Weekend Reading: July 17-19 Edition

July 17, 2015

This week was a busy one in international politics. Spend your weekend catching up on the latest and greatest analysis from around the web. Here’s what we’ve been reading this week.

The Day After the Iran Deal. This week, everyone in Washington was talking about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — or in plain English, the Iran deal. For an informed opinion, tune out the noise and start with these pieces first:

Begin your reading list here at War on the Rocks, with Aaron Stein’s analysis of the 159-page agreement. Also on WOTR, Thomas C. Moore makes the case to “dump the deal.”

“The agreement’s provisions are extremely complex and detailed. Reading the fine print brings flashbacks of the most detailed nuclear arms reduction provisions negotiated between the Kremlin and the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations.” In other words, all of this is new. At the outset of these negotiations, no one expected constraints this deep or this long.” At Arms Control Wonk, Michael Krepon brings the Iran deal debate back to reality, noting that each and every provision will be litigated over and over. Getting the deal was one thing. Carrying out the day-to-day enforcement is wholly another.

Tired of reading? Also for Arms Control Wonk, Jeffrey Lewis and Aaron Stein discuss the details of the Iran deal in this podcast.

A Good Syrian Rebel is Hard to Find. Washington’s efforts to develop a moderate Syrian opposition have hit a roadblock — with the secretary of defense’s admission that the United States has only managed to train 60 Syrian rebels during the last year. Over at the Brookings Institution’s Markaz blog, Charles Lister examines the case for cooperation with Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, despite their alleged ties to al-Qaeda and ISIL.

Lessons from the Field. “First, Americans are not now and won’t be the key actors in these countries.  Indigenous leaders, indigenous forces, indigenous factors will always be determinant.  We can influence but we cannot control and sometimes when we think we have a deal we discover it’s not sustainable because we didn’t consider or understand the local factors of the situation.”  – Ambassador Robert Ford, the last U.S. ambassador to Syria and a noted Middle East hand during his career at the State Department, gives the inside scoop on U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria over the last decade to Joel Wing at Real Clear Defense.

Why Partner Nations Fail. “It is our contention that by defining the problem as one of ‘security first,’ with inadequate attention to the requirements of good governance, the United States has allowed the tail of strengthening the militaries of weak states and reforming their security sectors to wag the dog of strengthening governance. In many countries, the result has too often been weaker governance and even weaker security.”  – In this first essay of a two-part series for Lawfare, Gordon Adams and Richard Sokolsky argue against the provision of security assistance to local security forces without concurrent reforms to civilian institutions.

Want More? Here at WOTR, Rebecca Zimmerman finds that when it comes to training and equipping local security forces, quality usually trumps quantity.

How to Fix Military Personnel Management: “Designing new personnel systems is like painting landscapes of mountains: they may provide great detail, showing every rock and tree, or they may be vague and aspirational, veiled in clouds and mist. Either way, they can help orient senior defense leadership toward an objective. What is needed here and now is a map that shows potential paths to reach the objective.” At Breaking Defense, RAND researcher Peter Schirmer and Army strategist Dr. Buzz Phillips consider how to jump-start the personnel management reform fight.

Give Coercive Diplomacy a Chance in the Asia-Pacific. Over at The Bridge, Stephen Bakich argues U.S. military strategies for dealing with an assertive China don’t leave enough space for coercive diplomacy and focus too heavily on conventional warfighting: “The essence of strategy is the alignment of ends, ways, and means in combinations that maximize opportunities and mitigate risks. On the opportunities side, Air-Sea Battle offers the U.S. escalation dominance which can enhance the credibility of deterrence … But the risks of ASB weigh heavier, especially if the U.S. wants to assert its interests short of war, or if it should seek to avoid escalation in the event of conflict.”

Don’t be “That Guy.” Part of being a student of war is learning to talk the talk. Unfortunately,  getting the terminology right can be difficult for the uninitiated. We Are the Mighty’s David Nye puts together a helpful list of military lingo to hand out at your next cocktail party to your civilian friends who don’t know their rockets from their missiles or their soldiers from their marines.


  • James Holmes on why “jointness” makes for bad maritime strategy.
  • Robert Kozloski on the broken Department of Defense bureaucracy — “a system that is flawed by design.”
  • Ryan Evans on the failure of the Army’s Human Terrain System.
  • Tom Donnelly responds to new criticism of the F-35 in a Hasty Ambush post from the Hoover Institution.