Weekend Reading: August Recess Edition

August 7, 2015

Happy weekend everybody! And happy recess to those of our readers who labor on Capitol Hill. August may not be the hottest month of the year in Washington, but it certainly is the quietest (which is a good thing, because we are gearing up for a nasty September). Here is what you should be reading this weekend:

I can’t tell that we are gonna be friends. All that talk about Russia and China becoming best buddies over their shared rivalry with the United States is just a bit too rosy according to AEI’s Michael Auslin, writing for The Commentator. In both Siberia and the Pacific, Russia has reason to be worried about China’s ambitions. Not too bad for us, right? Well, no. Not according to Auslin: “It is hard to see how other nations in Asia can reap any advantage from these long-standing Sino–Russian tensions. Certainly, neither Tokyo nor Washington should seek to worsen ties between Russia and China.”

Ike no like nukes? This week marks the 70th anniversaries of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States. The diaries of an officer in the U.S. Navy depicts a visit by Ambassador W. Averell Harriman (the naval officer’s boss and the U.S. envoy to the Soviet Union) to Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, then residing in Frankfurt, Germany, just two months after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated, killing over 200,000 people (about 12 percent of Japan’s war dead). Ambassador Harriman and Gen. Eisenhower went fishing for trout (using canned beef as bait) and discussed how terrified Ike’s German cooks and maids were of him (much to his annoyance). John J. McCloy, then the assistant secretary of war, joined them for dinner and the discussion ranged widely. The dinner guests grappled with the implications of the atomic bomb. Ike, who had been visiting Moscow when the bombs were dropped, said that he wished the war could have been brought to a close without it being used. On a different date, Ike said to a journalist, “Before the atom bomb was used, I would have said yes, I was sure we could keep the peace with Russia. Now, I don’t know. I had hoped the bomb wouldn’t figure in this war … People are frightened and disturbed all over. Everyone feels insecure again.”

The diary entry also has some fascinating anecdotes about Ike rolling around in Hitler’s special train, the Soviets, and French treatment of German POWs. According to the diary, Eisenhower said that “the French were the most cruel of all the people he had dealt with.”

What should the next POTUS do on seapower? Seth Cropsey has the answer at Real Clear Defense. Forget the Islamic State, Russia, and Iran, he argues. The real threat to American power comes from China — the only power that can sustain a challenge to the United States on the high seas. Cropsey wants to see a minimum of 346 combatants in the U.S. fleet (we are now at about 280) and offers some other recommendations worth your time.

Should America push Taiwan to submit to China? Over at CIMSEC, Eric Gomez argues that Taiwan should “deepen its military and political accommodation with China.” He admits that “this would be a difficult pill for Taiwan to swallow, but it could offer the most sustainable deterrent to armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait.” What would such accommodation look like in practice? For starters, Taiwan would stop purchasing weapons from the United States — a longtime demand of Beijing. Gomez insists it is in America’s interest to push Taipei in this direction if it wants to avoid a war with China over Taiwan. Charles Glaser takes this argument even further in the latest issue of International Security, arguing that if the United States cuts Taiwan loose, China would be willing to strike a grand bargain with Washington that would involve the peaceful resolution of territorial conflicts in the South and East China Seas and an acceptance of America’s military presence in the region.

Want a different view? WOTR senior editor Van Jackson argues that accommodating China won’t produce peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific. Jackson insists, “There’s a dangerous naivete in abandoning U.S. commitments on the hope that China will then be more willing to resolve its other disputes.” Our very own Mira Rapp-Hooper offers six summertime steps the United States can take in the South China Sea. The issue also got some time in our latest podcast, featuring Richard Fontaine, Mira-Rapp Hooper, Erin Simpson, Justin T. Johnson, Frank Hoffman, and Afshon Ostovar.

Does the Iran deal make the Middle East more stable? That mostly depends on the United States, argues Kenneth Pollack at Markaz, the Middle East blog at the Brookings Institution. If Washington uses the deal as an excuse to disengage from the region, Pollack argues, Iran will become a much bigger troublemaker, setting fire to the Middle East. But if the United States stays engaged and acts decisively in support of its allies, Iran can be kept in a box.

Want more? You should probably listen to President Obama’s defense of the Iran deal from Wednesday.

“This is how the world ends; not with a bang, but a whimper.” This is the opening line of On the Beach, by the Australian novelist Nevil Shute. The book and the later film adaptation deal with the question of what one is to do when you know the world is ending and you only have limited time left. The world Shute depicted was shaped by the anxieties of the early Cold War. There has already been a major nuclear exchange far from Australia and now the Australian people are waiting for the fallout to drift down under and kill them all. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has a nice reflection on the book and movie and their lessons.

Book review of the week. Chris Zeitz reviews Jean-Pierre Filiu’s From Deep State to Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadi Legacy (Hurst & Co., 2015) over at The Bridge. This book made our list of recent Middle East books to watch (and you can win them if you enter our sweepstakes!). Zeitz calls the book “essential reading.” Check it out.

Is U.S. military strategy “focused on a fog bank”? Col. Michael W. Pietrucha of the U.S. Air Force has a great article over at USNI, “Capability-Based Planning and the Death of Military Strategy.” As you probably gathered from the title, Pietrucha takes aim at capability-based planning (basically this means developing acquisition plans based on what stuff you think you want rather than being pegged to specific adversaries). He argues, “In embracing CBP, we have become focused on a fog bank — the nameless, faceless adversary who may be technologically advanced and may even be a ‘near peer’ in a similarly undefined way. But that adversary has no connections to any geography, culture, alliance structure or fighting methodology. That adversary has no objectives, no systemic vulnerabilities, and no preferred way of fighting. Instead, the enemy is a collection of weapons systems that we will fight with a (presumably) more advanced set of similar systems, in a symmetrical widget-on-widget battlefield on a flat, featureless Earth.” Ouch.

Want more Pietrucha? Read his article at War on the Rocks on why the next fighter aircraft will be manned, along with the one after that. Sorry drone fans.

Did you miss these awesome War on the Rocks articles?

Twilight Struggle: The Cold War was not Stable or Simple,” by Patrick Porter

China: The Adversary has Arrived,” by Robert Haddick

8 Big Ideas to Turbo-Charge the U.S.-Australian Alliance,” by Ross Babbage

Denmark: Defense Woes in the Little U.S. Ally that Could,” by Gary Schaub, Jr.