I tend to be wary of “lists.” Sometimes these “Top 5” or “Worst 7” or “10 Reasons Why…” can just be an excuse for lazy writing, and frankly, lazy reading. But I do like lists about what other smart people are reading. My favorite list comes out each Friday when Foreign Policy Magazine teams up with Longform to recommend the “5 Great Reads for Your Weekend.” Occasionally the articles, which are lengthy and tend to focus on foreign affairs, are linked from features in the New York Times or The New Yorker, but most are from magazines and sites one wouldn’t think to check regularly in search of a good read.
For this Saturday’s post on foreign policy, I thought I would offer my own “list,” but instead of great weekend reads, offer what I think are the “Top 5 Foreign Policy Sites.” These are the first five sites I check in the morning and follow over the course of the day for new posts. For those who follow foreign policy and national security closely, the following ought to be familiar, but for those who don’t, these five sites offer some of the best insight into a complicated topic.
1. Abu Muqawama: I quote Andrew Exum regularly in my PolicyMic pieces and for good reason. Exum is a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security in Washington, a former Army officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, author of This Man’s Army: A Soldier’s Story from the Frontlines on the War on Terror, and one of the savviest Middle East analysts in the business. His blog, Abu Muqawama, and frankly, his twitter account, is the first site I check in the morning before I read anything else. Whether it is a new piece on command and control structure, options for Syrian intervention, or just thoughtful points on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, Exum is an excellent writer and a measured, non-partisan, voice on defense. He also just earned his Ph.D from right here at the War Studies Department at King’s College London.
2. The Best Defense: Former Washington Post correspondent Tom Ricks is perhaps best known to the general public for his two seminal, if damning, books on the Iraq War, Fiasco and The Gamble. Like Exum, he is also at CNAS and is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy. His opinions are aggressive, but he’s as quick to praise the intelligence and defense community as he is smart to criticize it. His posts are brief and sharp, and while he rarely writes in “list” form, he does frequently mention what he’s reading (often several books at once), which hints at his own appreciation for thoughtful writing and good analysis. One of the best parts of Best Defense is his frequent use of guest bloggers, often lesser known, but equally keen, defense writers, who offer insight into any number of security or military-related topics. A great, recent debate focused on professional military education and the problems Ricks and others see therein.
3. The AfPak Channel: Like Best Defense, the AfPak Channel is a product of Foreign Policy, though it is run in tandem with the New America Foundation in Washington. The AfPak Channel is less of a blog than the previous two, but it features a swath of the top South Asian security writers in the world. As one might guess from the name, the content focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not just with regard to U.S. foreign policy. If you don’t tend to wake up and read Pakistan’s The Express Tribune or Dawn first thing in the morning, then you can still find great analysis on Pakistan’s confusing internal politics at the AfPak Channel. Some of the single best pieces I’ve read on just what the U.S. ought to do about Afghanistan were on this site, from writers who have spent the better part of a decade reporting from the region. You can subscribe to daily AfPak Channel e-mail updates, check out the site’s own list of recommended reading on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and explore a handful of other featured links that serve as a good primer for foreign policy neophytes who need a tutorial on counterterrorism.
4. Danger Room: Wired Magazine online offers perhaps the single best blog on national security hardware. Spencer Ackerman, the senior writer for Danger Room, must have exclusive access to the bigwigs at DARPA because he seems to be the first to report on the Defense Department’s hottest new devices and weapons systems. Recently, he’s had a slew of thoughtful pieces on the U.S. military’s use of drones. The posts are decidedly tech-oriented, so it may be one to skip if military robots, combat exoskeletons, or network connectivity on aircraft carriers are not what you consider thrilling morning reads. Military hardware might be the focus, but there are still frequent and intelligible posts on basic command and control. Even if the technical articles make your eyelids heavy, they are important and incisive reads. One of the real problems in the on-going drone debate is many people, those both for and against drone use, are actually not entirely sure what they do and how they really work. Danger Room is the place to find the answer.
5. The Long War Journal: Speaking of drones, the Long War Journal has done more than any other site or publication in tracking the U.S. government’s use of them in Pakistan and Yemen. LWJ is the definitive counterterrorism site, updating seemingly within the hour of the most recent Taliban and Al-Qaeda capture or kill. The site is AfPak and Arabian Peninsula-heavy, given the concentration of U.S CT efforts in both regions, but there is often a brief update on the latest from the Horn of Africa and the wider Middle East. If you want to watch the so-called “War on Terror” unfold on a daily basis, check LWJ every morning.
Of course, this is hardly an exhaustive list. To that first five I would add Line of Departure, CNN’s Security Clearance, Time’s Battleland, Foreign Policy’s Small Wars Journal, and a shameless plug for my current home, King’s College London’s King’s of War. These topics are certainly complicated, but these five blogs offer accessible, perceptive, and important analysis for every reader no matter how inexperienced or well-versed in national security.