Weekend Reading: October 16–18 Edition

October 17, 2015

So you made it through the work week, and we’ve got your reward.  Here are some of the best things we read this week.  So grab a cup of coffee, or something a bit stronger if its after five noon, and enjoy!

The State of Al-Qaeda

With the Islamic State solidifying its hegemony over vast parts of the global jihadist movement, what has become of al-Qaeda its erstwhile ally and the organization it has in many ways supplanted? Writing for Cicero, Felix Imonti examines the group’s strategic orientation and charts the re-emergence of two dynamics that have long been the source of organizational friction within al-Qaeda: a focus on local adversaries within a political warfare construct, and a more global approach aimed at direct confrontation with global powers.

Foreign Policy, Schmoreign Policy

The first Democratic presidential debate has come and gone. But for those of you who watched, was there something missing? As Anna Newby and Jeremy Shapiro note, it’s foreign policy, and that’s a problem. “Look, even us foreign policy wonks get that the democratic primary is not about foreign policy. We understand that democratic voters are more interested in job security and the squeeze on the middle class. But as the Republican debates and various polls have shown, Republicans voters and independents are interested in foreign policy. … It will be an important theme in the general election and we need the debates to help us understand where the Democratic candidates really stand and what they really know.”

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Combat Linguistics

Did you know that it has ben estimated that for each year the Unites States was engaged in WWII, we added 6,000 words to the American vocabulary? At Task & Purpose, Sarah Sicard offers up this and other fascinating facts about the way war changes the way we speak. “However unintentionally, soldiers have become architects of language and profound agents of change throughout history,” she writes. Go read which wars gave us definitions for words like “skeet,” “lousy,” and “greased.”

What Does a Septuagenarian Communism Look Like?

North Korea recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of its communist party. So is the party as committed to its ideological founding as the Kim regime would have you believe? Not exactly, says Robert E. Kelly. “Like every other Marxist state though, the DPRK state never withered away. In fact, it got larger — much larger. North Korea has also failed or drifted … far from anything like socialism, communism, or Marxism-Leninism.” Check out the article to see just how far the country has deviated from its roots.

Can We Still Learn from Osan?

Task Force Smith, a 400-man unit that fought a rearguard action against advancing North Korean troops in 1950, still has much to teach us. Over at RealClearDefense, Mike Denny writes, “Our enemies fully understand the limitations of American strategic thought and operational history. We often learn bloody and painful lessons before an institutional awakening. The good news is that the military is a learning organization … Conventional forces, when empowered by leadership, are also capable of extraordinary learning and growth in competence and capacity.”

Failing Grades for the Failing State Wars

Anthony Cordesman of CSIS is a tough but fair grader. He finds President Obama’s plan to leave a larger number of troops in Afghanistan by the end of his term — 5,500 — wanting. Like many of Obama’s decision, he writes, it “is an awkward compromise with reality.” He then breaks into a detailed and painful accounting of where U.S. power fell short in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Pour yourself a stiff drink (in your War on the Rocks glass, if you have one) before you crack this one open.

Teddy’s Big (Naval) Stick

Jerry Hendrix, who has an article coming out at WOTR next week, gave a great talk at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum on TR’s naval diplomacy, and you can watch it here. He also has some great tips for aspiring academics. The best place to write? At sea, of course (although as a retired officer in our beloved Navy, he might be a bit biased).