Weekend Reading: October 3-5

October 3, 2014

Happy Friday! It’s been a busy week, full of White House security scandals, democratic protests in surprising places, airstrikes in not-so-surprising places, and pesky Canadian border patrolmen. Here are some of the best reads to help you enjoy your weekend and make sure you’re informed when you head back to the grind on Monday.

The British are coming! And so are the Turks. The financial and moral burden for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria is increasingly shared, as newcomers, including Turkey and the United Kingdom, join in the fight against the Islamic State. But in an interview with Bassam al-Ahmad of the Center for Documentation of Violation in Syria, Syria Deeply reports that airstrikes targeting grain silos held by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northeast Syria also killed a number of noncombatants, stoking new fears on the ground.

What’s in a name? The Department of Defense, known as both the largest employer in the world and perhaps its most creative naming body, has yet to name its war against ISIL. The Pentagon and White House balking on stating a name for its operations seems indicative of how scattered and nebulous the goals of the new campaign remain. Over at U.S. News & World Report, Paul D. Shinkman explores the potential legal motivation behind the radio silence: holding off on naming the operation as a whole allows Obama to label each strike a separate event, thereby avoiding the need for Congressional approval under the War Powers Resolution that puts a 60-day limit on any troop deployment.

Let’s look at a map. For months, media outlets have raved over the “swaths” of territory gained by ISIL offensives in Iraq. Gary Brecher in Pando Daily decided to take a closer look (on Google Maps) at the group’s latest alleged conquest near Kurdish-held Kobani. What he found might surprise you.

How to make it big with ISIL fanboys on Twitter. Jennifer Williams, a research assistant at Brookings writes in Lawfare about her inadvertent—and unwelcome—overnight fame among ISIL fighters and supporters on Twitter. In the process of telling her story, she manages to shed some light on how the ISIL propaganda machine functions.

Cut Obama some slack. Is it possible that, despite America’s best intentions and trillions of dollars aimed at fostering stability, the Middle East’s ubiquitous unrest could be a product of its own internal failures of governance? George Packer of The New Yorker offers a retrospective account of Obama’s two landmark speeches in 2009 on the complexities of war and peace. Packer’s takeaway may make you feel a little less guilty when you look at your newspaper every day and see the world in flames.

Remember that vague TSA warning in July about an increased terror threat? As it turns out, the U.S. intelligence and military communities had good evidence that the shadowy Al Qaeda cell, the Khorasan group, was planning to attack airliners flying to the U.S. JSOC quickly drew up plans to hit the AQ militants on the ground in Syria, but the plans never made it to the White House.

The U.S. should worry now about foreign fighters returning home. So says Brandeis professor of Politics Jytte Klausen, who argues that attempted attacks are already underway. Flying in the face of some intelligence agencies’ reassurances that the threat remains well into the future, Klausen says jihadist ideology has “changed” and “recognize[s] no borders or territorial limits to their fight.”

Iranian rapprochement—whatever happened there? In short, another round of negotiations in New York last week produced no agreement. In LobeLog, Georgetown professor Shireen Hunter assesses both the historical and realpolitik considerations that continue to hamper the multilateral talks.

And now…to Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have expanded in the last week—but can they achieve anything in the face of Beijing’s icy rejection? Maybe, says Zack Beauchamp at Vox: “If the protestors do everything right, they say, they’ve got at a real shot at winning partial, but significant, concessions.” The protestors’ almost infuriatingly good manners make them all the more potent to Chinese authorities, who are likely waiting for any chance they can get to validate the narrative of “chaos” they have promoted.

Oh, Canada. Still the Promised Land for some, three Afghan soldiers fled a training exercise at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod to seek asylum in Canada, together spending over $1,600 on taxis to make it as far as Niagara Falls. They are awaiting a verdict from an immigration judge not known for his lenience.

Meanwhile, in War on the Rocks… Jonathan Lord writes that “searching for moderates in Syria is akin to searching for unicorns.” James Fromson urges us to look to Truman’s Palestine debate in 1948 for some historical wisdom on the State Department Arabists’ ISIL threat inflation. Finally, Adam Elkus tells us why looking to Call of Duty for insight about the future of warfare is a waste of time, particularly when the national security experts presumably using those chunks of wisdom were responsible for the game’s creation in the first place.


Photo credit: UK Ministry of Defence