A wild week; here’s my mix of topical reporting and position pieces I found exceptional:
Sorry, AirSea Battle is No Strategy: [National Interest], TX Hammes // In direct response to Elbridge Colby writing in the same venue a week earlier, Hammes hammers (irresistible) the suggestions of AirSea Battle (ASB), either an enabling concept or a strategy depending on whose side you take. Hammes rolls out his own strategic plan entitled “Offshore Control,” a hyper-technological blockade designed principally to minimize what Hammes feels are overly escalatory dimensions of ASB. If you haven’t the slightest goddamned idea what ASB is about, why it matters, or the rancor it’s engendered, I recommend… breezing through former DDG commander Bryan McGrath’s “Five Myths About AirSea Battle” over at War on the Rocks before taking in the Colby-Hammes back-and-forth.
Reflections on NSA Oversight, [Lawfare], Jack Goldsmith // Goldsmith, riffing off his own work in Power and Constraint, argues that sensible legal restraints placed on national security tools provide their users with an overall greater latitude in practice. The crux:
Sometimes, probably often, regulation and oversight that seem to lead to less than optimal security is actually optimal, because the alternative to the oversight and regulation is not more NSA discretion to surveil, but rather less discretion because the authorities will not be granted in the first place without the intrusive oversight.
I agree wholeheartedly with Goldsmith here, though I’m dubious that the sort of reforms he has in mind will result in the degree political sustainability he seeks. Judging by the reactions of privacy warriors and staunch libertarians to Obama’s 9 August speech, anything short of total transparency will sate their appetites. And that’s a dire problem. As we’ve seen in the NSA leaks, it’s exceedingly easy to grab onto a bit of a training slide or internal memo without context and write headlines openly asserting that the rights of all Americans are systematically violated. And given the inherent PR disabilities in articulating its case, the NSA should consider its current public crisis a failure of strategic communications, not one of inadequate oversight.
Soldier of Misfortune: [Foreign Policy], Colum Lynch // Stalwart UN dispatch master Colum Lynch tells the tale of a complicated UN contractor whose disregard for UN convention and policy probably saved the lives of several other UN workers. It’s hard not to feel a visceral hatred for the man, who seems like a type-A dick as a human being. His actions in the field, though, bring current debate lines in the humanitarian community into sharp relief.
The Wrong Way to Punish Putin: [Foreign Affairs], Dan Treisman // In one of the few non-emotional reactions to the Obama-Putin non-summit announcement, UCLA’s Treisman recommends coolly operating from the baseline of domestic Russian politics. Ultimately, his recommendation boils down to denying Putin gifts and letting him crash and burn on his own.
International Jihad and the Syrian Conflict: [Aaron Zelin] // The ever-accurate WINEP fellow Aaron Zelin gives a wide-ranging interview on why and how Syria looks a lot like a long-term jihadist playground.
The Gift: [Foreign Policy], Marc Lynch // GWU’s Lynch takes on the frequently trumpeted view that the “Arab Spring” represented a defeat for al-Qaeda through its rejection of extremist politics in favor of democratic expression. But what if democracy, in some of its uglier masks, itself exacerbates extremist politics? Somewhat opportunistic timing for Lynch following the embassy closures, but worth a gander nonetheless.
Covering Nixon: [New York Review of Books], // And finally, what weekend can be complete without an archival selection of Nixon coverage!? I’m struck by much of this writing, as with that of Hunter S. Thompson, on the peculiar way in which Nixon seemed to elicit the best of our scribes…or at least their most raw and creative work. I have difficulty believing even any of the NYRB authors—Wills, McCarthy, Vidal, Mailer—or even HST himself—could write about GWB or Obama like they did about Tricky Dick. Something in the man made all policy personal, all discussion grandiose and abstracted, with his minor features and actions cast in Manichean and apocalyptic terms. Hands-down most enjoyable years in American history to read about.