Weekend Reading: July 31 – August 2 Edition


Although Congress is about to go on vacation, we know you’ll all still be toiling away like us. Here’s what caught our eye this week.

Point, counterpoint: War crimes or wise decisions? A textbook demonstration of the complexity of war.

Point: In a story featuring incoming Marine Corps Commandant Lt. Gen. Robert Neller, Lt. Col. James Weirick raises questions about photos released by TMZ in 2014 that appeared to show Marines burning bodies in Fallujah.

“It is essential that the results of this investigation be released by Marine Corps Forces Central Command with minimal redactions. The press release by Pentagon [sic] stating that the Marines in the photographs were dishonorable and unprofessional must be evaluated against the investigation by the Marine Corps. If these Marines burned the bodies out of necessity and not to desecrate the bodies, then they deserve to have the record corrected.”

Counterpoint: The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe reports:

“A Marine who was there at the time told public affairs officials that commanders ordered the bodies to be burned because U.S. troops were living in close proximity to them and the corpses were ‘literally exploding’ from becoming bloated in the sun.”

Sanctions aren’t all that. At Lawfare, Peter Feaver and Eric Lorber question whether the United States uses economic sanctions too often and too easily. They conclude that sanctions function poorly as a mere weapon of last resort — Clausewitz still applies to economic warfare.

“The new sanctions provide policymakers with a powerful tool, one that may well seem more efficacious than the other tools available. But well-crafted sanctions are unlikely to salvage a poorly crafted strategy — and a president who resorts to sanctions because he does not know what else to do and is unwilling to pursue a tougher line may not see much benefit, either.”

The American Revolution was [BLANK]. At Quartz, Adam Epstein collects crowd-sourced experiences about how the American Revolution is taught in non-American classrooms. The results will surprise you — but only if you’re an American. The French Revolution draws much more serious attention worldwide:

“I am French too and I remember that I had a class about it during middle school, but it was a quick, something like:

— Americans wanted independence, so they made the Tea Boston Party.
— So Britain went to war with America
— French sent troops with Lafayette
— “Join-or-die” snake
— America wins, they have now democracy
— It brings the ideas for the French Revolution

It was more an introduction class to the French Revolution than a class about American Revolution.”

The South China Sea policy menu: happy hour edition. In The National Interest, Patrick Cronin, director of the CNAS Asia-Pacific Security Program, lays out ten policy options for U.S. policymakers considering how to push back against Beijing in the world’s most contested sea.

“China is gradually de-balancing the region; in the absence of any substantial cost for bad behavior, China is simply being emboldened to carry on with its opportunistic and aggressive probing for regional influence. Without an effective counterweight to keep China honest, safeguard freedom of navigation and access to the global commons for all, and uphold the rule of law, China will achieve a slow-motion hegemony throughout the South China Sea.”

Climate change is a strategic distraction. So argues Col. (Ret.) Chris Krisinger in a succinct response to the 2015 National Military Strategy:

“In what may be his last significant strategy vector, General Martin Dempsey, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff released a newly updated national military strategy, the first since 2011. The contents of the document should not surprise those familiar with the Pentagon. It is a concise, clear-eyed military assessment, unencumbered by politics. ‘Climate change’ is also not mentioned anywhere in the document. Period.”

The future of the Army is … interesting. Outgoing Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno summarizes his parting guidance to the service. Odierno’s articulation of strategy is impressive, given how much time he had to devote to managing the simultaneous postwar drawdown and budget cuts.

“Taken together, the Army Vision, Army Operating Concept, and Force 2025 and Beyond provide the framework and strategy for the Army to adapt, evolve, and innovate; to meet the needs of the future operational environment; and to prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win in a complex world today, tomorrow, and in the years ahead.”


David Barno and Nora Bensahel offer reading list advice for the incoming military service chiefs.

Christopher Lee preempts the North Korea/Iran comparisons.

Mark Galeotti asks an obvious, yet heretofore unposed question: why can’t we counter Russia with “hybrid defense?”

B.J. Armstrong reviews Peter Haynes’s new tome on naval strategy, noting that it correctly paints an unflattering picture of the Navy’s institutional investment in strategists.


Photo credit: The U.S. Army