Image credit: Alfons Morales, Unsplash

December 29, 2022

Best of 2022 from CNAS Staff

The staff at the Center for a New American Security dove into researching some of the most pressing and hard-hitting national security issues of the day. But we also take time to read, watch, and listen to some of the best media to come out of 2022 and earlier. Discover new, or just new to you, content to start 2023.

Richard Fontaine, Chief Executive Officer

Top Read: Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire by Caroline Finkel. This book starts before the beginning—when the Byzantines still ruled—and goes through the 1923 founding of the Turkish Republic. It's a great companion to another of my favorites, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin.

Top Watch: The World Cup. Turns out even a 1-1 game can be riveting. Who knew? Since there's not another tourney for four years, check out Netflix’s FIFA Uncovered. Depressing but fascinating in its own way.

Top Listen: Metallica’s 2009 concert in Nimes, France. Available on YouTube in its entirety and in clips. I've listened to parts of it hundreds of times now, mostly in the gym. Ride the lightning.

Paul Scharre, Vice President and Director of Studies

Top Read: "Compute Trends Across Three Eras of Machine Learning" by Jaime Sevilla et al. (Epoch). The past decade has seen explosive growth in artificial intelligence. This fascinating paper by researchers at Epoch tracks the staggering growth in computing power, a ten billionfold increase since 2010. Computing power for cutting-edge machine learning models is doubling every six months, much faster than the 24-month doubling rate under Moore's Law. An essential paper to understand the most important contemporary technology trend.

Top Listen: "Daniela and Dario Amodei on Anthropic," Future of Life Institute podcast. Daniela and Dario Amodei, co-founders of the AI research firm Anthropic, explain some of the fascinating and strange properties of large language models like ChatGPT. An accessible entry into the bizarre world of today's AI systems, which are increasingly powerful but often think in alien ways, and the challenges in building safe AI systems.

Lisa Curtis, Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security Program

Top Read: Book–The Fractured Himalaya: India, Tibet, China from 1949-1962 by Nirupama Rao. This book by retired Indian diplomat Nirupama Rao provides historical context for the recent India-China clashes along their disputed border. With tens of thousands of troops still stationed on both sides of the border, and the potential for India-China border tensions to erupt into conflict, Rao’s account of the lead-up to their 1962 war is essential reading for understanding the geopolitical dynamics at play between the two Asian powers.

Article–“Europe and Asia Have a Shared Stake in Each Other’s Security,” by EU High Representative Josep Borrell, originally published in the Straits Times on June 10, 2022. It was not a given that European leaders would make a connection between Russian aggression in Europe and Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific. In this seminal article, Borrell argues it is impossible to compartmentalize security developments to one part of the world. He rightly argues that freedom-loving, sovereignty-respecting nations in Europe and Asia must work together to preserve the rules-based global order.

Top Watch: Moonage Daydream. While not saying much about U.S national security (unless you are one of the David Bowie fans who believes he was truly a space alien), this documentary—relying solely on concert footage and rare video and interviews of the enigmatic singer—provides fresh perspective on Bowie’s musical genius and decades-long artistic evolution. The film will be loved by old fans and create some new ones, too.

Katherine Kuzminski, Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

Top Read: Power Failure by William D. Cohan

Top Watch: The Crown (Season 5) on Netflix.

Top Listen: WorkLife with Adam Grant. If you only want to start with one, start with the June 21 episode entitled “The 4 Deadly Sins of Work Culture.”

Jonathan Lord, Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

Top Read: No Conquest, No Defeat: Iran's National Security Strategy, by Ariane M. Tabatabai. Tabatabai ably argues that all the elements of Iran's malign regional behavior, commonly associated with the ideologically radical revolutionary government that seized control in 1979, actually began during the Shah. The thesis is critical for policymakers to understand: that a change in Iran's government may not result in a change in Iran's behavior, which is rooted in geopolitical realities, and informed by Iranian political narratives that long predate the Ayatollah.

