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Must Reads of the Week: Al-Qaeda, Egypt's Referendum, Putin's Eurasian Project and More

Author: Editors
January 10, 2014


"The Al-Qaeda Switchboard"
By Lawrence Wright
New Yorker

"Yes, the F.B.I. could have stopped 9/11. It had a warrant to establish surveillance of everyone connected to Al Qaeda in America. It could follow them, tap their phones, clone their computers, read their e-mails, and subpoena their medical, bank, and credit-card records. It had the right to demand records from telephone companies of any calls they had made. There was no need for a metadata-collection program. What was needed was cooperation with other federal agencies, but for reasons both petty and obscure those agencies chose to hide vital clues from the investigators most likely to avert the attacks."

"The World Economy's Shifting Challenges"
By George Soros
Project Syndicate

"A successful transition in China will most likely entail political as well as economic reforms, while failure would undermine still-widespread trust in the country's political leadership, resulting in repression at home and military confrontation abroad."

Anbar IraqMourners chant slogans as they carry coffins of victims killed by a suicide bomber during the funeral in the holy city of Karbala, 110 km (68 miles) south of Baghdad January 10, 2014. (Mushtaq Muhammad/ Courtesy Reuters)

"Why Iraq's Most Violent Province Is a War Zone Again"
By Ned Parker

"There is not a Sunni region in the country now that is not enmeshed in strife.… The conflict in Sunni regions is creating an atmosphere of perpetual crisis that could tip the country into civil war or be used by Maliki as a justification to stay in power after what is expected to be a closely fought election. The more chaos, the greater the chance for al-Qaeda-linked fighters to hide among the population and reap chaos."

"Putin's Attempt to Recreate the Soviet Empire Is Futile"
By Lilia Shevtsova
Financial Times

"The Eurasian project is a mirage of a post-Soviet archipelago in which authoritarian leaders use each other to preserve their power. It may last a little longer. But before long, the sun will set on Mr Putin's imperial ambitions."

"Germany Adds Lessons in Islam to Better Blend Its Melting Pot"
By Alison Smale
New York Times

"For the first time, German public schools are offering classes in Islam to primary school students using state-trained teachers and specially written textbooks, as officials try to better integrate the nation's large Muslim minority and counter the growing influence of radical religious thinking. The classes offered in Hesse State are part of a growing consensus that Germany, after decades of neglect, should do more to acknowledge and serve its Muslim population if it is to foster social harmony, overcome its aging demographics, and head off a potential domestic security threat."

"How Hard Is it to Win Hearts and minds in Afghanistan? Very Hard."
By Jason Lyall
Washington Post

"While a key policy takeaway—avoid civilian casualties—seems obvious, even taking great pains to minimize civilian suffering is no guarantee that civilians can be won over. Cognitive biases that predispose individuals to favor (or excuse) the actions of their fellow in-group members, while simultaneously using negative actions by the out-group (like ISAF) to confirm prior prejudices, are powerful frameworks not easily overcome during wartime. Without engaging these underlying psychological biases, however, efforts to win hearts and minds are likely to be expensive, protracted, and, in the end, fleeting."

"Legitimizing an Undemocratic Process in Egypt"
By Michele Dunne
Cairo Review of Global Affairs

"It will be nearly impossible for observers to do a credible job under the present conditions in Egypt. And even if the referendum goes smoothly, it is not at all clear that the vote will make a meaningful contribution to getting Egypt back onto a democratic path. Observers and foreign governments, including the United States, would do well to make sure that their engagement and statements keep the focus on the big picture of Egypt's worrisome trajectory."

"The Pious Spy: A Taliban Intelligence Chief's Death and Resurrection"
By Mujib Mashal
Harper's Magazine

"Perhaps Ahmadullah no longer feels that his life is at risk. Unlike al-Qaeda, the Taliban have emerged from the past decade remarkably unscathed. Many of the group's leaders have vanished into tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and others live in urban areas—such as Quetta and Karachi—where U.S. drones could not reasonably operate. Still, if Ahmadullah who is no older than forty-seven, has any hope of playing a role in Afghanistan's future, he will have to emerge at some point from 'under the grave.'"

"Breaking Syria's Reign of Terror"
By Hassan Hassan
Foreign Policy

"The fighting over the past week is a watershed moment for the Syrian uprising. The momentum against extremism can pave the way for the re-emergence of moderate groups that had been pushed to the margins under ISIS's reign of terror. The episode has proved that it is Syria's mainstream rebels who are best fit to face down extremists -- not the Assad regime."

"International Governance and Regulation of the Marine Arctic"
By Timo Koivurova and Erik J. Molenaar
World Wildlife Fund

"This report was commissioned by the WWF International Arctic Programme to examine the adequacy of the current international governance and regulatory regime of the marine Arctic in light of current and future impacts of climate change on the Arctic."

Must Reads sample analyses, reporting, and inquiries on foreign policy from around the web selected each week by CFR Editors. See more Must Reads here.

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