Editor’s Introduction

After spending ten days in the serenity of the Côte d’Azur, one might be forgiven for asking what could possibly be wrong in the world. Yet, even here, surrounded by glorious mountains that slide gently into the sea’s rocky shores, there are reminders. The gleaming yachts may stand in the harbors as always, symbols of the lure of privilege, but the small talk on land is of diminished expectations—Mediterranean Europe’s stagnant economies and the structural unemployment, decaying infrastructure, and declining purchasing power and living standards. Depending on who is talking, blame goes to the continent’s stubbornly embedded dependency culture and a leadership that panders to it, or to the wealthy who obliviously shuttle back and forth from those glistening yachts and fail to pay enough in taxes. 

There is obsessive attention paid to these domestic matters and to the fate of the EU. But about international affairs, aside from the fate of the EU and the occasional reference to the bêtise of the rough-mannered Russian parvenu “businessmen” on their Riviera property-buying sprees, nothing much. In contrast to visits made here in years past, when the global community was very much present, I have heard and read nearly nothing of war in Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya or Syria, terrorism or nuclear proliferation, revolution in the Arab world, and certainly nothing about matters such as the global threats to liberty and how the world’s democracies might promote political and economic reform in China, Russia, Iran, or anywhere.

So as I read through the essays we offer herein, to gather a few thoughts for this introduction, I was struck by, firstly, how easy it is to ignore or forget about those threats; secondly, how much the triumph of forgetting over memory plays into the hands of the world’s tyrants and mobsters; and finally, how essential it is that America does not forfeit its standing as the indispensable nation.

I was, in other words, grateful for the bracing articles in this issue and their reminder of the importance of intellectual vigilance in our complex and dangerous times. Part of that intellectual vigilance obliges us to note that the presidential campaign will begin in earnest soon after this issue hits your mailbox. I was struck by the fact that there are a number of articles in this issue that will help to assess the understanding, policy prescriptions, and record—or rhetoric, as the case may be—of the president and his challenger as they define their ambitions for themselves and America.

The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, for instance, with his meditation on the “most important ‘known unknown’ that Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will face” in the four years ahead, notes the likelihood that Russia and or China “will undergo an economic crisis and a dramatic political transformation” that will call for a strong and steady response from the US. Drawing upon the data, speeches, and reports from various Chinese and Russian experts and policymakers, as well as the countries’ leaders themselves, Jackson makes a persuasive case that another  authoritarian era is likely approaching a chaotic endgame, and wonders if the current president’s policies are appropriate to the challenge and opportunity and whether either candidate is prepared for the upheaval that will follow.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a highly regarded Russian reform advocate and journalist who blogs weekly at WorldAffairsJournal.org, reinforces Diehl’s notion that the Putin era is coming to a close with a report and analysis of the regime’s recent setbacks, and occasional humiliations, at the ballot box in key cities. He explains how upcoming local elections, combined with the sea change in popular attitudes toward the regime, suggest the slow-motion arrival of a fin de siècle.

Contemplating the fate and final destination of the Arab revolutions, Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby maintain that lessons can be learned from a time, thirty years ago, when Anwar Sadat abandoned Egypt’s Soviet allies and reoriented his country toward the US. The authors argue that it was America’s clear and determined leadership and resolve that ultimately convinced Sadat to bet on America; they lament that today the vacillation, unpredictability, and uncertainty of the US—in its self-conception as well as its policies—will not compel the respect or partnership of the region’s emerging governments.

Two passionate and deeply engaged experts on China-US trade relations, Peter Navarro and Stephen Roach, face off with dramatically different explanations for the importance of currency valuation and causes of the trade imbalance and prescriptions for how to remedy the massive trade deficits. It’s not an academic debate. This issue is at the heart of the increasingly adversarial relations between the two countries. Along with China’s determined military buildup, its sometimes bellicose regional claims and demands, and its efforts to obstruct US policy goals, this topic will certainly occupy center stage for American presidents for years to come.

One essay that drew me back sharply from my midsummer idyll is correspondent E. Sinclair’s account of the Tibetan nuns and mothers who, in increasing numbers, are choosing to set themselves on fire to protest China’s brutal occupation. Ellen Bork’s companion piece shows that events unfolding inside what is no longer “invisible” Tibet will have great consequence for advocates of freedom there and, indeed, in China itself.

Also in this issue, Gary Moore, whose twenty years of covering Latin America have been characterized by a determination to travel beyond beaten paths, reports on the gruesome, large-scale, and increasingly indiscriminate killing that defines Mexico’s drug wars and how the country’s porous prisons have come to serve as the criminals’ training grounds, headquarters, and rest and recreation centers.

Finally, Professor Bob Lieber of Georgetown University challenges the latest incarnation of “declinists.” While acknowledging the grave challenges that face the US, Lieber itemizes our nation’s inherent strengths to argue that, absent a dark and unpredictable event, America’s advance or (less likely) decline will be determined not by “history”—forces beyond our control—but by the choices we make, the policies we embrace, and the resolve we exhibit. This essay in particular ought to be on the reading lists of our presidential candidates.

There’s more—on America in (or out of) space, a mass-murder trial run amok in Norway, and the Sufis’ potentially game-changing role in Egypt.

We thank our authors for their contributions and you, our readers, for your interest. As always, please give us a shout and tell us what you think.

James S. Denton

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