Andrew Cockburn on the Saudi slaughter in Yemen, Carolyn Kormann on California homeowners’ battle with nature, Alan Jacobs on the disappearance of Christian intellectuals, a forum on a post-Obama foreign policy, a story by Alice McDermott, and more
All politics is local, goes the cliché, and presidents are usually urged to look no further than their own backyards. Some, of course, have argued to the contrary—Richard Nixon compared domestic politics to “building outhouses in Peoria.” But the current election cycle threatens to turn this cherished rule on its head. It’s not just the ongoing meltdown in the Middle East, or the spate of bloody terrorist attacks at home and abroad. Issues such as immigration, trade, and disarmament have so blurred the line between domestic and foreign policy that the two can no longer be separated—all politics is now global. Yet there has been little cogent discussion of this brave new world by any of the presidential contenders, beyond vague threats to carpet-bomb the Caliphate, close the borders, and launch what Hillary Clinton calls an “intelligence surge.” We hope to jump-start the conversation with “Tearing Up the Map,” a forum featuring Andrew J. Bacevich, Hamid Dabashi, Paula J. Dobriansky, Hassan Hassan, Kori Schake, and Dominique De Villepin. The participants are an ideologically diverse bunch, and are frequently at loggerheads throughout. Yet they all agree with Villepin’s belief that “we are in a very transitional international order,” one in which “the map is completely blurred.” The real question is whether this reshuffling of the deck amounts to a barely contained catastrophe—or, if we’re lucky, an opportunity to fix what is surely broken.
On a (somewhat) lighter note, Carolyn Kormann explores the lawn-care habits of the rich and famous in “Land of Sod.” California, as we all know, is in the grip of an historic drought. Last year, announcing a water-restriction regime that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Dune novels, Governor Jerry Brown added: “The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day? That’s going to be a thing of the past.” Some residents have heeded his words, tearing out their lawns and replacing them with scrub, desert-friendly natives, or trompe-l’oeil green paint. But others, especially in the manicured pastures of Beverly Hills and other upscale Los Angeles neighborhoods, have engaged in what can only be called a turf war. To hell with our dying planet—bring on the designer sod!
Apocalyptic scenarios of a darker sort return to the fore in two other pieces. In “Acceptable Losses,” Andrew Cockburn expertly chronicles the Saudi Arabian slaughter in Yemen—which the United States has not only tolerated but encouraged by means of massive arms sales. Given the recent declassification of 28 redacted pages from the 9/11 report, with their tongue-clucking hints of Saudi collusion, this is probably a good moment to examine our special relationship with Riyadh. In “Only an Apocalypse Can Save Us Now,” Mark Lilla delves into the politics of nostalgia and its noxious flip side: belief in a lost Golden Age, to be reclaimed by force. In Lilla’s view, this formula fits the Islamists to perfection. Yet it has been equally irresistible to the West—especially to those with an exaggerated sense of victimhood. “There is little that is uniquely Muslim in this myth,” writes the author. “Even its success in mobilizing the faithful and inspiring acts of extraordinary violence has precedents in the Crusades and in Nazi efforts to return to Rome by way of Valhalla. When the Golden Age meets the Apocalypse the earth begins to quake.”
Elsewhere, Geoff Dyer writes about tennis—or about the quasi-impossibility of writing about tennis—and Sarah Manguso wrestles with the shortest of short forms: the aphorism. “The Man Who Loved Metaphors” offers a bracing bit of Jonathan-on-Jonathan violence (Dee on Safran Foer, that is), while Alan Jacobs investigates the brief flourishing and mysterious disappearance of the Christian intellectual in “The Watchmen.” Alice McDermott appears in our pages for the first time with “Home.” Finally, in this month’s Easy Chair, Rebecca Solnit goes to the movies—or more specifically, watches Giant at ten-year intervals, marveling at its stealth investigation of gender politics, with three queer actors orbiting the heterosexual sunburst that is Elizabeth Taylor.
Last but not least: this issue marks my first as editor of Harper’s Magazine. I’m honored to be steering such a distinguished and (one hopes) unsinkable vessel, and hope to do it proud.