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.

The Force
Jill Lepore • New Yorker

How the United States came to spend more on defense than all the other nations of the world combined.

The United States spends more on defense than all the other nations of the world combined. Between 1998 and 2011, military spending doubled, reaching more than seven hundred billion dollars a year-more, in adjusted dollars, than at any time since the Allies were fighting the Axis. The 2011 Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling and created both the fiscal cliff and a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was supposed to find a way to steer clear of it, required four hundred and eighty-seven billion dollars in cuts to military spending, spread over the next ten years. The cliff-fall mandates an additional defense-budget reduction of fifty-five billion dollars annually. None of these cuts have gone into effect. McKeon has been maneuvering to hold the line.



Dead Sea Scrolls Go to Court
Batya Ungar-Sargon • Tablet

A scholarly dispute devolves into criminal impersonation.

In the emails, the fictional Schiffman admitted to having plagiarized the work of Norman Golb, professor at the University of Chicago's prestigious Oriental Institute, Dead Sea Scrolls scholar-and also Raphael's father. "It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb's articles when using his arguments," the email reads, "and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. If I had given credit to this man I would have been banned from conferences around the world." It was signed-by some accounts, implausibly-"Lawrence Schiffman, professor," with a lower-case "p."

Raphael Golb admits to having sent the email, but he maintains that it was an act of parody, rather than criminal impersonation. "I was exercising my right to expose, condemn, and ridicule the misconduct of other people," he says. "It says more about Schiffman than it does about me, that people might have believed that an informal email from a gmail account admitting to plagiarism, signed with a lower-case ‘p' in professor, could have come from an NYU department chair."

Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images 

Could Cyril Ramaphosa Be the Best Leader South Africa Has Not Yet Had?
Bill Keller • New York Times Magazine

As apartheid ended, Ramaphosa was in line to become deputy president. He didn't get the job. Now one of the richest men in Africa, he is finally getting the chance.

Mandela provided the aura, the moral authority. Ramaphosa, then secretary general of the anti-apartheid alliance, the African National Congress, was the business end. Big, round-faced, grinning through a peppercorn beard, a charming manipulator in multiple languages, he was adept at both creating tension and defusing it, at threatening to send his constituents on a campaign of "rolling mass action" and then easing the pin back into the grenade. Janet Love, a member of Ramaphosa's negotiating team who now runs a human rights law center in Johannesburg, reminded me recently how he resolved the conundrum that arises when you have a constellation of 19 parties and alliances in which some matter more than others - namely: How do you know when something should be regarded as decided? Ramaphosa came up with the concept of "sufficient consensus." It sounds absurdly vague, but it was a polite way of saying that when the white National Party and the A.N.C. came to terms, everyone else, as Ramaphosa explained later to a reporter, "can get stuffed."

Michelly Rall/Getty Images for TIME/FORTUNE/CNN


Stranded on the Roof of the World
Michael Finkel • National Geographic

Afghanistan's Kyrgyz nomads survive in one of Earth's most remote places, where the currency is sheep, the dream is a road, and many will go an entire lifetime without ever seeing a tree.

The khan dreams of a car. Never mind that there isn't a road. His father, the previous khan, spent his life lobbying for a road. The new khan does the same. A road, he argues, would permit doctors, and their medicines, to easily reach them. Then maybe all the dying would stop. Teachers too could get to them. Also traders. There could be vegetables. And then his people-the Kyrgyz nomads of remote Afghanistan-might have a legitimate chance to thrive. A road is the khan's work. A car is his dream.



The Egyptian Revolution Through Mubarak's Eyes
David Kenner • Foreign Policy

Two years after the Jan. 25 protests, members of the former president's inner circle shed insight on the fall of a regime.

As the revolution gained momentum, Aboul Gheit describes a regime paralyzed by infighting. On Jan. 31, he attended the swearing-in of the new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, a career military man brought in to restore order. Mubarak, he says, was bored and quiet: "He pretended to be very busy reading some papers."

Other players, however, were already maneuvering to protect their interests. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, then defense minister and the future head of the military junta that would replace Mubarak, informed Aboul Gheit at the ceremony that the military would not sacrifice its reputation to preserve Mubarak's rule. "Some told me that people are talking about using the army to control the situation by force," Tantawi said sternly, according to Aboul Gheit. "And I said from my side the army doesn't strike people at all, or else it will lose its legitimacy."



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.

The Party Faithful
David Remnick • The New Yorker

The settlers move to annex the West Bank -- and Israeli politics.

“I’ve gone through a pretty crazy weekend,” Bennett told the crowd sheepishly. He reached into his pocket. He took out his iPhone and started to scroll. A banner flanking the stage read, “Something Fresh,” and this moment -- a politician Googling for wisdom while the crowd waits patiently -- was part of the freshness.

