I could at this point keep naming names, thanking, in particular, fellow Atlantic writers for letting me bask in their reflected glory, but if I did I
wouldn't know where to stop. So I'll just thank them generically, and also thank the readers who enjoyed, tolerated, or endured my writing, as the case may
be, as well as the gratifyingly large subset of readers who reacted to what I wrote with sincere and civil comments.
I guess it's natural that, as I bring this year to a close, I look back and wish I'd written some things I didn't write, or vice versa. But my main regret
is that I didn't make more explicit some of the concerns that were implicit in much of what I wrote. I feel like a preacher who, after standing at the
pulpit 52 Sundays in a row, dispensing sermons on how to live right, realizes that he forgot to mention the part about salvation. So, at the risk of
setting a record for longest swan song in the history of journalism, I'd like to quickly articulate three beliefs of mine that I rarely articulated this
year, but that informed much of what I wrote, especially in the realm of foreign policy.
The world's biggest single problem is the failure of people or groups to look at things from the point of view of other people or groups--i.e. to put
themselves in the shoes of "the other."
I'm not talking about empathy in the sense of literally sharing people's emotions--feeling their pain, etc. I'm just talking about the ability to comprehend
and appreciate the perspective of the other. So, for Americans, that might mean grasping that if you lived in a country occupied by American troops, or
visited by American drone strikes, you might not share the assumption of many Americans that these deployments of force are well-intentioned and for the
greater good. You might even get bitterly resentful. You might even start hating America.
Grass-roots hatred is a much greater threat to the United States--and to nations in general, and hence to world peace and stability--than it used to be.
The reasons are in large part technological, and there are two main manifestations: (1) technology has made it easier for grass-roots hatred to morph into
the organized deployment (by non-state actors) of massively lethal force; (2) technology has eroded authoritarian power, rendering governments more
responsive to popular will, hence making their policies more reflective of grass roots sentiment in their countries. The upshot of these two factors is
that public sentiment toward America abroad matters much more (to America's national security) than it did a few decades ago.
If the United States doesn't use its inevitably fading dominance to build a world in which the rule of law is respected, and in which global norms are
strong, the United States (and the world) will suffer for it.
So when, for example, we do things to other nations that we ourselves have defined as acts of war (like cybersabotage), that is not, in the long run,
making us or our allies safer. The same goes for when we invade countries, or bomb them, in clear violation of international law. And at some point we have
to get serious about building a truly comprehensive nuclear nonproliferation regime--one that we expect our friends, not just our enemies, to be