Weekend Reading: 26 September

September 26, 2014

Happy Friday, all! It’s the end of the week and that means that War on the Rocks is once again bringing you some of the best reads in current affairs, national security, and foreign policy. Happy reading.

The present past. A war strategy against ISIL is taking shape, led by the United States, a coalition of major Arab states, and a whole lot of airstrikes. However, David Motadel writes in the New York Times that in order to deal with ISIL in its present form, we should be looking to the past: “Islamic rebel states are overall strikingly similar. They should be seen as one phenomenon; and this phenomenon has a history.”

Stopping Ebola. As the death toll from Ebola nears 3,000 worldwide, Jon Cohen calls for extraordinary measures to stop the epidemic, including allowing those previously infected to care for the currently sick: “As far back as 431 B.C., the Athenian historian Thucydides recognized that people who survived the plague made for excellent caregivers.”

Setting Priorities. With a power-sharing agreement finally in place in Afghanistan, president-elect Ashraf Ghani can begin to tackle some of Afghanistan’s most pressing problems: among them a sharply divided electorate. Tamim Asey lays out 10 priorities that the new Afghan government needs to address.

The bubble wrap comes off. Aaron Mehta at the Marine Corps Times analyzes the F-22’s combat debut. After more than two decades of development, getting the world’s most expensive fighter in combat is a major milestone, but some are wondering, why now? Ultimately, it may just boil down to the Pentagon finally deciding to take the bubble wrap off.

Oh yeah, that pivot. While operations in the Middle East are escalating, the pivot to Asia is still happening, sort of. Army units are testing their ability to build up in the Pacific, but top brass are skeptical that the United States possesses the ability to actually understand China. Shannon Tiezzi writes on the current information deficit facing the intelligence community.

And on the topic of understanding China, Kyle Mizokami, writing in Medium, reminds us of the 1979 book The Chinese War Machine, which documents the state of the Chinese military at the time. It’s fascinating to see how far the People’s Liberation Army has come in a little over 30 years.

Trimming the fat. The Department of Defense is looking for ways to slim down and streamline by way of simplifying the bloated procurement process, and reforming outdated hiring practices, all in the hope of building a more agile force. According to an interesting new report from Mission Readiness, the DoD should be worried about trimming the fat in a more literal sense. With one in four Americans too heavy to join the military, could the nation’s obesity epidemic have an impact on national security?

Not so happy hours. Scotch whisky sales are down 11% worldwide in the first half of the year. Severin Carrell explains that a strong pound and a Chinese crackdown on extravagance have wiped £220 million in sales off the books.

Three Key Takeaways from WOTR:

… it’s apparent that a contained ISIL is demonstrably not an immediate threat to vital U.S. national security interests in the region. In an age of fiscal austerity and after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan yielding little in tangible benefits, containment of ISIL is a responsible, feasible, achievable, and entirely sensible American strategic objective.” – Christopher Bolan in “ISIL is contained and that should be good enough

And the rebuttal:

” As long as ISIL remains a viable state-like institution in Iraq, this will continue, until we won’t just be “containing” ISIL in Iraq, but also in Libya, Sudan, Mali, and Algeria. And therein lies the rub. Yes, as a state-like entity, we can “contain” the current Islamic State to the borders it already owns, but we can’t contain the ideology this situation encourages to flourish.”- Brad Taylor in “No, containing ISIL is not “good enough”

“How can we address the Iranian threat when prospects for real results on the missile issue are limited? We’re already moving in the right direction. Regardless of how advanced Iran’s ballistic missiles get, you can’t make a nuclear missile without a nuclear warhead, and you can’t make a nuclear warhead without nuclear material. The current negotiation process under the JPOA will, if successful, limit Iran’s enrichment activities and its stockpiles of nuclear material while subjecting the process to closer monitoring. That doesn’t eliminate the missile threat, but it mitigates it.”– John Allen Gay in “Iran’s ballistic missiles: threading the needle