Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.

STR/AFP/Getty Images; ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images; Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images; MAHMOUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images; AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images; ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images; Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images; MAHMOUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images; AFP/Getty Images

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

A Deadly Mix in Benghazi, by David D. Kirkpatrick, the New York Times

A New York Times investigation presents a deeper set of lessons about the Benghazi attack on September 11 than either narrative adopted along party lines.

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both are challenges now hanging over the American involvement in Syria’s civil conflict.


A Mission Gone Wrong, by Mattathias Schwartz, the New Yorker

Why are we still fighting the drug war?

In Congress, some are losing patience. “There is great fatigue surrounding our drug programs in the Western Hemisphere,” a staff member told me. “We don’t have good ideas. We don’t have good answers. We don’t have good anything. But we also know that doing nothing is a problem. So the whole thing is on autopilot. When you’re in the machine, it’s very difficult to say anything other than ‘Keep shooting. Keep decapitating the cartels.’ ”

“The war on drugs has simply not worked,” George P. Shultz, who served as Secretary of State under Reagan, told me. “It hasn’t kept drugs out of this country.” In 2011, Shultz, along with a committee of former heads of state, businessmen, and retired U.S. officials, called for an overhaul of U.S. drug-enforcement policy. The effects of interdiction programs like Anvil, they wrote, “are negated almost instantly,” wasting money that would be better spent on treatment and harm reduction. I asked Shultz why ineffectual policies have persisted. “We haven’t felt the full effects of it ourselves,” he said. “It took us twelve years to learn that Prohibition wasn’t working. There was Al Capone, there was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The violence was here. Now we have outsourced the violence, in effect, to Mexico and Guatemala and Honduras.”


The Hidden Man, by Christopher Goffard, the Los Angeles Times

America saw Stephen Hill’s face for 15 seconds. It took him a lifetime to show it.

He followed President Clinton’s attempt to lift the ban on gay service members. One senator promised that this would “destroy the greatest Army that the world has ever known.” The military brass spoke of the harm that would be done to the “cohesion” of combat units. Some warned of violence against gay soldiers.

The debate yielded “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was billed as a compromise but would result in the discharge of more than 14,000 gay service members over the next 18 years.

For Hill, it prolonged a double life of tension and hiding. The fortress of lies he’d constructed had to be ironclad. A soldier didn’t have to broadcast that he was gay to lose his career. Someone noticing was enough.


Hazards of Revolution, by Patrick Cockburn, the London Review of Books

Why have oppositions in the Arab world and beyond failed so absolutely – and why have they repeated  so many of the faults and crimes of the old regimes?

What would Ahmed think of the Libyan revolution now? An interim government is nominally in control but the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi have been full of militia checkpoints manned by some of the 225,000 registered militiamen whose loyalty is to their commanders rather than the state that pays them. When demonstrators appeared outside the headquarters of the Misrata militia in Tripoli on 15 November demanding that they go home, the militiamen opened fire with everything from Kalashnikovs to anti-aircraft guns, killing 43 protesters and wounding some four hundred others. This led to popular protests in which many militias were forced out of Tripoli, though it’s not clear whether this is permanent. Earlier the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was kidnapped by militia gunmen without a shot being fired by his own guards to protect him. (He was released after a few hours.) Mutinying militias have closed the oil ports to exports and eastern Libya is threatening to secede. The Libyan state has collapsed, for the simple reason that the rebels were too weak to fill the vacuum left by the fall of the old regime. After all, it was Nato airstrikes, not rebel strength, that overthrew Gaddafi.


How Zionist Extremism Became British Spies’ Biggest Enemy, by Calder Walton, Foreign Policy

In World War II’s aftermath, MI5 turned to fight a new threat. It wasn’t the Soviets. It was bombers from Jerusalem.

But MI5’s most urgent threat lay not in its diminished resources, nor from its new Soviet enemy. Recently declassified intelligence records reveal that at the end of the war the main priority for MI5 was the threat of terrorism emanating from the Middle East, specifically from the two main Zionist terrorist groups operating in the Mandate of Palestine, which had been placed under British control in 1921. They were called the Irgun Zevai Leumi (“National Military Organization,” or the Irgun for short) and the Lehi (an acronym in Hebrew for “Freedom Fighters of Israel”), which the British also termed the “Stern Gang,” after its founding leader, Avraham Stern. The Irgun and the Stern Gang believed that British policies in Palestine in the post-war years — blocking the creation of an independent Jewish state — legitimized the use of violence against British targets. MI5’s involvement with counterterrorism, which preoccupies it down to the present day, arose in the immediate post-war years when it dealt with the Irgun and Stern Gang.

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