James Traub is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, where he has worked since 1998. From 1994 to 1997, he was a staff writer for The New Yorker. He has also written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and elsewhere. His articles have been widely reprinted and anthologized. He has written extensively about international affairs and especially the United Nations.
In recent years, he has reported from Iran, Iraq, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Vietnam, India, Kosovo and Haiti. He has also written often about national politics and urban affairs, including education, immigration, race, poverty and crime.
His books include, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power; The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square; City On A Hill, a book on open admissions at City College; and The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Jim Traub: You know, for someone like me who’s written the book advocating what ultimately is an idealistic sounding version of foreign policy, it’s a very hard time. I think for a bunch of different reasons. One is that eight years of the Bush administration has not only exhausted the larger world with this visionary sweeping language and behavior in foreign policy but the American people as well. And so I think that there is a deep mood of retrenchment in this country that is a wish not so much for different foreign policy, though there is that, but also for less, no grand adventures, no grandiose language, no talking about the universal projection of American ideals. Then you add to that the economic crisis, which not only means that foreign policy is less salient that people who’ve thought would have been a couple of months ago, but also there’s less in money to spend on things that otherwise you might profitable spend money on.
It is certainly… it is true and it is a rebuke to the great ambitions of Bush’s Freedom Agenda that, in fact, in recent years the growth of freedom has been either nil or negative when you measure it this way. At the same time, I would be cautious about saying there is this concerted negative trend. That is we’re talking about a relatively small number of countries and it’s an index that shifts up and down. You can certainly say there was no sign of that democracy is growing in the world, but I don’t think… I think that would exaggerate the ability of the United States to alter things that are quite profound and deeply rooted in their locality to think that just because George Bush screwed up, therefore freedom is actually heading into a nosedive.