Editor's Introduction

Readers of World Affairs (WA) know there is no shortage of danger or complexity in the challenges abroad that await the next American president. So, with the race to succeed President Obama entering its end game (and with the narrowing choices becoming increasingly troubling), we asked a handful of contributors to offer their thoughts on the perils and promise lurking behind today’s headlines, the understanding of which will be a key to the success of the next U.S. president’s foreign policy.

They did not disappoint. The responses we got were surprising only in the depth of the insights they offered.

NPR’s Tom Gjelten, a savvy observer of contemporary America whose essays have graced our pages often, writes that with population diversity and political polarization reaching an all-time high in America, and that with more war certainly in our future, the next president will be wise to reclaim American exceptionalism as a unifying force in this time of division and realignment.

Australian commentator John Lee writes that after a period of deteriorating influence in Asia, the United States is reemerging as the region’s central economic and unifying security force in the wake of China’s economic slowdown, military build-up, and increasingly abrasive diplomacy.

However, all is not so tidy in the European Union. Alina Polyakova and Anton Shekhovtsov write that the sense of purpose that was fused on the continent in the aftermath of the Second World War (and renewed after the Cold War) is now poised on the brink of disintegration as refugees, stagnant economies, the threat of terrorism, and alienation from Brussels are fueling rising extremism, nationalism, and isolationism. Profoundly differing visions have emerged in Europe, a condition that could undo Europe’s liberal order as well as the transatlantic partnership—the first building block upon which the West’s prosperity and security is built.

Turning to the unstable and unruly Middle East, Jamsheed and Carol Choksy describe how the source of much of the turmoil is the battle for regional supremacy being waged by the Iranians and Saudis—a ghost war involving the constant maneuvering of troops, funds, and surrogates in the midst of savage conflict, faltering economies, committed jihad, and desperate refugees—the outcome of which will have lasting political and security consequences for the region and the world.

Three of Washington’s most respected foreign and defense policy gurus—Ambassador Eric Edelman, Eliot Cohen, and Brian Hook—urge that the new president must restore American leadership abroad. While acknowledging that American policy has had its failures and is weakened by self-doubt, they warn that the alternative to American leadership is not a harmonious, self-regulating balance of independent states but an international landscape marked by eruptions of chaos and destruction. In the same vein, Georgetown University’s Robert Lieber argues that the retrenchment and disengagement marked by the Obama years has not yielded peace or stability, but rather growing instability, expanding terror, and intensifying and spreading civil war and floods of refugees.

Turning to more domestic matters, I am pleased to announce that WA (the print edition only) was acquired by the Policy Studies Organization (PSO) in Washington, D.C in mid-April. PSO’s president Paul Rich is an accomplished scholar, a brilliant conversationalist, and personal friend and, more importantly, a dedicated believer in WA. One of Paul’s many accomplishments has been to build PSO into a leading scholarly publisher and convener of thinkers on an array of political and social topics both domestic and international. His knowledge of the publishing industry, his commitment to ideas and WA, along with the strength of his team and publishing operation represent the expertise
and economies of scale that will ensure that this venerable and unique journal—launched in the 1830s and published continually since—will thrive in the years ahead.

For my part, it has been a pleasure to work with so many thoughtful and principled journalists, policymakers, and academics over these years, many of them old friends and occasional coconspirators in other enterprises. I am indebted to them all, but especially so to a handful who contributed their good thoughts, good writing, and good names to help relaunch the print journal back in 2008, among them Peter Collier, Tom Gjelten, the late (great) Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Kaplan, Joshua Muravchik, and P. J. O’Rourke—as well as managing editor Andrew Ivers, Caroline Lalonde, and Steve Smith, whose patience I routinely abused and upon whose offices I greatly depended. Believing that the years ahead will be volatile and dangerous, I look forward to working with Paul and his team with the hope that WA will continue the extraordinary 190-year legacy established by the likes of John Quincy Adams, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Jeane and Evron Kirkpatrick—all of whom, in their way and in their time, endeavored to help readers think carefully about how the United States can fulfill its promise as the best hope for a world that is free, prosperous, and safe.

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