Decline and Fall

With the storm past, it is time to assess the damage, clean up the mess, and mull what to rebuild and how. Jessica Mathews and Jonathan Kirshner survey the broken, battered world the Biden administration has inherited and how its players view Washington now. Robert Kagan traces the gulf between the United States’ large geopolitical burdens and its public’s modest preferences. And Reuben Brigety explores the deep domestic divisions that Americans have to overcome.

My own essay asks whether history has any direction, and if so, how the new administration can find out and follow it. Consider it a valedictory, for after 20 years at the magazine, this will be my last issue.

Foreign Affairs was founded in the wake of World War I by Americans who believed that with great power came great responsibility. The United States could not hide from the world; it had to engage, intelligently and constructively. That required a space for informed public discussion. And that meant starting a magazine. George Kennan captured the vision of the new publication in his obituary for Hamilton Fish Armstrong, the magazine’s dominant figure:

A forum for the opinions of others, expressing no opinion of its own. A place for fact, for thought, for calmly reasoned argument, with no room in its columns for polemic, for anger, for personal attack. A literary tone that would be quiet and serious, but never pretentious. Importance, as the main criterion in the selection of material—whether the importance was to come from the significance and originality of the subject matter or from the authority of the author. But no concessions to any would-be contributor, humble or great, when it came to clarity of thought, significance of content, and moderation of language.

For nigh on a century, Foreign Affairs has not deviated from that path. It has been an honor and a privilege to carry on the tradition.

—Gideon Rose, Editor