist regime down the road.

WOTR Weekly Round-up: As usual, here are some our top reads from the past seven days, including our top 25 posts from 2013.

  • Top 25 from our first year: Since we launched War on the Rocks on 8 July 2013, we have exceeded our own expectations (and hopefully our readers’) with some fantastic commentary and analysis on foreign policy and national security.
  • Anna Simons writes about the need for improve country studies, particularly for those deploying abroad in the twenty-first century.
  • Four Turkey specialists—Bill Park, Michael Koplow, Joshua Walker and Aaron Stein—offer their thoughts on the three biggest issues facing the U.S.-Turkish bilateral relationship.
  • Thomas Lynch lists four possibilities and their implications in which Saudi Arabia may seek Pakistan’s assistance in some capacity in the event that Iran ever declares itself a nuclear power.


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