Courtesy Reuters

Reconsiderations: The Last Dozen Years: What Might We Learn?

This article is a reflective look at the period from mid-1972 and early 1973 to the present, in terms of the evolution in the world situation and the course of U.S. foreign policy during these years. It has been, I believe, a time of marked deterioration in the overall world outlook, and the performance of the United States, as a nation, in the foreign policy arena has been at best mediocre-with only limited exceptions.

It is always arbitrary to assess foreign affairs from one date to another: foreign policy is a continuous process, always coping with the legacy of the past and with the future still uncertain. Yet these 12 years have surely been a particularly important and disturbing time-that they happen to coincide with my tenure as Editor of this magazine is relevant only in that it has made my own sense of the contrast between 1972 and 1984 particularly vivid. At least in terms of exposure to thoughtful and informed observers both here and abroad, this editorship is a remarkable vantage point, from which one tries always to be guided by an overriding concern for world trends and U.S. national performance-so far as possible beyond personal intellectual preference or partisanship.

I hasten to add that this article is not in any sense in the spirit of "we told you so"-that if only leaders and molders of public opinion had read Foreign Affairs carefully, U.S. policy would have avoided the errors and miscalculations that beset the period. On the contrary, while articles in these pages have often contained prescient and significant analysis and prescription, our contents have also missed the boat and misread events many times. Practically the last words my predecessor Hamilton Fish Armstrong shared with me-speaking of a book he had just read-were: "It could have been better." It could indeed have been vastly better.

To many, two dominant events operated to hamper or even cripple U.S. foreign policy during these years: the Vietnam War and its

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