This past year I have had the pleasure of doing two interviews (here and here) with Robert Wright from (unfortunately due to the NGO trial!) and have found him to be an extremely valuable and well-informed voice on US foreign policy.

In his final column at The Atlantic, “Signing Off“, he leaves us with three valuable challenges for the future of US relations with the world:

[1] The world’s biggest single problem is the failure of people or groups to look at things from the point of view of other people or groups–i.e. to put themselves in the shoes of “the other.” I’m not talking about empathy in the sense of literally sharing people’s emotions–feeling their pain, etc. I’m just talking about the ability to comprehend and appreciate the perspective of the other. So, for Americans, that might mean grasping that if you lived in a country occupied by American troops, or visited by American drone strikes, you might not share the assumption of many Americans that these deployments of force are well-intentioned and for the greater good. You might even get bitterly resentful. You might even start hating America.


[2] Grass-roots hatred is a much greater threat to the United States–and to nations in general, and hence to world peace and stability–than it used to be. The reasons are in large part technological, and there are two main manifestations: (1) technology has made it easier for grass-roots hatred to morph into the organized deployment (by non-state actors) of massively lethal force; (2) technology has eroded authoritarian power, rendering governments more responsive to popular will, hence making their policies more reflective of grass-roots sentiment in their countries. The upshot of these two factors is that public sentiment toward America abroad matters much more (to America’s national security) than it did a few decades ago.


[3] If the United States doesn’t use its inevitably fading dominance to build a world in which the rule of law is respected, and in which global norms are strong, the United States (and the world) will suffer for it. So when, for example, we do things to other nations that we ourselves have defined as acts of war (like cybersabotage), that is not, in the long run, making us or our allies safer. The same goes for when we invade countries, or bomb them, in clear violation of international law. And at some point we have to get serious about building a truly comprehensive nuclear nonproliferation regime–one that we expect our friends, not just our enemies, to be members-in-good-standing of.


… If you look at the three challenges I’ve just identified in italics, you’ll see that the second two wouldn’t be so challenging if the first challenge was met.

Based on my own unwelcome foray into the world of foreign policy, I have seen all three of these challenges not met by the United States in my past two years here in Egypt (and the different variations of the Egyptian government, for that matter).

Here’s to hoping someone at State Department reads and thinks through these three simple, dignified and sage pieces of advice.

Mr. Wright, best of luck with your future endeavors and your book. And remember, you still have a place to stay in Cairo… and a trip to the Sinai for some Bedouin tea! Thank you.