“I’d love to quote a wonderful sentence that has been guiding me for years,” he said. “It’s ... Teddy Roosevelt ... where ... ah, yes!”

Bennett looked down at his palm and read from T.R.’s 1910 speech at the Sorbonne on “Citizenship in a Republic,” a chestnut reheated by generations of wounded, righteous politicians -- including Richard Nixon on the day he left the White House in disgrace.

“It is not the critic who counts,” he began. A few Americans sitting near me nodded and smiled. “Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”


Which Way Did the Taliban Go?
David Roberts • The New York Times Magazine

The Afghan National Army -- and the war in Afghanistan -- look very different when there are no Americans around.

Several hours later, as I shared the bed of a pickup truck with an Afghan soldier who manned a machine gun mounted on the roof of the cab, it became evident that we were lost. The rest of the company was nowhere to be seen, though we could hear them, not far off, exchanging rocket and automatic-weapons fire with insurgents who had fled into the mountains and were hiding behind protective crags, shooting down. The driver sped up one narrow rutted path after another. The paths were hemmed in by rock walls -- a labyrinth of cul-de-sacs -- and the driver grew more panicked and reckless with each dead end. Aside from the occasional night raid, no Afghan or American forces had been to this place in more than a decade. Men stood on top of the walls, watching.

“Where are we going?” I asked the machine-gunner.

He offered the words I had heard time and again -- so often, and so predictably, they could be the battalion motto. The words were invoked in response to such questions as: What is the plan? Who is shooting? Where will we sleep tonight? How many dead?

The words are “Mulam nes” -- “It isn’t clear.”

Jose CABEZAS/AFP/GettyImages

China's Military Hawks Take the Offensive
David Lague • Reuters

How the PLA has come to embrace an increasingly militant rhetoric.

It was supposed to be a relaxed evening for a group of senior international military chiefs. Gathered at Melbourne's Crown Casino, they had changed out of uniform for dinner and discussion.

China's Lieutenant-General Ren Haiquan took the podium in a room overlooking the Yarra River last October 29 and began diplomatically enough. But as he neared the end of his speech, he went on the offensive.

"Some people" had ignored the outcome of World War Two and were challenging the post-war order, he told counterparts from 15 other nations. It was a pointed reference to Japan's claim over islands in the East China Sea that Beijing insists are Chinese.

"One should never forget history and (should) learn from history," Ren said, according to a copy of his speech. "Flames of the war ignited by fascist countries engulfed the whole region, and many places, including Darwin in Australia, were bombed."

In a jarring coincidence, say officers in the audience, fireballs belched into the sky as he spoke, part of the casino's hourly fireworks display.


The Most Hated Woman in Israel
Larry Derfner • Foreign Policy

Haneen Zoabi has made her career speaking up for Israel's Arab minority. In Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel, that's becoming harder each day.

Sitting in a barren, slightly mildewy campaign office in this Arab village, I asked Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, what it was like being the country's most hated politician. "It doesn't bother me at all," she said.

It's easy to believe. Zoabi's style is to head for the eye of the Arab-Jewish political storm -- the result being that while she is the Jewish majority's most hated politician, she may well be the Arab minority's most beloved.

Zoabi is running for reelection in Israel's Jan. 22 parliamentary election, but it was a struggle to even reach this point. Right-wing Knesset members moved to have her disqualified, saying she had "undermined the state of Israel" and "openly incited" against the government. Only a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court in late December overturned the ban. A poll published in Haaretz indicated that her legal victory stood to gain her small, virtually all-Arab party an additional Knesset seat.

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Could Ed Miliband be Labour's Margaret Thatcher?
Andy Beckett • The Guardian

Ed Miliband has long been fascinated by the conviction and charisma of the Iron Lady -- and there are intriguing similarities in their records in opposition and radical spirit.

Twenty-three years ago, on the morning that a cornered Margaret Thatcher announced she was standing down as prime minister, Ed Miliband was a student at Oxford. "Ted", as he was known then by his university friends, was a slightly fogeyish, contained young man, remembered for his awkward jumpers and kind but serious manner. Yet that morning, "He was ecstatic," a friend told his biographers Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre. "We didn't leave the college TV room for 24 hours. It was the biggest event of our lives."

Since then Miliband has risen, sometimes smoothly and sometimes not, from student politician to New Labour backroom player, MP to respected minister, dark horse party leadership contender to shock winner, written-off opposition leader to increasingly possible prime minister. In many ways, Britain has changed profoundly since that morning in 1990. Thatcher herself, once a ubiquitous public figure, is now a frail 87-year-old, rarely seen or photographed.

But for Miliband, a fascination with her remains. "She was a conviction politician, and I think conviction really matters," he told a Radio 4 documentary about his political thinking last November. "In the 1970s [when she became Tory leader], it was a similar moment [to now] … the old order was crumbling, and it wasn't 100% clear what was going to replace it."