Weekend Reading: March 13-15

March 13, 2015

Another week down, another Friday reached. And like every Friday, it’s time for our Weekend Reading list: as dependable as a Swiss watch and much cooler than a gold Apple Watch. This Friday is extra special, though, because we’ve just announced the best (and booziest) referral relay on the Internet. Check out what we’ve got lined up for you if you can help us gin up support for our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign!


Yours, &c. Ah, yes, the “Tom Cotton letter.” Signed by 47 Republican senators, the open letter “to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” has given a partisan disagreement about the Obama administration’s Iran policy the look of one between two branches of government. At FPRI, Ronald J Granieri offers some thoughts. His main criticism is not of the substance of the claims made by Sen. Cotton and his compatriots, but the form it took as an open letter, which he says “is so inappropriate as to severely undermine any point the authors hoped to make.”

Well, I have never…! That was the sentiment of many in response to the Republican senators’ temerity, including members of the administration and the media. But for those expressing such outrage, Adam Elkus is here to provide a history lesson. Not only is the Cotton letter not without precedent (from members of both parties in Congress), but this is just the latest act in the ongoing and complicated story of congressional foreign policy activism.

Want more? The military satirists at The Duffel Blog have done it again, with an exclusive on the open letter Iran sent back to Tom Cotton: “Our English is not the best, but we believe we understand your main points. Thank you for your interest in joining the Revolutionary Guard…”

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Iran has its own domestic politics. Think second-guessing of the president’s foreign policy by a legislative branch is bad? Imagine if a branch of the U.S. military were involved. Writing for the Bulleting of the Atomic Scientists, Ariane Tabatabai explores the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ position on the nuclear negotiations. The IRGC’s positioning might actually surprise some. In the United States, “the IRGC is often reduced to a caricature in the debates on Iran’s nuclear program…but its stance on the ongoing negotiations is clearly relatively centrist.”

Focus on the neighbors. The Center for Naval Analyses has just released a report requested by U.S. Naval Forces Africa with a recommended approach for the U.S. government to counter Boko Haram. We know Boko Haram as a Nigerian Islamist group, right? Well the report’s prescriptions might surprise you: focus on Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. Check out the full paper to see the authors’ other recommendations.

The Islamic State shushed on Twitter. Thousands of accounts associated with the Islamic State and its members have been shutdown over the past couple weeks. The group’s social media presence has been robust, and is widely seen as a prime factor in its radicalization and recruitment. So what now? Clint Watts sets out to answer this question at FPRI. The group’s communications strategy could “devolve back to the forum systems of al Qaeda,” but “for ISIS’s egomaniacal ‘Me’ generation members, a shift back to forums’ censorship and authentication will likely be unpalatable.” So will it “evolve” and find new ways of leveraging technology to disseminate its message?

Mosul or bust. An effort to retake Iraq’s second-largest city is clearly in the offing. At LobeLog, Wayne White argues that it isn’t just wresting back control of the city from the Islamic State that’s important, but how the battle for Mosul is won. Unfortunately, there are indications that the Iraqi government’s planning doesn’t recognize this. “The more Baghdad rushes its efforts to retake large urban areas regardless of the means,” White writes, “the more prolonged, costly, and damaging the fighting is likely to be.”

A very cosmopolitan war. This week marked the 100th anniversary of the WWI Battle of Neuve Chapelle, an assault intended to break through the German lines in northwestern France. A new short film (17 minutes) produced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council examines a particular aspect of the battle: the role of the Indian Corps in the battle, which won the British army 1,200 yards at a cost of 12,000 casualties. Dr. Santanu Das sheds light on this often overlooked aspect of the Great War. “Between 1914 and 1918, hundreds of thousands of Asians, Africans and Pacific Islanders were journeying to the heart of whiteness – Europe – and far beyond to take part in the war.” It’s well worth a watch.