Top Watch: The Crown, Season 5, Episode 3, "Mou Mou". This episode of Netflix's British royal saga is the origin story of Mohamed Al-Fayed, and his son, Dodi. The episode stands alone as a powerful and moving biopic that tells the story of "Mou Mou," who began as a wandering Coca-Cola peddler in 1940s Cairo, and ended up a mogul who sought the company of the British royal family. Especially touching was the relationship forged between Mohamed, who sought to learn every aspect of royal behavior and his teacher and friend, Sidney Johnson, who served as valet to abdicated king, Edward VIII, before serving Mohamed through the end of his life.

Top Listen: Lost Bayou Ramblers, as seen live at French Quarter Fest, this past April. After two years of pandemic, it was so refreshing to see live music again in New Orleans. This Cajun band plays Zydeco (a sound that's truly unique to Louisiana) with a respect for old traditions and a nod to modern greats. Enjoy by dancing a two-step, or sit back with a po' boy and an Abita, and laissez les bon temps roulez.

Shai Korman, Director of Communications

Top Read: Not All Robots from AWA Studios, written by Mark Russell and art by Mike Deodato Jr. Not All Robots is a gripping and darkly funny cautionary tale about AI, algorithms, and entitlement gone wild. It also won 2022 Eisner and Ringo Awards—the Oscars and Emmys for graphic novels.

Top Watch: Moshari, a short film by Nuhash Humayun. Moshari will make you jump out of your seat from its perfectly executed scares, cinematography, and sound design, as you follow the impact of climate disasters and economic disparity on two sisters trying to survive the world they inherited. Unlike anything I've ever seen, groundbreaking Bangladeshi filmmaker Nuhash Humayon tells a deeply heartfelt (and terrifying) story that took home an unprecedented number of Oscar qualifying prizes for his country, including the SXSW Jury Award (Midnight Shorts). Oh, and Jordan Peele and Riz Ahmed liked it so much, they joined as executive producers.

Top Listen: Jews Don’t Count (Audible version), written and read by David Baddiel. With antisemitic incidents and violence on the rise worldwide, British author and comedian, David Baddiel, narrates the most profound and funny meditation on antisemitism in the 21st century. A must read (or listen) for anyone who wants to explore society’s blindspots with respect to racism and Jew-hatred from a disarming, hilarious, and important voice.

Andrew Metrick, Senior Fellow, Defense Program

Top Read: Fugitive Telemetry, Martha Wells

Top Watch: Andor

Top Listen: This Place Will Become Your Tomb, Sleep Token

Carisa Nietsche, Associate Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

Top Read: To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

Top Watch: Blown Away on Netflix

Top Listen: CNAS’ Brussels Sprouts podcast (shameless plug!)

Emily Jin, Research Assistant, Energy, Economics, and Security Program

Top Read: Best Book—Prestige, Manipulation, and Coercion: Elite Power Struggles in the Soviet Union and China after Stalin and Mao by Joseph Torigian. It is a treat to read Torigian’s masterful work combining historiographical and political science methodologies. He convincingly argues an against-the-grain proof that in post-Stalin Soviet Union and post-Mao China, policy differences were exaggerated and secondary to personal histories and grievances in elite power struggles. Torigian’s twin case studies demonstrate that Leninist political systems are marred by weak institutionalization and a constant struggle over dominance.

Best Article—“Xi Jinping in His Own Words: What China’s Leader Wants—and How to Stop Him From Getting It,” by Matt Pottinger, Matthew Johnson, and David Feith. This article implores the policy community to analyze the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) vision for itself in the global order with a Marxist-Leninist framework, and takes the readers through major documents and remarks by the CCP and General Secretary Xi Jinping. With close reading of these authoritative words, it is clear what the CCP wants for itself, which is to seize the peak of a new global order. The authors then recommend a strategy of “constrainment,” which accounts for economic entanglements but also leverages America’s structural advantages.

Top Listen: The Prince: Searching for Xi Jinping. Gripping through and through. Incredible piece of investigative journalism that demystifies China’s paramount leader, told over eight parts and punctuated by delightful instrumentals. Never a dull moment.

