Longform’s Picks of the Week
The best stories from around the world.
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. “Between Iraq and a Hawk Base” by Robert Draper, the New York Times Magazine
G.O.P. presidential candidates are struggling to craft a foreign policy that can please the gung-ho and win in 2016 — without overpromising military force.
“The shadow that George W. Bush’s foreign policy casts over Jeb Bush’s quest for the White House is particularly prominent. But it also looms over the entire G.O.P. field, reminding the candidates that though Republican voters reject what they see as Obama’s timid foreign policy, the public has only so much appetite for bellicosity after more than a decade spent entangled in the Middle East. At some point, even the most conservative of voters will demand an answer to the logical corollary of Megyn Kelly’s question: How does a president project American strength while avoiding another Iraq?
Among the many advisers recruited to help Jeb Bush answer that question is Richard Fontaine, the president of the Center for a New American Security, a policy group based in Washington. Fontaine was a senior foreign-policy adviser for Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, where he first learned that winning over voters was a radically different task from those he navigated during his career in the Bush administration. ‘Diplomacy is about minimizing differences,’ he told me. “Pol Pot and the Pope — surely there’s something they can agree on.” A political campaign is exactly the opposite. It’s about taking a minor difference and blowing it up into something transcendent.'”
“Death-Qualified” by Gary Indiana, London Review of Books
The descent of the Tsarnaev brothers into murderous despair.
“Unlike several recent books on the marathon bombing, Masha Gessen’s The Brothers is uninflected by consoling homilies, Manichean narrative framing or civic propaganda. Gessen’s is a superlative work of reporting that locates the Boston atrocity and the Tsarnaevs in the queasy context of the modern world, where atrocities happen every day, in places presumed to be ‘safe’ as well as those beset by civil war. The Brothers provides essential Soviet and post-Soviet geopolitical background, charting the Tsarnaev family’s peregrinations from Kyrgyzstan (to where Stalin brutally transplanted the entire Chechen population in 1944) to Novosibirsk in south central Russia, where the brothers’ parents, Anzor and Zubeidat, met (he was finishing his Soviet military service, she seeking her eldest brother’s permission to move to Moscow). They later moved to Kalmykia, the Soviet republic where Tamerlan was born; back to Kyrgyzstan, where two daughters, Bella and Ailina, were added to the family; then to Chiry-Yurt in Chechnya, Dzhokhar’s birthplace.
From Chechnya they returned again to Kyrgyzstan to escape the 1994 Russian bombing of Grozny. In 2000, they moved to Makhachkala in Dagestan, where the second Chechen war was spilling over the border. Wahhabi fundamentalism had spread through the Caucasus, its suspected adherents a target for Russian troops and local police.” “The Fortune-Teller of Kabul” by May Jeong, the Guardian
For centuries mystics have channelled the hopes and fears of Afghans. With the nation in turmoil, their services are as popular as ever. But can they survive the latest crackdown by religious hardliners?
“As embassies, NGOs and private contracting companies retreated behind concertina wire and blast walls, Sharifi’s customers began to disappear. He had once thought that he might be able to save up for a nice car, perhaps a BMW. Back then, it did not seem vainglorious to think that a shopkeeper’s assistant could aspire to such wealth. But by 2013, for the first time since the American invasion, the shop was struggling to make rent. Its owner let him go. Sharifi found a clerical job on an American military base, but that, too, ended when the camp shut down in 2014 as troops packed up to go home. Sharifi had been without work for nearly a year when he decided to go and see a man named Arab Shah.
Shah is a fortune-teller – a falbin, a taweez naweez mulla, a djinn hunter – who belongs to a long tradition of men who practise magic said to predate Islam. Spirit mediums inhabit the interstices between the old and the new: in one neighbourhood in old Kabul, a row of falbin fortune-tellers sit receiving visitors just outside a modern medical clinic, to serve those who want to cover all bases. These men – and the occasional woman – are living manifestations of Afghanistan’s complicated relationship with Islam. Before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century, Afghanistan was home to many other belief systems: Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as pagan traditions. These beliefs left their marks on Afghan culture and still resonate today.” “Crossing Over” by Jonathan Blitzer, Oxford American
Born in El Paso, she made herself in Juárez.
“When she was sixteen, Claudia would sneak out to the underage clubs in Juárez, called tardeadas; that’s where she first transitioned. She’d head south as Ricardo, change into heels and makeup in a barroom bathroom, and become Claudia, a name she’d chosen after a girl she went to school with. ‘I would change like a boy, and I had my girl stuff right here,’ she said, pointing to a drawstring backpack. Eventually, she would change back and return to El Paso so her family wouldn’t be the wiser. ‘I wouldn’t come back as a girl. Callate, no! I would have my wig and my foam’—to round out her chest and butt—’the Eighties were all wigs and foam and lashes, you know, the whole works.’
In those days, it was illegal to crossdress in public on the streets of Juárez, and corrupt cops would wait outside the bars and clubs downtown to round up the trans partiers en masse. The officers would rob and beat them, throw them in jail, and, in a particular torment, almost always shave their heads. All the Mexican women wore wigs as a result, the gaudier the better. These were dark times, Claudia told me. If the cops didn’t get you, it’d be the cholos—local gangsters—who gave chase just for the sport of it. Claudia remembers those as the running years—fleeing from the cops, from the cholos, hiding out, wheezing and winded all the time. ‘What I remember most from then is fear,’ she said. ‘A lot of my friends got killed in Juárez. They chopped their breasts off, choked them, drowned them in the river. They would wait for them across the river, just to get one and drown her.’ All through the Eighties and Nineties, Claudia would go to parties or bars and rehearse the same macabre litany. ‘Oh, so and so got pushed out of the car. Oh, so and so got stabbed. Oh, so and so got shot. Oh, so and so, they found her buried there under that abandoned house. A lot of them got killed bad.'” “Killing Abu Ghadiya” by Sean Naylor, Foreign Policy
The untold story of a risky Delta Force mission to take out a senior al Qaeda militant inside Syria.
“The four helicopters scythed through the air, two Black Hawks full of Delta Force operators covered by a pair of AH-6 Little Birds, all headed for the Syrian border near Al Qaim. The aircraft were flown by some of the Army’s most skilled pilots, the Night Stalkers, but it was broad daylight — 4:45 p.m. on October 26, 2008. They were on their way to kill a man.
That man was Abu Ghadiya, the nom de guerre of Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, an Iraqi of about thirty years of age who ran the largest foreign fighter network in Syria. During the peak of the Iraq War in 2006 and 2007, Joint Special Operations Command — which oversees the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, and other secretive and elite units — estimated Abu Ghadiya was running 120 to 150 foreign fighters (including twenty to thirty suicide bombers) a month into Iraq. Thanks to a spy in Abu Ghadiya’s camp and to signals intelligence facilitated by a JSOC operative’s repeated undercover missions to the area, the command had been carefully tracking him for months. The task force knew that he occasionally visited Iraq to maintain his bona fides with the fighters, but his regular base in the area was a safe house in Sukkariyah, a village near the town of Abu Kamal, six miles across the border from Al Qaim. It was to that village the helicopters were now flying.”
Photo credits: KONSTANTIN ZAVRAVIN/Getty Images; ALEX WONG/Getty Images; STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images; INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images; ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images; JOE RAEDLE/Getty Images