The End of an Era

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, Washington’s hawkish new fixation with China—it feels like the end of one chapter in US foreign policy and the beginning of another. Being on vacation, I haven’t had time to collect my thoughts. But for the next three Fridays, I’ve invited three different thinkers—a historian, a former policymaker, and a journalist—to help make sense of the era that has passed, and what’s to come.

On our Zoom call this Friday (back at its regular time, Noon ET) our guest will be one of the most acclaimed historians of American foreign policy, Harvard’s Fredrik Logevall. I first came to know Fred’s work when I read his conversation-changing reinterpretation of the Kennedy and Johnson administration’s decision to intervene in Vietnam, Choosing War. His 2012 book, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam, won the Pulitzer Prize. Earlier this month he reviewed two new books on America’s war in Afghanistan for The New York Times. I can think of few people better positioned to step back from the rush of events and explain the ways in which the “war on terror” both continued deep patterns in American foreign policy and broke from them. 

Then, the following week, Friday, September 10, one day before the 9/11 anniversary, we’ll be joined by former Obama administration deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, author of the new book, After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made. I’ll say more about Ben next week, but he speaks with rare frankness about what it’s like to make US foreign policy at the highest levels. Here’s an interview he did with me in February about the unique pressures that face American officials who work on Israel-Palestine.

Finally, on September 17, we’ll be joined by Spencer Ackerman, author of the new book, Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump. Spencer and I worked together at The New Republic at the beginning of the “war on terror” and we’ve both had to rethink much of what we believed back then. Spencer has done so through years of ground-breaking reporting on the American national security state.

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I know September’s lineup is a bit male-heavy, but I’ll work to rectify that in the weeks that follow. 

Other stuff:

Amidst the crush of commentary about America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, this searing column by Marine captain Lucas Kunce stands out. 

So does this Twitter thread by investigative reporter Azmat Khan. 

In 2007, in my final column for The New Republic, I argued that my fundamental mistake after 9/11 wasn’t that I misjudged Iraq. It was that I misjudged America. Fourteen years later, it strikes me, once again, that the most urgent questions Americans need to ask aren’t about Afghanistan. They are about the United States.

It’s those questions we’ll explore in the coming weeks.

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Join us,

Peter