The Editor’s Desk

Free advice is often worth what you pay for it, and it is funny how people who do not have a particular job are full of wisdom about how to do it. (You can apply the same point to, say, in-laws, marriage and child rearing.) In moments of impatience in the Oval Office, George H.W. Bush was said to have snapped, "If you're so smart, how come I'm the president of the United States?"

Even stipulating that giving advice is easy and taking action is hard, though, it is pretty clear that what we are calling the "Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue" (the economy, the wars, the lack of public confidence in the direction of the country) requires the best minds around.

We came up with several this week. Richard N. Haass, a NEWSWEEK contributing editor, served two President Bushes—one during the creation of an international coalition in the first gulf war, the other during the deterioration of our alliances in the second. The former director of policy planning in the State Department, Haass is now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and his coinage—that Iraq was a war of choice, not necessity—will endure as history sorts through the fallout from the administration of George W. Bush.

In his cover essay for us, Haass begins that sorting-through in the form of a memorandum about the global challenges that await the 44th president. "The good news is that many of the arrows in Iraq are finally pointing in the right direction and it will not dominate your presidency," he writes. "The bad news is that you know you are in for a rough ride when Iraq is the good news."

This issue is replete with former State Department satraps. In a separate piece, Nicholas Burns, the former No. 3 official in the State Department, writes that it is only wise and in America's long-term interest to talk to one's enemies, thus wading into an ongoing campaign dispute between John McCain (who does not want to) and Barack Obama (who does, under certain conditions). And Henry Kissinger reviews a new account of McGeorge Bundy, "Lessons in Disaster," and the road to Vietnam; in its pages, and from his own years in the arena, Kissinger finds lessons American policymakers would do well to heed.

Since the economy is understandably dominating the last days of the election season, we asked New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to do what Haass did in foreign policy: write a memo to the new president outlining the risks and opportunities ahead. "As you prepare to assume the awesome responsibility of leading our country during a difficult period in our history, I want to leave you with one story," Bloomberg writes. "On September 11, 2001, I was a first-time candidate running for mayor of New York. After the attacks on the World Trade Center, one of my advisers said to me: 'You sure you want this job?' Without blinking, I replied: 'More than ever.' At the time, I had no experience in politics, so I hadn't learned what I couldn't do. Looking back now, I realize that was my greatest asset."

Finally, in an excerpt from his new book, "Make It Plain," Vernon Jordan calls on us to pause for a moment in the hurly-burly of the final hours of the race to think about how much history has already been made this year. McCain, Obama and Hillary Clinton have each led remarkable lives, and Jordan points out that many of the barriers that have fallen in American life since the middle of the 20th century came down not because of people whose names we know but because of people we have probably never heard of. From suffragettes to soldiers to the civil-rights activists who challenged the white primaries in the South, Jordan says, we should never forget those who came before us. That is very sound advice.

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