Editor’s Column Spring 2002

As I settled into the editor’s office at Orbis over the yearend holidays, I took the suggestion of my predecessor, Walter McDougall, and leafed through the past volumes of Orbis that fill one bookcase. In view of the circumstances of my joining Orbis, Robert Strausz-Hupé’s introductions in the first issues, published in 1957, had particular resonance. “America, in the years following World War II, has achieved a rate of economic growth and a general level of prosperity unparalleled by any nation in any period in history. This domestic achievement is counterbalanced on the international front by an unprecedented threat to this nation’s future security. . . . Nothing is as insecure as the security of the Free World.”

Of course Ambassador Strausz-Hupé, who to our great pleasure agreed to write the introduction for this issue’s special section on the new protracted conflict, was writing of the Cold War. But his words seem prophetic of our times. Walter and I and FPRI president Harvey Sicherman began discussions last spring about my assuming the editorship when Walter stepped down at the end of 2001. On September 11 at 11:00 am, Harvey, Walter and I were to get together at FPRI to finalize my appointment as editor. Instead, after standing wordlessly in front of Harvey’s television into the afternoon, we finally went out into the practically empty city to sit down at the Union League, where we discussed the attacks for hours. We were no less bewildered than anyone, but there were two points of clarity that stand out in hindsight.

The first was Harvey’s immediate reaction, expressed before lunch and then several times over lunch as others joined our table to get his take. “We are at war,” he said, “only we’re not exactly sure with whom.” A moment of clarity, I’d say, and prescient as we still aren’t sure about the scale of our foe as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close and we anticipate the next step.

The second point of clarity involved Orbis. We recognized that for some time into the future the journal I was about to join would be quite different than in the recent past, both in focus and perspective.

Indeed, by the time I arrived at Orbis that first day, after media reports had confirmed that a coordinated assault had been mounted on national and commercial command centers and symbols, it was obvious that a decade of triumphalism and growing American detachment from the world was over—that the United States, which for years had had little incentive or inclination to formulate or to adhere to a foreign policy doctrine, suddenly needed a doctrine and would be of a mind to adhere to one. Foreign policy was back as a vital concern, which was confirmed within the week as President Bush announced such a doctrine, one that seems likely to concentrate and direct American energies for years to come. The Bush doctrine and the war on terrorism will orient many future issues of Orbis.

For the past seven-eight years, I have been an avid reader of Orbis because the journal was doing something very right. In the “long peace” of 1994–2001, under Walter’s leadership, Orbis became a forum in which the long-range and philosophical aspects of American foreign policy could be discussed alongside thoughtful considerations of the challenges to American preeminence and well-being. Readers were reintroduced to the terms, facts, and historic traditions of the philosophical and political sources of American foreign policy. It has been a lively quarterly, my favorite in fact—and for reasons I now appreciate even better as I join Orbis.

For the foreseeable future, until the Bush administration gains a firm grip on the terrorism problem, foreign policy will likely be discussed in operational terms for the most part. Indeed, until the war on terrorism is seen to succeed, we will all be both realists and internationalists. We will all be globalists and unilateralists, multilateralists and nationalists, all primarily concerned about successful outcomes overseas and restoring a semblance of normality both at home and abroad. Yet thanks to the foundation laid by Orbis in recent years, we enter this period with a better ability to interpret the larger meaning of foreseeable operational moves—whether they be extension of the war into Iraq or Somalia, and the efforts to manage the ripple effects of U.S. actions such as the Indian-Pakistani tensions over Kashmir, to name a few. And as the war unfolds, as with past wars, even the least noticed events will have major consequences for years to come.

Because of Walter’s leadership, Orbis is well positioned to clarify and explain U.S. options and policies as they unfold and to clarify an American foreign policy in the making, all in a constructive way. We are not in entirely uncharted waters. That is Walter’s legacy, as I see it, and why I join in saying “thanks” to him. That is also why Walter will not be allowed to go away. It is a pleasure to announce that Walter has agreed to become a member of the Board of Editors and to contribute occasionally in future issues.

 The current issue includes a special section on the new protracted conflict for which I thank FPRI fellow Michael Noonan, who took the lead back in September for organizing this. He assembled a great team to cover the most important aspects of this conflict, and we hope you will find the section useful in putting so many of the issues involved into perspective.

Our Summer and Fall issues are well underway and will be bringing you pieces on China and Taiwan, missile defense in the Middle East and South Asia, the prospects for Russia’s military industrial revival, among others, so know that even as we focus now on the war against terrorism, we are not taking our eyes off the many other balls we need to watch. I look forward to learning with our authors and readers and welcome your comments as we go.