This week’s cover | May 20th 2023 Edition


Our cover story this week sprang from an interview with Henry Kissinger that was several hours long. Dedicated students of geopolitics will enjoy the transcript. For everyone else, we published a shorter set of stories on how America can show global leadership—and avoid war with China.

One option for a cover image was simply to show a picture of Mr Kissinger, with a suitably arresting headline. But our story was not a profile of a statesman; it was an exploration of his ideas on such things as how America can develop a more harmonious (or at least, less unstable) relationship with China. To illustrate this, we also created an image of President Joe Biden dancing a tango with Xi Jinping.

Mr Kissinger fizzed with ideas for how to avoid a superpower conflict. Our artists fizzed with ideas for how to illustrate the concept. One rather fanciful design showed a cork stopping up a missile silo. Problem solved. Another showed a falling bomb being caught on a nice, soft cushion. For reporters who had seen real bombs, however, this jarred: the bomb would explode anyway.

Diplomacy can sometimes prevent wars. One of our designers grafted an American diplomat’s pen onto the carriage of an artillery piece. Clever, but perhaps not immediately clear to a casual observer. We also tried an American eagle, with Joe Biden-style aviator sunglasses. (Our story focuses on the Biden foreign-policy doctrine, with all its strengths and weaknesses.) We loved this image, but it was perhaps a little too humorous for a cover that deals with war and peace.

We played around with various typefaces and background images. Another idea had two hands signalling “stop”, which was nice and bold. But in the end, the image we liked best was of a stars-and-stripes fire extinguisher. To avert a calamitous conflagration, America will have to put out many smaller fires: economic, diplomatic and geopolitical. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, a great power should speak softly and carry a big cylinder of foam.

Leader: Joe Biden’s global vision is too timid and pessimistic
United States: The fault lines in America’s China policy
Briefing: Henry Kissinger explains how to avoid world war three

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