Jacob Heilbrunn

Happy Birthday, Foreign Policy

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, a stone's throw from the White House, was the site last night of the 40th birthday bash for Foreign Policy magazine. The magazine has undergone several metamorphoses. It used to be almost impossible to open, issued in a tall and slender format that required you practically to break the spine to get the thing to open up. Then Moises Naim expanded and souped up the magazine itself. Now Susan Glasser is at the helm, taking the magazine into the age of the internet.

Glasser, who joked that it was kind of the audience to show up as she reckoned that many would rather be poring over the WikiLeaks, presided over a very serious discussion of foreign policy before the festivities. Gwen Ifill moderated as Richard Holbrooke, Sen. John Kerry, and other eminences held forth. Kerry managed to zoom from the Concert of Europe to global warming in the span of a few minutes, but ambient crowd noise prevented me from catching more than a few snippets of his remarks.

The real part of the show, however, was the gallery of notables that Foreign Policy pulled together. The idea was to celebrate the world's top global thinkers. I suppose skeptics will complain that this is transforming the foreign affairs circuit into a celebrity one. Maybe so. But it's kind of fun to see who does and doesn't make the list. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates top the list. Number 100 is the intellectually vigilant Ian Buruma, whose essay on liberalism recently appeared in the pages of the National Interest. In the pullulating crowd were Slate's Jacob Weisberg, the New Republic's Leon Wieseltier, Congressman James Moran, Steven Pinkert, James Mann, James Traub, Doyle McManus, Charles Kupchan, Dov Zakheim, Michael Goldfarb, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Blake Hounshell.

I must confess that the latest issue of Foreign Policy did set me to wondering. Who would be the 100 most dangerous thinkers of 2010? It's easy to assume that good ideas will defeat bad ones. But it ain't necessarily so. It seems to me that it's just as worthwhile to keep tabs, so to speak, on the bad guys as it is on the virtuous ones. As near as I could tell, the Foreign Policy list has a bit of pollyannish feel to it, one filled with encomia to the good soldier (David Petraeus) or the good politicians (John Kerry and Richard Lugar for being "the adults on Capitol Hill").

Too pious for my taste. But piety was not in abundance among the audience itself. The question that had to hover over everyone in the hall was whether the event actually had a fin-de-siecle feel, at least when it comes to America. The Doric columns and marble floors testify to a confidence in the emerging greatness of America. Do they now act as a solemn backdrop to a fading power--or will past triumphs serve as a spur to new ones? Foreign Policy, one can only hope, will be around to chronicle another forty years of successful foreign policy.