Weekend Reading: May 30


Hello and happy Friday, WOTR readers! It’s been a busy week for foreign policy watchers, with the announcement of proposed post-2014 troop levels in Afghanistan, President Obama’s speech at West Point, rumors swirling about Edward Snowden and the NSA, and the continued furor over the VA scandal. To help you get up to speed, here’s War on the Rocks’ roundup of the best things we read this week.

See you in June!

Rosy outlook in the Rose Garden: On Tuesday, President Obama spoke in the Rose Garden about his plan to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. He will keep 9,800 troops in the country after 2014, halve that number within a year, and officially end the U.S. presence in 2016. Here’s some background from Michael Crowley of TIME, and Michael O’Hanlon with a mostly positive take on Obama’s plan. Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security critiques the idea of a “calendar-based withdrawal,” while Paul Pillar writes in The National Interest that an arbitrary deadline is better than none at all.

Not the foreign policy speech you’re looking for? Even before Obama took the podium at West Point, the commentary began about what the President’s foreign policy philosophy should be in his last 2.5 years. Robert Kagan writes in TNR that “superpowers don’t get to retire,” while Jacob Heilbrunn in The National Interest called the speech a “misfire.” And don’t miss what the WOTR community has to say: check out Bryan McGrath’s critical take, and assistant editor Lauren Katzenberg declaring that she’s “over it.”

While you were freaking out about Benghazi…you might have missed this story. Middle East expert Gregory Johnsen has a lengthy piece on BuzzFeed telling the story of the deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Yemen in September 2008. Don’t miss Johnsen’s riveting narrative of how one security guard sacrificed his life on that frightening morning in Sanaa.

BRAC reality check: In an op-ed for Defense News, Larry Korb and Katherine Blakeley offer some real talk on the House Armed Services Committee’s rejection of the Pentagon’s request for a BRAC commission. “Hoping for a ‘miracle,’ they write, is no way to budget our national defense.”

Taking the VA to task: WOTR contributor Doug Ollivant has some tough questions for the Veterans Administration. Writing in POLITICO Magazine, Ollivant asks: “Is an institution with its roots in administering pensions to Civil War veterans prepared for the challenges of 21st century veterans?” His suggestions for how to improve the system are well worth a read.

Commandos in Afghanistan: At The Daily Beast, Kimberly Dozier takes us inside the partnership between the U.S. and Afghan special operators, whom she describes as the key to Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. It’s a great deep dive into how the war is fought on a day-to-day basis by those on the ground, both American and Afghan.

(Want more? On It’s Always Sunny in Kabul, Gary Owen a.k.a. El Snarkistani responds to Dozier’s piece).

“Unmatched lethality:” In the latest issue of the Air & Space Power Journal, Capt. Michael Byrnes offers a new perspective (PDF) on the man vs. machine debate. Focusing on air-to-air combat, Byrnes examines the game-changing potential of a remotely piloted aircraft, and cautions against making an “emotional decision to reject” this emerging technology.

Tired of all the serious stuff? We are, too. Finish off with a historical detour into 1945, courtesy of The Atlantic. There, Adrienne LaFrance tells the fascinating story of Edward Kennedy, the journalist who bucked official gag orders to tell the world that World War II was finally ending.


Usha Sahay is an Assistant Editor at War on the Rocks.


Photo credit: Eric Kilby