Foreign Exchanges in 2021
Looking back on this year and ahead to 2022!
Hello friends! We’ve come to the end of 2021, and for the first time in a couple of years I feel like it makes sense to take a look back at the year here at Foreign Exchanges. We’ve got columns, podcasts, and more. If you missed them the first time around, or just want to check them out again, I hope you enjoy this retrospective!
I also hope that, for those of you who aren’t already paid Foreign Exchanges subscribers, this retrospective will motivate you to take that next step and become one. This has been a year of phenomenal growth for this newsletter, for which I am deeply grateful. But the only way FX can continue to survive, and continue to grow, is with your support. I want FX to be a premiere outlet for compelling, outside the Blob foreign policy news and analysis, and together I believe we can make that happen. Please subscribe today:
I’m very pleased that 2021 saw FX expand its roster of contributing writers from one to four. We’re a little heavy on Alexes now, as you’ll see, but I’m hoping that issue will resolve itself. Let’s take a look back at their valuable contributions to the newsletter this year.
We welcomed Kate to the newsletter back in March, and her first column she argued that the Biden administration was setting itself up for failure by the standard of its own foreign policy promises. Granted, that was only about two months after Biden took office. But I think it’s fair to say that Kate hasn’t been terribly impressed with how things have gone since then. In July, for example, she noted the emptiness of the administration’s pro-democracy rhetoric. And she returned in December to reinforce that critique in light of the administration’s insipid “Summit for Democracy”:
Fans of the Foreign Exchanges podcast, about which I’ll have more to say below, surely recognized Alex from his many appearances over these past few years. I was very happy to bring him on board as a contributing writer in February and his contributions this year showed why. His initial piece looked back to look forward, looking at the opportunities the United States frittered away in order to pursue its “Global War on Terror.”
In May, Alex offered his thoughts on the mistakes Western commentators often make when trying to contextualize conflicts around the world. He returned to that theme in September with a very timely column assessing the ways in which Western media and thinkers have botched their analyses of the Afghan Taliban:
Of course we can’t forget about Danny, who came on board last year as the newsletter’s first contributor and helped convince me that the time was right to expand this enterprise beyond, well, me. Danny wrote a column nearly every month this year, so in lieu of listing all of them I’ll mention a few and you can check out his full catalog for more. In February, he argued (presciently, as it turns out) that the appointment of Antony Blinken as US Secretary of State signaled that the Biden administration’s approach to foreign policy would amount to little more than a return to the pre-Trump consensus:
Elsewhere, Danny discussed the challenges posed by an anarchic international system, described the 20th century effort to sequester US foreign policymaking from mass politics, looked at recent developments in the field of diplomatic history, and made a pitch for dissolving NATO.
I don’t get to do much column writing these days, beyond the editorializing that sometimes slips into my world news roundups. But I was able to write a couple of pieces for the newsletter this year, one in January that took issue with some lousy POLITICO writing about Iran (lousy writing about Iran turned out to be a year-long project for that outlet) and another in September that offered some old and new thoughts about America’s annual fixation on the September 11 attacks. We also started a new partnership with the fine folks at Discourse Blog this year, which allowed us to republish great pieces on the AP’s decision to fire reporter Emily Wilder for supporting Palestinian rights and the Biden administration’s response to Cuban protests back in July.
Last month I tried something a little different and commissioned historian Michael Franczak to write a few dispatches from Glasgow, where he was attending the COP26 climate summit. Michael wrote three pieces for the newsletter, recounting the less-than-stellar role the US has historically played when it comes to global environmenal issues, highlighting the many inequalities of our planetary addiction to carbon, and criticizing the conference’s failure to support humanity’s adaptation to the already-visible effects of climate change.
Foreign Exchanges is a podcast as well as a newsletter, so I wanted to highlight some of the interviews I had the chance to do this year. Michael Franczak, for example, joined me at the conclusion of COP26 to talk about his experience and the conference’s final outcome. The Quincy Institute’s Annelle Sheline turned up in April to unpack an attempted coup (maybe) in Jordan and in June to talk about the ongoing war in Yemen. Analyst Séamus Malekafzali helped us prepare for the Iranian presidential election in two appearances, one in March and another (alongside the National Iranian-American Council’s Sina Toossi) in June. We talked about events in Afghanistan, Brazil, Chad, Ethiopia, and Gaza, as well as topics like the state of US foreign policy, US impunity within the international justice system, and more.
Paid FX subscribers got to hear me recounting historic events from the Battle of Badr in 624 to the outset of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. We covered the foundations of modern Afghanistan, the founding of Baghdad, and a fascinating 9th century interlude known as the “Anarchy at Samarra.”
I know the podcast has become somewhat less frequent in recent months. There’s a very simple reason for that, which is that I’m still trying to figure out how to balance FX and American Prestige (more on that later) and it’s been difficult to find time to maintain everything. It turns out that starting a new project, one involving multiple people rather than just me, is hard and time-consuming, for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the actual product. I’m hopeful that we’ve finally worked out a lot of those behind-the-scenes details and that I’ll be able to do more FX podcasting in 2022 and beyond.
The Week in Review
This one is for subscribers only, sorry! Another new feature we started in 2021 was our “Week in Review,” featuring a recap of the week’s news as compiled in our nightly roundups along with commentary from our WIR guru, Shawn Gillooly. He’s offered his thoughts on everything from the New Cold War to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Check out the full WIR archive for more!
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention a couple of outside projects with which FX is affiliated. One is the aforementioned American Prestige, the new foreign policy-focused podcast I began this year along with FX columnist Danny Bessner and our excellent producer, Jake Aron. If you haven’t checked it out, please do—if you’re a fan of this newsletter I think you’ll appreciate what we’re doing on the show. And if you’re interested in deeper dives into any of the topics we’ve covered, I’ve compiled a list of the books our guests have published along with bookshop.org links if you want to support them with a purchase!
The second project I want to mention is the Discontents newsletter. FX has been part of this collective project since its beginnings, way back in the middle of 2020. We’re still figuring out what Discontents is, exactly, but we hope it can be a model for a more collaborative approach to what is increasingly an atomized media environment. Aside from the newsletter digest we publish every week, members of Substack have written and published things together and we’ve been able to support one another in our efforts. We’re trying a few new ideas, including one that tries to mimic the concept of bundled subscriptions within the limitations Substack imposes on that sort of thing, but mostly we’re still figuring things out, as Jack Crosbie wrote earlier this week.
If you haven’t signed up for Discontents, please consider doing so in 2022. It’s absolutely free, and the more subscriptions we get the stronger case we can make that maybe this newsletter business doesn’t have to feel quite so isolating.
That was 2021 here at Foreign Exchanges! From all of us here, especially me, thanks for joining the newsletter this year and we’re looking forward to bigger and better things in 2022! Happy New Year!