Weekend Reading: November 7-9 Edition

November 7, 2014

War on the Rocks readers: we hope by now you’ve recovered from the midterms. If you aren’t already raring to go for 2016, we hope you’ll at least be excited to read some of great pieces from this week that we’ve gathered together!

Oh, is that what they think? Elliot Abrams at the Council on Foreign Relations encourages the United States to consider how its allies in the Middle East perceive its policies. In its attempts to counter ISIL, allies in the region such as Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia, see the United States as having relaxed its stance on Iran. In doing so, Abrams argues, the United States has alienated its key allies. For Israel, the relaxation of the American stance on Iran’s nuclear program is a major concern; while for the Arabs, the United States is seemingly favoring Middle Eastern Shia populations in its dealings with ISIL and Iran; and nobody is clued into U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria. Until the United States takes greater care of its allies, Abrams believes, its policies in the Middle East are not going to be taken seriously.

Syria. In Small Wars Journal Nicholas B. Pace describes the ways in which the decentralized nature of ISIL makes it more flexible and therefore more resilient to counterterrorism efforts. Through the spread of ideas and ideology, terrorism has become disperse and mostly “self-generated,” making it much more difficult to target. If the United States is to effectively combat ISISL it must understand that its organizational model is not a hierarchy, and that the war it should really be waging is one against ideas.

Meanwhile at The Daily Beast, Hassan Hassan talks about how the United States’ current undefined intentions toward Bashar al-Assad are untenable and perhaps counterproductive.

WOTR’s Daveed Gartenstein-Ross fills us in on David Drugeon, a high-ranking member of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Khorasan group in Syria, who may have been a French intelligence agent.


Iran won’t have a breakout moment. As the United States attempts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, James Acton in The National Interest writes that it must rethink its strategy. Up until now, the United States has been concerned with a “breakout” nuclear weapons program. As history has shown however, “would-be proliferators try to sneak out; they don’t breakout,” and therefore the current monitoring by the IAEA is unlikely to hinder nuclear weapon development. The United States must instead direct its attention to Iranian covert attempts to develop a parallel nuclear program. To successfully prevent this will require a focus on the detection of secret facilities, and a greater degree of transparency in the country.

Robert Hunter at Lobelog discusses the Israeli opposition to a final nuclear deal with Iran, and what to do about it. While a nuclear deal would remove Iran from the fray and reintegrate it into the international community, Israel has a host of reasons it does not want this to happen. Obama must therefore strike a balance between continuing with negotiations, which will inevitably damage Israeli trust in U.S. loyalty, while also reassuring Israel that its security and safety is still a major U.S. priority.

India-Pakistan. At the International Institute for Strategic Studies Kiran Hassan argues that in the wake of the death of more than 55 people in a suicide bombing at the Wagah crossing of the India-Pakistan border this week, there is still evidence of popular rapprochement. In looking at different indicators such as bilateral trade relations, cross-country information exchange, the youth bulge, and public diplomacy, Hassan believes that there is an opportunity for an improvement in Indian-Pakistani relations. To do so, Pakistan must let go of its fear of Indian domination, and India must be willing to engage with the Pakistani military. While these are no small asks, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners have already paved the way for more peaceful relations between the two states.

Extreme times call for extreme…methods. Jordan Bravin at Cicero Magazine talks about the need for new means of measuring military success that can keep pace with the ever-changing nature of modern warfare. Military operations are no longer cut-and-dry wins or losses, but for the last half-century have left the “victors” wondering what their metric for success should be. Given that in the current military landscape, “nobody really knows what ‘winning’ looks like,” using unconventional methods to measure security and development efforts will be vital in ensuring that the United States gains an understanding of “what works and what doesn’t, bringing an end to the guessing game that has dominated U.S. foreign policy for the last 40 years.”

Target practice. Jordan Teicher of Slate shows us photographer Herlinde Koelbl’s unique examination of how different countries design their shooting targets. Koelbl’s photographs illustrate the way in which a target can “reflect a country’s evolving imagination of the enemy over time.”

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.” You may remember Bill Murray uttering those words in Lost in Translation, but unless you were waiting outside of a Barnes & Noble at midnight to get a fresh copy of the 2015 Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, it may come as a surprise to hear that this year the best whisky in the world has been awarded to a Japanese single-malt. Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt’s victory made waves in the whisky (and whiskey) world, being the first time the honor had gone to a Japanese maker. In a further blow to the Scottish, for the first time in the Whisky Bible’s 12 dictatorial years of publication, not a single Scotch was listed in the top five. First the independence referendum, now this—it’s been a tough year for Scotland.