Weekend Reading: January 9-11

January 9, 2015

Happy Friday from all of us here at WOTR, where our heads have been spinning trying to pay attention to everything that’s been happening in the world—and unfortunately, not much of it is cause for celebration. Here’s our weekly round-up of the best pieces we read this week—and here’s to next week being quieter.

Weekly Quote:

“Although our tragedy in your killing of our women and children is a very great one, it paled when you went overboard in your unbelief and freed yourselves of the etiquettes of dispute and fighting and went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawings. This is the greater and more serious tragedy, and reckoning for it will be more severe. And I bring your attention to a telling matter, which is that despite your publishing of the insulting drawings, you haven’t seen any reaction from the one and a half billion Muslims [about the] insult to the Prophet of Allah, Jesus the son of Mary (peace and prayers of Allah be upon him). We believe in all of the Prophets (peace and prayers be upon them), and whoever detracts from or mocks any one of them is an apostate unbeliever […] If there is no check on the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions.”

– Osama bin Laden, March 20, 2008, responding to the depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.


Charlie Hebdo and the dangers of drawing in France. Juan Cole argues that the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo was a strategic strike aimed at provoking the French and European public into pogroms against French Muslims, who would then be more likely to join extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.

Having spent time with a group of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, including one of the victims, Ted Rall provides an insight into the political cartooning industry in France. In his piece for The Nib, he explains that Charlie Hebdo artists have always known they work at a place that encourages them to push the envelope. He argues that this sort of freedom and respect for political cartoonists does not exist in the United States and drives this point home by stating that more full-time staff cartoonists were killed in Paris yesterday than work at all American magazines and websites combined.

Elections in Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa’s re-election seemed inevitable until late last year when Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena defected together with dozens of other high-ranking coalition members. Sirisena now enjoys the support of dozens of opposition parties, which suddenly puts the presidency within his reach. Matthew Isaacs provides an analysis of how religious competition is fueling electoral violence for Political Violence at a Glance.

In The Diplomat, Nitin A. Gokhale explains why the outcome of the polls will be followed closely in New Delhi and Beijing. While India’s cultural and religious ties to Sri Lanka go back many centuries, Chinese presence on the island is relatively new, thanks to a decidedly pro-China policy adopted by Rajapaksa.

What’s holding up the Iran nuclear deal? For Al-Monitor, Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian takes advantage of his insights as former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiators to explain to us why Iran and the P5+1 failed to reach a deal before the Nov. 24, 2014 deadline. He concludes that a failure of the nuclear negotiations would play in the hands of hardliners in pushing for withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

From the Peace Corps to Ukraine’s front lines. In an article that appeared in Mashable, Christopher Miller tells the story of how Artemivsk, a little town in eastern Ukraine, went from being renowned for its salt mines and sparkling wine to being the infamous place where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky. The author also details his own transformation from teaching English and history in this sleepy town to becoming a war journalist.

Oldie but a goodie: Re-visit Lawrence Freedman’s excellent essays on Ukraine focused on crisis management and limited war.

Andrew Marshall’s written legacy. The blog Triumph of Improvisation (named after a book of the same name) published ten key documents from Andrew Marshall’s time on the National Security Council staff decades ago. The documents cover everything from possible technical improvements in handling the President’s daily brief to possible steps toward initiating a review of intelligence support of the NSC decision process.

More Marshall? Read our article by Ryan Evans on replacing Andy Marshall. See who might win the battle against the USAJobs behemoth to become the Pentagon’s new Yoda. Also check out Michael McCloud’s defense of USAJobs and his how-to guide on getting a federal job.

Top Risks in 2015. U.S. relations with Russia are fully broken. China is charting its own course. The ties that bind Europe are fraying on multiple fronts. Others-Gulf Arabs, Brazil, India-are hedging their plans and alliances in reaction to increasing geopolitical uncertainty. These and many other geopolitical risks are explained in depth in Eurasia Group’s annual risk forecast.

Is the U.S. letting PTSD kill its troops? Did you know that roughly 22 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day? That is one every 65 minutes. The Veterans Alliance’s newest infographic analyzes the problem in depth, examining the tragic consequences of PTSD if left untreated. (Note: This statistic is controversial, and it has been argued that a majority of these suicides were cases are of veterans whose time in service was long ago and less likely to be a factor).

And of course, check out the great reads published this week on War on the Rocks!

  • Barney Rubel claims that critics bemoaning the lack of a coherent American maritime strategy all too often fail to understand that the Navy’s strategy documents are focused more on its Title X functions than actual national strategy.
  • Dr. Van Jackson argues that organic trends occurring specifically at the regional or local level are often overlooked. A crucial basis for strategy lies not only in pattern recognition, but in separating strong or meaningful patterns from weak or irrelevant ones.
  • Michael A. Cohen warns that laying the responsibility for strategic failures directly at the feet of our entire armed forces distracts from the much larger and more salient issue of civilian responsibility for losing America’s wars.


Photo credit: The U.S. Army