Letter from the Editor: November/December 2010

We close out 2010 at World Affairs with an issue rich in observation and insight that offers clarity, caution, and even some cause for optimism in an era that has grown used to peering into the abyss.

In the optimism department, New York Times diplomatic correspondent Helene Cooper reports on the remarkable rise and rule of Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is seeking her second term in office. This take-charge Iron Lady, who ventures where no woman has tread before in patriarchal Africa, has delivered Liberia from the brink of the collapse brought on by her infamous predecessors—the likes of Doe and Taylor—and their infamous episodes of plunder. Let’s hope her employers keep her in office long enough for her to complete her work.

Do we dare whisper another hopeful word regarding, of all things, the plausibility of meaningful progress toward an Israeli-PLO deal? Given the region’s excess of tragic history and a weary cynicism that makes all optimistic projections seem counterintuitive at best, former ABC News correspondent Robert Zelnick makes a cogent case that the stars that have been so distant from each other might actually be approaching alignment.

And of course there’s nothing like a tour through foreign lands with P. J. O’Rourke. You’ll want to join him in Prague and Afghanistan as he investigates the “information dissemination” efforts of what may be the crown jewel of American public diplomacy, Radio Free Europe. Besides finding ample doses of irony on his travels, P. J. uncovers a convenient truth: the U.S. is hosting a lively and welcome national conversation over Afghanistan’s airwaves that everyone, including the Taliban, has joined.

NPR’s Tom Gjelten reports on another battlefield related to the flow of information as he takes us into the fog of cyber war and the international efforts to establish virtual arms control. Tom discovers that the globe’s democrats and authoritarians interpret the cyber threat quite differently. It seems the democratic countries are concerned about attacks on communication infrastructures, while the authoritarians (read Russia, China, et al.) believe the free flow of information over the Internet represents the big threat to international stability and peace. In the meantime, Arch Puddington and Christopher Walker explore the energetic means being employed on other battlefronts to stifle the flow of information.

Eric Edelman offers a thoughtful addition to the “America in decline” debate by examining meaningful indicators and measures of global power and staying power. Assuming adequate planning and foresight on America’s part, Eric sees no landfall on the horizon necessarily destined to displace the “indispensable nation.”

There’s more in this issue—dispatches from Paris and London, and back again to the United States—and, of course, more to come in 2011. As always, let us know what you think. And, Happy New Year.

— James S. Denton

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