Nick Lokker, Research Assistant, Transatlantic Security Program

Top Read: Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, by George Packer

Top Watch: House of the Dragon on HBO

Top Listen: My Spotify Wrapped top songs from the year

Arona Baigal, Research Assistant, Middle East Security & Securing U.S. Democracy Initiative Programs

Top Read: Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe by Graham Allison

Top Watch:
Fleabag on Amazon Prime

Top Listen:
Beyoncé’s Renaissance album

Sam Howell, Research Assistant, Technology and Security Program

Top Read: Chip War: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology by Chris Miller

Top Watch:
Retrograde, a National Geographic documentary about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

Top Listen:
Modern War Institute podcast

Taren Sylvester, Research Assistant, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

Top Read:Inside the Federal Bureau Of Way Too Many Guns” by Jeanne Marie Laskas was published in GQ of all places in 2016. It is a truly illuminating account of an average day at the ATF’s National Tracing Center where, by law, the entire operation is analog. Every request to trace a firearm must go through the NTC whose staff must comb through shipping containers full of stacks of records in paper and microfilm in hopes of finding one that matches.

Top Watch: Three Pines staring Alfred Molina as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec recently started streaming on Amazon Prime. The show is a beautifully filmed, engaging adaptation of a series of mystery novels by Louise Penny set in the fictional Canadian town of Three Pines. The episodes also touch the so often overlooked crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls taking place across Canada and the United States.

Michael Akopian, Research Assistant, Defense Program

Top Watch: Top Gun: Maverick. I thought about listing a different movie to seem smart and well-rounded, but Top Gun was a perfect summer movie that I’ve watched five times now (almost once a month). It’s exciting, fun, and sometimes cheesy with amazing action sequences and callbacks to the first movie. I rewatched it a few days ago and might watch it again tonight.

Top Listen: Behind the Bastards: The Man Who Ruined New York. It’s hard to avoid driving on anything that Robert Moses built if you’re in New York. This two-parter looks at how one person could consolidate power, execute ambitious projects, and leave lasting gashes in communities nearly seven decades on. It’s fascinating, baffling, and somewhat terrifying.

Hannah Kelley, Research Assistant, Technology and Security Program

Top Read: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. As a Catholic clinging to the beauty of it all, I exhaled from a place I had forgotten existed while reading this classic. It begins with a good, kind, and generous bishop giving unreservedly to someone worth the gesture simply because they are a person in need, and then shows the chain reaction of that decision, unbeknownst to the bishop. P.S. Buy from independent bookstores!

Top Watch: "Remembering Angela Lansbury". I owned all twelve seasons of Murder, She Wrote growing up and couldn’t tell you how many times I watched it through. Everything about Jessica Fletcher enchanted me. She wore practical shoes and cardigans. She loved to read and work in her garden. She saw the world and solved the crime but always came home to her neighbors, typewriter, and bicycle. She was kind and tough and I loved her, and she was who she was because Angela Lansbury protected her fiercely. This short video was released after her death by her request, and it only made me love them both more.

Top Listen: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Honestly, I have been recommended this podcast for three years now and keep forgetting to press play. The below review is from my sister and I am including it here as a commitment to listen in 2023. Join me?

"Each episode is a deep dive into a chapter of the Harry Potter series in which the hosts try to treat the text in a “sacred” way, a.k.a. earnestly, expecting to teach them things. V heartwarming and funny at times, pairs well with commute.”

Hunter Streling, Intern, Middle East Security Program

Top Read: No Conquest, No Defeat, by Ariane Tabatabai. Bringing a nuanced view to a well-studied topic, Tabatabai seeks to explain the how collective memory of historical events such as the Iran-Iraq War have shaped Iran’s security strategy. It's especially relevant as U.S.-Iran relations have become more strained since the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018 and stalemated negotiations under the current administration.

Top Watch: Andor. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, this series delivered everything and more. A well-developed, thought provoking plot that covers the period before the original Star Wars trilogy from the perspective of Cassian Andor, a future leader in the rebellion. This series is great for both lifelong Star Wars fans or those who have only heard of Baby Yoda, as it stands out in a league of its own.

Top Listen: Stuff You Should Know. While this podcast isn’t focused on the Middle East or foreign policy, it covers topics ranging from true crime to “how owls work”. This podcast is a great listen whether you’re on your daily commute or working from your favorite coffee shop, giving you plenty of fun facts that you never thought you needed.


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