The Atlantic's December Issue: China's Great Leap Backward, The Lessons of Kissinger

Online in full today and on newsstands this week

Washington, D.C. (November 15, 2016)—What are likely to be Donald Trump’s immediate foreign-policy priorities, and how will his early actions shape America’s worldview? The Atlantic’s December issue—released in full today—looks east to China in a pair of cover stories from two of the most preeminent journalists covering foreign affairs.

James Fallows, long a China optimist and a onetime resident, writes that the superpower is less free, less open, and more belligerent than it was five years ago, or even 10. Fallows argues that now is the chance—at the start of a new administration—to command President Xi Jinping’s attention and “shape the realities in which China chooses its future course.”

In a wide-ranging interview between Henry Kissinger and editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg, with a full transcript at, the controversial elder statesman talks about the main challenges for the next president, criticizes the Obama Doctrine, and explains how to avoid war with China. Kissinger’s assessment of the global order that President-Elect Trump and his new administration face: “The world is in chaos … We are therefore faced with two problems: first, how to reduce regional chaos; second, how to create a coherent world order based on agreed-upon principles that are necessary for the operation of the entire system.”

And his advice to the President-Elect: “First, to demonstrate that he is on top of known challenges. Second, to demonstrate that he is reflecting about the nature of their evolution.  A president has an inescapable responsibility to provide direction: What are we trying to achieve? What are we trying to prevent? Why? To do that, he has to both analyze and reflect.”

These pieces and others are detailed below, appearing now at and in the December issue of The Atlantic on newsstands.

Cover: China’s Great Leap Backward
China has become repressive in a way that it has not been since the Cultural Revolution, rife with repression of civil society and communication; anti-foreignism that is toughening business conditions for non-Chinese companies; and escalated military displays, that have most neighbors, with the exception of Russia and the Philippines. National correspondent James Fallows, a longtime China optimist who has lived in and visited China over the past three decades, considers a darker future—and asks what a more dangerous and adversarial China would mean for the United States.

For eight administrations, the U.S. has operated from essentially the same playbook in managing relations with modern China. Fallows writes that if we’re going to change our posture toward China, now is the chance—at the start of the new administration—to command President Xi Jinping’s attention. Fallows, as a former speechwriter, offers part of an address President-Elect Trump could give early in his administration: Chinese leaders often quote famous dictums from their literature, and I will cite one of our famous American sayings: We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. The United States would prefer the easier path of cooperation, which has been so beneficial to our two countries. But we are preparing for the hard way.

Cover: The Lessons of Henry Kissinger
Shortly after The Atlantic published “The Obama Doctrine” earlier this year, the magazine’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, sat down with Henry Kissinger for a wide-ranging interview on foreign policy and advice for the next president. Goldberg reached Kissinger for his reaction to Trump’s surprising victory. Of the president-elect, Kissinger said: “We must give him an opportunity to develop his philosophy.” While he won’t reach out to Trump, “If he asks me to come see him, I will.” Later, Kissinger offered this advice for how Trump should present himself to the world, saying: “First, [he should] demonstrate that he is on top of known challenges. Second, [he should] demonstrate that he is reflecting about the nature of their evolution. A president has an inescapable responsibility to provide direction: What are we trying to achieve? What are we trying to prevent? Why? To do that, he has to both analyze and reflect.” An edited and condensed rendition of Goldberg’s conversation with Kissinger is featured in the magazine, with a complete transcript at


Losing It All
Americans now spend more money on casino gambling than on music purchases and movies and sports events combined. The largest share by far goes to slots and video poker—much of it spent by people who are literally addicted to the machines. Many wind up losing their jobs, their families, and even their lives—as is the case with Scott Stevens, whose story is detailed by John Rosengren in this captivating glimpse into the world of casinos and gambling addiction. Players often become so absorbed in the machines that they leave young children unattended, wet themselves without noticing, and neglect to eat for hours. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that one in five gambling addicts attempts suicide. By the end of his life, Stevens had amassed millions in debt and embezzled almost as much. Did Stevens die because he was unable to rein in his own addictive need to gamble? Or was he the victim of a system carefully calibrated to prey on his weakness?

Dispatches + Culture File:

Politics: Leaving a Clean Desk
One of the simplest ways to evaluate both a U.S. president and a kindergartener is also one of the best: how well they clean up when they’re finished. As Jonathan Rauch observes, history “looks kindly upon presidents who pass the kindergarten test”—­that is, managing to resolve old crises and avoid new ones before leaving office. By this measure, Rauch argues that Barack Obama fares impressively well: not zero crises, but “about as close to zero as modern presidents come.” On the economy, security, health care, and climate change, Obama is leaving President-Elect Trump room to set his own agenda.

Sketch: The Honor Guard
For as long as soldiers have gone off to war, they’ve exaggerated and lied about it, in ways big and small. The internet now abounds with videos of veterans confronting these suspected fakers; sometimes it’s justified, and sometimes false accusations are made. This is where Anthony Anderson comes in. A staff sergeant on active duty in the South Carolina National Guard, Anderson investigates a particular form of lying that’s come to be known as stolen valor: civilians fibbing about military service, and veterans embellishing their records with bogus claims of battlefield medals and missions with elite units. Brian Mockenhaupt, a former Army infantryman himself, spent time with Anderson to learn more about his ongoing mission to confront fakers.

Technology: Baby, Monitored
Baby gear isn’t what it used to be. Now everything is “smart”: smart bottle-holders, smart pacifiers, smart car seats—even smart diapers. Pediatricians, researchers, and other experts say these technologies are reshaping ideas about parenting: sensors that track the number of words a baby says and hears each day, wearable tracking devices, even cry translators that serve as baby mood bracelets. Do all these bring parents peace of mind, or just the opposite?  Adrienne LaFrance reports.

Books: The Accidental Patriots
It’s 1775 in Britain’s American colonies. Whose side are you on? According to Caitlin Fitz, you may be surprised to find that you don’t know whom you’re rooting for after reading two new books on the Revolution: Jane Kamensky’s A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copely and Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions: A Continental History. In her review, Fitz writes: “History, they say, belongs to the victors. Contemporary American thinking about the Revolution tends to celebrate what was gained … But in resuscitating the ethical ambiguity of the conflict, Taylor and Kamensky invite Americans to identify with the losers as well, and that is itself a triumph.”

The Medicis and Habsburgs, Kennedys and Clintons, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Famous families have left indelible marks on history. This month’s Big Question asks: What is the most interesting family in history?Authors and readers weigh in.

All excerpts must be credited to The Atlantic. The December issue of the magazine is online today, November 15, at and on newsstands this week.