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Letter from the Editor: Spring 2009

In Ian McEwan’s Saturday, the complacent protagonist wonders at the Western metropolis around him—“millions teeming around the accumulated and layered achievements of the centuries, as though around a coral reef, sleeping, working, entertaining themselves, harmonious for the most part, nearly everyone wanting it to work.” The problem, as Adam Kirsch notes in these pages, is what to do about the people who don’t want it to work.

Someone ought to put the question to the Obama team. In thrall to their own delusions, many of its members speak as though a change of presidential administration has, in and of itself, rid the earth of nasty and divisive political impulses. In this telling, their predecessors were not presented with threats to which they were obliged to respond so much as they spun these threats from whole cloth.

The new administration, by contrast, means to press the “reset button” on just about everything. First came overtures to Iran, made during a televised interview with President Obama. Exactly how these peace signals played in Teheran may be gleaned from Iran’s response, which was to insist on abandoning the Zionist entity once and for all. Then came talk of softening America’s line toward the Taliban. The logic of this new approach was soon revealed to have things exactly backward: Pakistan surrendered an entire swath of its territory to the terrorist movement and, for good measure, released serial proliferator A.Q. Khan from house arrest. As for ongoing efforts to engage North Korea, they seem to have played less of a help than a burden: on the day of this writing, the Hermit Kingdom announced that it intends to test a long-range missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

Russia, China, North Korea—the list of countries who still play by the old rules grows longer by the week. No problem, the secretary of state assures us: such challenges, if they even deserve the name (the phrase “enemy combatants” recently got a linguistic cleansing), are essentially anachronisms, the residue from a rapidly vanishing past. They are, in the larger scheme of things and compared to existential threats along the lines of global warming, irrelevant. Their cartoonish persistence, members of the Obama team have suggested, even offers proof that hitherto intractable dilemmas of politics and ideology have been resolved. I’m not so sure. What makes them?

— Lawrence F. Kaplan

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