Longform’s Picks of the Week

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. “American Deserter” by Wil S. Hylton, ...


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.

Remaining US Troops In Iraq Patrol Restive Babil Province

“American Deserter” by Wil S. Hylton, New York Magazine.

There is one place in the world where AWOL U.S. soldiers who lost faith in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — long before their countrymen did — are most at risk right now. It’s Canada.

“To desert in a time of war carries a maximum penalty of death. The military has not actually executed a soldier for desertion since 1945, but for the young men and women preparing to go AWOL in the early aughts, it was difficult to gauge what the true penalty might be. In a country gripped by renewed enthusiasm for military action, words like coward and traitor enjoyed a currency unseen in decades. It seemed easy to believe that the penalty for desertion might be years of imprisonment or worse.

Desertion is always a solitary choice, but it can be especially so for those who seek refuge in other countries. The deserter in exile is cut off from community, family, and country, knowing there may never be a safe way home. For the alienated troops who fled to Canada in the early years of the Iraq War, the decision seemed to offer solace. The northern border has always welcomed disaffected Americans, from the British Union Loyalists who opposed the Revolutionary War to the draft dodgers and deserters avoiding Vietnam. Between 1965 and 1975, roughly 50,000 U.S. citizens took shelter in Canada, where the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau quietly embraced them. In the first three years of the Iraq War, at least 200 new American troops joined them, believing they would find the same open arms. Most of the new deserters chose to live and work in cities like Toronto and Montreal without revealing their military past; only about two dozen stepped forward publicly to request political amnesty as ‘war resisters.'”

Thousands Gather For Immigration Reform Rally In New Jersey

“How an Undocumented Immigrant from Mexico Became a Star at Goldman Sachs” by Max Abelson, Bloomberg Business.

Julissa Arce went from selling funnel cakes in Texas to derivatives at Wall Street’s most profitable securities firm.

“She didn’t have to adjust to Goldman Sachs’s culture of undisguised ambition because she embodied it. A few weeks into her first summer there, as an intern in 2004, before her senior year of college, she arranged to have coffee with a managing director whose team she admired. She told him she had learned a lot and was ready for something faster. “I want to play basketball and go up and down the court,” she told him. When she followed up with a handwritten thank-you card at the end of the summer, the managing director told her to expect good news.

A sharp kind of dread sank in after Goldman offered her a full-time position. She was afraid of what could happen when one of the world’s most sophisticated companies examined her fake green card and Social Security number, took her fingerprints, and ran a background check. She had a recurring dream about being caught: She was sitting in an investment bank office. No one had to tell her she was being deported or threaten her; she just knew what was to come next. Then she’d wake up.”


“ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: Jihadism’s Global War” by Daniel Byman and Jennifer Williams, the National Interest.

Al Qaeda and its rogue stepchild, the Islamic State, are locked in mortal combat. The two are now competing for more than the leadership of the jihadist movement—they are competing for its soul.

“The 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the 9/11 attacks inside the United States transformed Al Qaeda into a potent brand. Although 9/11 electrified the global jihadist movement and further raised Al Qaeda’s profile on the world stage, the U.S. counterterrorism response that followed devastated both Al Qaeda and the broader movement it purported to lead. Over the next decade, the United States relentlessly pursued Al Qaeda, targeting its leadership, disrupting its finances, destroying its training camps, infiltrating its communications networks and ultimately crippling its ability to function. The death of the charismatic bin Laden and the ascension of the much less compelling Ayman al-Zawahiri to the top leadership position further diminished the power of the Al Qaeda brand.

Enter the Islamic State.

The Islamic State began as an Iraqi organization, and this legacy shapes the movement today. Jihadist groups proliferated in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion, and many eventually coalesced around Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian jihadist who spent time in Afghanistan in the 1990s and again in 2001. Though bin Laden gave Zarqawi seed money to start his organization, Zarqawi at first refused to swear loyalty to and join Al Qaeda, as he shared only some of bin Laden’s goals and wanted to remain independent. After months of negotiations, however, Zarqawi pledged his loyalty, and in 2004 his group took on the name Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to signify this connection. Bin Laden got an affiliate in the most important theater of jihad at a time when the Al Qaeda core was weak and on the run, and Zarqawi got Al Qaeda’s prestige and contacts to bolster his legitimacy.”

U.S. Agents Take Undocumented Immigrants Into Custody Near Tex-Mex Border

“The Teen’s Guide to Surviving Immigration” by Juan Pablo Villalobos, Matter.

Two undocumented boys tell the stories of their surreal journey through an unfixable, wasteful, insanely broken immigration system.

“The first officer who stopped us asked for money, threatened us, acting like he was going to arrest us. The truth was the police only wanted money and if you gave them some they’d let you go. If you didn’t have any they’d take you to jail. They’d get about 50 pesos off you. Then the bus would be stopped again, because the first policeman had tipped off another one who was further on ahead, and this one tipped off the next one, who stopped the bus again, and they carried on like that. It was like a tollbooth chain to get money out of us. Sometimes I wore my Club América T-shirt and managed to get through two roadblocks without being asked for money, because they assumed I was Mexican.

The thing that’s exactly the same on any bus is that it’s really boring. Time goes slowly, so slowly it starts to seem like you’ve been on the bus for 20 years. I was only 16 and it felt like I’d been on the bus for 20 years. I’d just spent my birthday in Harlingen, in March. This is 2013 I’m talking about.”


“Unmade in the USA” by Ty McCormick, Foreign Policy.

Less than three years after independence, South Sudan collapsed into bloody civil war. Could the United States, a crucial backer of the young African state, have prevented the violence?

“Slogging through what was left of Malakal, it was difficult to imagine that South Sudan was once considered a major U.S. foreign-policy success. Over a span of nearly two decades, three different U.S. administrations worked to bring the new nation into being. Bill Clinton was the first to signal support for the southern separatists battling Khartoum in the Second Sudanese Civil War, which lasted more than 20 years and left an estimated 2 million people dead; his administration unlocked military support for neighboring countries that was then funneled covertly across borders. George W. Bush later made Southern Sudan a centerpiece of his foreign policy, helping broker a landmark north-south peace deal in 2005 that ended the civil war and paved the way for southern independence. The Obama administration carried the ball across the goal line, ensuring that an independence referendum went ahead as planned in early 2011 and pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid into the new country.”

Stringer/AFP; Spencer Platt; John Moore/Getty Images; AFP/Getty Images; Scott Peterson/Liaison

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