The Editor’s Desk

More than a decade ago, when Fareed Zakaria was still managing editor of Foreign Affairs and only an occasional contributor to our pages, he wrote an essay for us arguing that the Clinton administration was in danger of conducting "foreign policy by CNN"—that post-Cold War Washington, without a defining struggle, might veer from crisis to crisis according to whatever unfortunate event happened to capture the world's popular imagination.

Everything old is often new again, and this week Fareed, now our columnist and editor of our overseas editions, offers a variation on the point, asserting that President-elect Barack Obama needs a new grand strategy to shape a new era. In the past seven years, many believed that the struggle against terrorism had taken over the role of the Cold War in America's thought and action, and there is no question that the threat of violence from extremist groups remains real and relevant. (For those who believe terrorism is in abeyance, see the points Fareed makes about Mumbai.) But one need not be totally focused on terror in order to fight a total war against it. As someone who lives in New York City with small children, I am constantly grateful that there has been, as yet, no second wave here. It is true, however, that terror is not the only issue confronting the current president or the 44th, and a comprehensive vision of other vital issues and relationships may make all the difference.

"Grand strategy sounds like an abstract concept—something academics discuss—and one that bears little relationship to urgent, jarring events on the ground," Fareed writes. "But in the absence of strategy, any administration will be driven by the news, reacting rather than leading. For a superpower that has global interests and is forced to respond to virtually every problem, it's all too easy for the urgent to drive out the important." In addition to Fareed's essay about the latest new world order, we are delighted to have Richard N. Haass writing on China; Michael Mandelbaum on Russia; Dennis Ross on Iran; Andrew J. Bacevich on Afghanistan; and John J. Mearsheimer on the Middle East.

Fareed is only one man, but you may be forgiven for thinking otherwise when you page through this week's issue. In an iron-man performance worthy of our colleague Evan Thomas, Fareed contributes the main essay, a piece about the terror attacks in Mumbai and an interview with Al Gore on the future of energy.

The complex interplay of the strategic and the human—or, put another way, the political and the personal—always shapes history. A good president recognizes that changing circumstances will force adjustments and rethinking; reality is not immutable. Neither are human beings, which is what makes a piece by Evan and Michael Hirsh about former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin so intriguing. At Treasury and at Citigroup, Rubin was, in Dean Acheson's phrase, "present at the creation" of the world of risky market moves that helped bring about the current collapse. Rubin's explanation—that he was, particularly at the bank, a counselor, not a manager with line authority, and did not really understand the nuances of the instruments—is convincing. But it is all the more unsettling for that, since it illustrates the intrinsic limitations of Wise Men at a moment when we need all the wisdom we can muster.