Weekend Reading: 9/11 Anniversary Edition

September 11, 2015

This weekend begins, of course, with the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The vast majority of Americans who read War on the Rocks surely remember where they were on September 11, 2001 when they first heard of the attacks. Imagine if you could poke a portal through time and tell the 9/11/2001 version of yourself this:

Fourteen years in the future – almost a decade and a half after al-Qaeda left a large hole in the Pentagon and laid waste to the World Trade Center in New York City –  this terrorist group remains active, its leadership at large. They have taken a battering, but they remain dangerous, even after we invaded two countries to ostensibly root them out (then, mission creep…). The biggest blow al-Qaeda received, however, had nothing to do with bombs,  drones [this is where you explain to your past self that we now routinely kill people with flying robots that spit missiles], or special operators. It is all about prestige. They are challenged by another, stronger jihadist organization that claims to have re-established the historic Caliphate – the purported goal of al-Qaeda. It has taken on all the trappings of a state straddling the now defunct border between Iraq and Syria. Despite thousands of U.S. airstrikes and support to proxies on the ground, this group – the “Islamic State” – remains.

You could do worse than to start with Bruce Hoffman’s “ISIL is Winning” at Politico and Joe Quinn’s article on losing his brother on 9/11 at Task & Purpose.

ISIL’s 9/11 grab? Friend of WOTR Clint Watts has another great one over at FPRI’s Geopoliticus. He writes: “Having laid claim to al Qaeda’s top heroes Bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and al-Awlaki, there remains only one piece of al Qaeda history left for the taking: the legacy of al Qaeda’s crowning achievement: the attacks of September 11, 2001.  What better way to snub Zawahiri than to hijack ownership of the group’s most celebrated attack?” See how the Islamic State might do this.

The “Special Relationship” embraces drones. The United Kingdom recently droned two of their own citizens who made the regrettable decision of joining the Islamic State. According to Prime Minister David Cameron, they were plotting attacks against the West, so they got thwacked. Jack MacDonald discusses Britain’s “Anwar al-Awlaki moment” over at Kings of War.

Australia taking on the Islamic State. It looks like Australia is joining the anti-Islamic State bombing campaign over swaths of Iraq and Syria. Tony Switzer of the University of Sydney and the host of the radio show “Between the Lines” seems skeptical over at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Why? Well, he says, the Islamic State is not an existential threat, it’s hard to pick sides between the Assad regime and Sunni fundamentalists, and efforts to just “do something” does not mean that “something” will work out well for us. He writes: “The best way to defeating terrorism is not by launching endless wars in a vast region largely hostile to westerners.”

Want more? An oldie but a goodie from Ali Wyne that takes on the “do something now” doctrine. Also do not miss this wonky, but effective essay from Dan Trombly and Yasir Abbas on why we should go after Raqqa first to take down the Islamic State. We, in fact, have a whole load of reading on the Islamic State that you should check out.

And now for some non-jihadism related reading:

The Turkey two-step. WOTR contributor Aaron Stein pumped out two great articles this week addressing the renewed war between Turkey and the PKK. Neither his piece at the Atlantic Council’s MENA Source or his Al Jazeera article give us much reason for optimism.

Want more? Did you miss Burak Kadercan’s epic takedown of Turkey experts who blame Erdogan for all of Turkey’s ills? Read “The Unbearable Lightness of Blaming Erdogan.” Not surprisingly, more than a few Turkey experts were not pleased.

Disrupting on the shoulders of disruptors. BJ Armstrong has a great article in the Naval War College Review on the publications and organizations behind the latest wave of military innovation (yup, we are in there) and those who came before.

Three wage Putin cage-fight. Is Putin a great strategist or a terrible one? We’ve published more than a bit on this topic and three pieces stand out. The first is actually a lecture by WOTR contributing editor Lawrence Freedman “On Strategy and Strategists” in which he points to Putin’s strategic deficiencies. This summer, Joshua Rovner, wrote a great article on how much Putin sucks at strategy. But not so fast, says Michael Kofman: Putin’s strategy is better than you think. Where do you come down, dear reader?

Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery