Charged Affairs Recommends: Great Foreign Policy Books of 2016

As the year draws to a close, Charged Affairs is looking back at 2016 to bring you our recommendations for this year’s best books on foreign policy.

Feel free to leave us with your recommendations at the bottom of this page in the comments section.

Image courtesy of Missmarettaphotography, © 2016Image courtesy of Missmarettaphotography, © 2016


Commanding Military Power: Organizing for Victory and Defeat on the Battlefield by Ryan Grauer

Alexander Kirss: Staff Writer, Charged Affairs

While scholars have proposed a number of factors that influence a military’s battlefield performance, including army size, technological superiority, and tactical acumen among others, Grauer makes the compelling case that organizational structure, namely the degrees of centralization and differentiation within an army’s command structure, plays an outsize role in determining conflict outcomes. This insight is applicable to far more than just studies of military effectiveness, and should inspire us to rethink the importance of structure across a wide array of organizations, including multi-national corporations, government agencies, and academic institutions.

Red Team by Micah Zenko

Caleb Marquis: Editor, Charged Affairs

Red Team is a must-read for all policy practitioners— ranging from foreign-policy doers to business competitors to homeland security and intelligence producers—that offers pragmatic and effective approaches to “red-teaming.” In particular, the reflections and assessments on contemporary intelligence successes and failures have a wide-range of applicability in commercial industry; with the use of simulations, probes, and alternative analyses proven to be vital going forward for avoiding disasters. Ultimately, Zenko provides a framework for challenging assumptions and seeing things in a different way for governments, organizations, and businesses that can lead to proven outcomes with high reward—but can also have disastrous results, as seen in the many historic and modern examples presented, including devil’s advocacy in the Vatican and the detention program orchestrated by the CIA.

Counter Jihad: America’s Military Experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria by Brian Glyn Williams

Robert T. Souza: Assistant Managing Editor, Fellowship Program

History is the guiding thread through the labyrinth of America’s great War on Terror, and thank goodness for historians like Brian Glyn Williams. After authoring several fantastic books about the Islamic world and bolstering his research by putting his own “boots on the ground” in these places – ranging from the insurgency-plagued Russian republic of Chechnya to the mountains of the Afghan “graveyard of empires” – Williams’s desire to help others understand contemporary events by patiently infusing them with historical context still burns. In “Counter Jihad,” there is such clear erudition and voluminous on-the-ground research communicated to readers in a way that is very accessible. Through his powerful and evocative writing, more reminiscent of a Game of Thrones novel than a boring textbook, Williams demonstrates that the ideas empowering terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda are deeply rooted in Middle East history. By beginning in the deserts of Israel/Palestine during the time of King David and ending with the current war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, this book is more than just another page-turner; it is an education that appeals to the scholar and layman alike. “Counter Jihad” is a must read for anyone looking to better understand the war on the Taliban, al-Qaeda and its regional offshoots in Yemen and elsewhere, ISIS, and Sunni and Shiite insurgents in Iraq.

The New Russia by Mikhail Gorbachev

Karlijn Jans: Europe Fellow

For those who have not lived through the Cold War, the book provides a unique insider’s perspective of the development of the Russian Federation and the current volatile position Russia finds itself in. Gorbachev’s book is a worthwhile read as it offers a thorough chronological analysis and a collection of detailed descriptions of the Russian political developments that followed his tenure at the helm of the Soviet Union. Being a known Putin critic, his insights do not necessarily provide something new. Yet his thorough analysis of the effects of a failed perestroika on the current situation provides a different and unique viewpoint, setting this book apart from other books addressing Russian domestic developments against a more historical and international backdrop. Gorbachev provides intriguing and additional relevant material for Putin-versteher (those who study Putin) and people wishing to understand Russian society and politics.

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