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Must Reads of the Year: Drones, Pope Francis, Syria and More

Author: Editors
December 20, 2013


Chosen by editors from among hundreds of Must Reads curated on the website in 2013.

"In Search of Monsters"
By Stephen Smith
London Review of Books, January 30, 2013

"Jihadists were already finding it hard to operate in North Africa before the Arab Spring of 2011. Since then their problems have become almost insurmountable: they thrive only in countries where Islamists are in prison, not where they are in the ascendant or contesting elections. As for Europe, the last attacks instigated by al-Qaida date back to Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. Jihadism looks less like a rising phenomenon in the north of Mali than a force in retreat. The French intervention may well give them purpose and greater coherence."

"Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us"
By Steven Brill
Time, February 20, 2013

"In the U.S., people spend almost 20% of the gross domestic product on health care, compared with about half that in most developed countries. Yet in every measurable way, the results our health care system produces are no better and often worse than the outcomes in those countries."

"Unmanned Flight: The Drones Come Home"
By John Horgan
National Geographic, February 20, 2013

"The prospect of American skies swarming with drones raises more than just safety concerns. It alarms privacy advocates as well. Infrared and radio-band sensors used by the military can peer through clouds and foliage and can even detect people inside buildings."

A man, affected by what activists say is nerve gas, breathes through an oxygen mask in the Damascus suburbs of JesreenA man, affected by what activists say is nerve gas, breathes through an oxygen mask in the Damascus suburbs of Jesreen August 21, 2013. (Photo: Courtesy Reuters)

"The Thin Red Line"
By Dexter Filkins
The New Yorker, May 7, 2013

"The Administration has given the Syrian opposition more than six hundred and fifty million dollars in nonmilitary aid, but Obama has consistently opposed arming the rebels or intervening militarily on their behalf. The United States has taken a tenuous position: not deep enough to please the rebels or its allies in Europe, or to topple the regime, or to claim leadership in the war's aftermath—but also, perhaps most important, not so deep that it can't get out."

"A Big Heart Open to God: The Exclusive Interview with Pope Francis"
By Antonio Spadaro S.J.
America Magazine, September 20, 2013

"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

"The Future of Arctic Shipping: A New Silk Road?"
By Malte Humpert
The Arctic Institute, November 2013

"Arctic shipping will remain of limited importance to China, as it will for the rest of the world. Future shipping in the Polar region will mostly consist of seasonal destinational transport, delivering supplies into the Arctic for its increasing economic activity and transporting the region's natural resources to markets in East Asia."

"Deciphering Xi Jinping's Dream"
By Ouyang Bin
China File, November 7, 2013

"Xi has indicated very clearly from the time that he became General Secretary of the Party that he was obsessed, as maybe other Chinese leaders are also, with the Gorbachev syndrome. Xi Jinping realizes, like Li Keqiang, that there is a need for deep economic reforms—really very important and very difficult economic reforms. But what I think they worry about is that they don't know which reforms could be the ones which unleash a Gorbachev-type situation, where one thing follows another and before you know it the whole country and the whole party system has collapsed."

"Drowning Kiribati"
By Jeffrey Goldberg
Bloomberg Businessweek, November 21, 2013

"If scientists are correct, the ocean will swallow most of Kiribati before the end of the century, and perhaps much sooner than that. Water expands as it warms, and the oceans have lately received colossal quantities of melted ice...[T]he 103,000 citizens of Kiribati may soon become refugees, perhaps the first mass movement of people fleeing the consequences of global warming rather than war or famine."

"Syria: What Chance to Stop the Slaughter"
By Kenneth Roth
New York Review of Books, November 21, 2013

"What then might be done to convince Russia to end its defense of Assad's atrocities and to continue down the constructive path suggested by the chemical weapons deal at the UN and the statement in favor of humanitarian relief? One reason Moscow has been able to continue its intransigence for so long is that it has paid little price for it."

"Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked the Secrets"
By Janet Reitman
Rolling Stone, December 4, 2013

A detailed description of the relationship between Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden and what motivated them to collaborate on leaks of National Security Agency actions, which have stirred intense debate.

Must Reads sample analyses, reporting, and inquiries on foreign policy from around the web selected each week by CFR Editors. See more Must Reads here.

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