Courtesy Reuters

A Broader Agenda

Beyond Bush-Era Foreign Policy

Decades from now, when historians are tempted to examine American opinion at the time of the United States' 2008 presidential election -- which has been hyped by some as the most important in over a century -- old Foreign Affairs articles are likely to prove instructive. They will confirm that the United States appeared to suffer from what may best be described as a "democratic deficit." It will seem that political sages were an endangered species, with imagination and boldness scarcely evident in an excessively timid and puerile political oratory, but the more serious condition may have been the poverty of discussion on what were expected to be the crucial foreign policy issues of the future. In the political palaver of the day, the foreign affairs agenda invented almost eight years before by a strutting but feckless president still held sway to a surprising extent.

This shortsightedness is evident in Richard Holbrooke's essay on the "daunting agenda" likely to confront the next president ("The Next President," September/October 2008). One can only be surprised at Holbrooke's assertion that "the next president will inherit a more difficult opening-day set of international problems than any of his predecessors have since at least the end of World War II." This, a dubious proposition at best, ignores the more serious foreign policy challenges confronted by Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon when they entered the White House. Holbrooke, in so greatly exaggerating contemporary hazards, unwittingly gives credence to the argument made by President George W. Bush and his advisers that there has been no time more dangerous than the present. Holbrooke differs from these Republican alarmists principally in his argument that the Bush administration failed to address the problems in what he terms "the center of the arc of crisis" -- Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkey -- raging fires he thinks call for an emergency response. Meanwhile, he does not suggest that the next administration might do well to concentrate

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