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Gideon Rose’s last letter to the readers of Foreign Affairs

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Dear Readers,

After 20 years at Foreign Affairs, the March/April issue will be my last. Daniel Kurtz-Phelan took over as editor last week, and he’ll tell you soon about all the great new stuff coming down the pike. On my way out the door, therefore, let me offer a few thoughts on the past.

Things look darker and less predictable than they did when I started at the magazine; one reason is our knowledge of how small groups of people with strange ideas can wreak havoc. These two great pieces got inside terrorists’ heads and remain worth reading:

In the new millennium, meanwhile, everything was supposed to get better. Instead, U.S. political and economic performance stagnated, and age-old problems resurfaced:

Serious policy discourse in Washington coarsened, dwindled, and then disappeared almost entirely. Here, for example, is how immigration used to be discussed:

The fundamental challenge turned out to be how to transcend our nature and choose to be man rather than beast:

But that choice itself turned out to be a closing window of opportunity, because the notion of a stable human nature will soon be as quaint as the internal combustion engine:

Am I hopeful, in the end? I really don’t know—partly because it’s hard to tell what time frame to use in assessing predictions. I wrote two articles in the 1990s about the UN sanctions on Libya, which had stubbornly failed to work. Then a few years later, they did. Go figure:

Milt Bearden, meanwhile, a former CIA bureau chief in Pakistan who ran arms to the mujahideen, was a smart, tough guy—the real-life model for Robert DeNiro’s character in Meet the Parents. After 9/11, we asked him to weigh in on the grand attempt to reshape Afghanistan, then just beginning. His call: big mistake, it will never work. The war went fairly smoothly, and the piece seemed embarrassingly wrong for ages. Then the war went to hell, the piece became prescient, and all the other Afghanistan stuff we ran in between seems embarrassing:

I guess both optimists and pessimists can be vindicated by history if you wait long enough. So with that, the somehow-still-hopeful liberal in me will go out as he came in. We have run many pieces over the years about Chinese political development. Most of them have turned out to be wrong—so far. I’ll still bet 20 bucks these guys look better in 2050 than they do now. Any takers?

Onward and upward,


Gideon Rose last letter as editor of Foreign Affairs 


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