Watch an Animated Survey of Americans’ Views About Foreign Policy

See where Americans want the next President to take the U.S.

In his new book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, TIME foreign affairs columnist and president of Eurasia Group Ian Bremmer discusses the three choices the United States can make about its role in the world. Working with Surveymonkey, Eurasia Group polled more than 1,000 Americans about how they saw America’s position in the world—and found a surprising generational divide.

TIME foreign affairs

Quiz: What’s the Right Role for America in the World?

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding with Tunisian Minister of Political Affairs Mohsen Marzouk at Blair House, the presidential guest house, on May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding with Tunisian Minister of Political Affairs Mohsen Marzouk at Blair House, the presidential guest house, on May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Take an interactive quiz to discover what you think America's role in the world should be

In his new book Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer diagnoses the drift in U.S. foreign policy—and offers a few alternatives for the next President. But where do you want to see the U.S. go? Take this quiz and find out:



Nuclear Deal or No Deal

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

Why the U.S. cannot walk away from negotiating with Iran

As March dwindled down toward an unmet deadline, I found myself growing nostalgic for the early days of the Iran nuclear negotiations. The going was tough, of course, but an interim deal was produced–and a wonderful deal it was. Iran agreed to stop enriching uranium. It agreed to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It stopped construction on its heavy-water nuclear reactor. It acknowledged, tacitly, that the lion’s share of economic sanctions would remain in place until a final agreement was done. That was 16 months ago, and much to the surprise of skeptics, Iran has abided by the deal. And almost as surprising, the global coalition–including the Russians and Chinese–has held together and stuck to its guns, much to the credit of the oft-maligned Obama negotiating team. “It is ironic,” an Arab diplomat told me. “The interim deal is better than the deal you’re negotiating.”

Well, of course it is. There is no way Iran would permanently agree to stop its program in return for limited sanctions relief. It has the right, as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to process low-grade uranium for peaceful purposes. And so we have had this messy haggle over how many centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate going forward, where they will spin and how quickly we will lift the sanctions.

There have been nonnuclear issues on both sides. The proud Iranians have to concede without seeming to concede. The Americans and the rest of the world, but mostly the Americans, have to acknowledge that after 36 years, the Iranian theocrats–caricatured by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and assorted Republicans as half-crazed religious fanatics–can act responsibly.

The atmosphere surrounding the negotiations has also been complicated by a significant upheaval in the region during the past 16 months. The unnatural straight-line national borders drawn 99 years ago by the British and French are disappearing in the sand. The true regional fault line, between Sunni and Shi’ite, is emerging. A full-blown sectarian war looms. The U.S. would be crazy to take sides in this struggle, but events–the rise of ISIS, a barbaric Sunni army–have conspired to nudge us toward the Shi’ite side of the equation. A nuclear deal with Iran suddenly has import it didn’t have before. “It would give Iran international credibility,” says Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. diplomat who has negotiated with Iran in the past, “to go along with the increased influence it has in Iraq and Yemen.” Burns believes we should make the deal if we can, “but the Administration has to focus on rebuilding our relations with the Sunni powers like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.” (On March 31, Obama lifted the arms embargo against Egypt, which is fighting ISIS-related forces in Sinai and Libya.)

On April Fools’ Day, no less an international expert than Howard Dean opined that the Obama Administration should walk away from the talks and let the sanctions continue to bite Iran until it begs for mercy. A week earlier, the incredible–that is, not credible–former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton modestly proposed that we should just bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities and be done with it. The frustration with the negotiating process was understandable. By persisting at the table, the U.S. seemed more slouchy than strong–especially as the Iranians appeared to walk back parts of the agreement and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged a chant of “Death to America” from a handpicked crowd with a simple “Indeed.”

It would be nice to think that melodrama–walking away from the table, bombing Iran–would have some sort of conclusive effect. But Dean’s plan assumed that the international sanctions would remain in effect if we walked away–a very unlikely proposition, as the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers made it clear that they were satisfied with the outline of the deal the Americans and Iranians were still squabbling over.

Bolton’s bomb throwing assumed that Iran would react as Iraq and Syria did when Israel bombed their nuclear reactors–that is, not at all. But Iran is completely different from the almost-states of Syria and Iraq. It is a real place. It has natural borders on all but one side. It has a 4,000-year history and a distinct culture. It is Persian, not Arab. It has a sophisticated, well-educated populace, which may not like the authoritarian government but is proud and patriotic and very sensitive to disdain from Western imperial powers. Indeed, if we were to bomb its nuclear facilities, the Iranians would quickly rebuild them and rush toward the creation of a nuclear deterrent.

One way or another, that is a reality we have to deal with, even if it involves ongoing negotiation–a prospect that shouldn’t be so painful as long as the lovely interim agreement remains intact.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

This appears in the April 13, 2015 issue of TIME.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Exclusive: Dalai Lama, Barack Obama Set to Appear in Public Together for First Time

Tibetan leader will participate in the Feb. 5 National Prayer Breakfast where the President is expected to attend. Obama has never appeared publicly with Tibetan leader who is viewed by the Chinese government as a dissident

The Dalai Lama will attend this year’s National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5, marking the first time that the Tibetan leader will appear in public at an event that President Obama is expected to also attend, according to a press aide for Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who is co-chair of the event.

“The Dalai Lama will be at the breakfast, but he does not have a speaking role,” Casey aide Alex Miller tells TIME in an email. The White House did not immediately confirm the report.

President Obama has previously met with the Dalai Lama three times, despite the strong objections of the Chinese government who considers the Tibetan leader a dissident. In the past, the White House has not allowed reporters to witness the meetings, which have been staged outside the Oval Office in deference to Chinese objections.

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual, historically Christian event at the Washington Hilton for hundreds of mostly evangelical and other faith leaders. The President of the United States and First Lady have long attended, and the President traditionally speaks.

Following the Dalai Lama’s last private meeting with Obama in 2014, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui summoned a U.S. diplomat to register his nation’s objections. “The Tibetan issue is the domestic affair of China, and the United States bears no right to interfere,” he said, according to the Xinhua news agency. “Such a move will gravely sabotage China-US co-operation and relations, and will definitely undermine its own interests.”

Senator Casey (D., Pa.) and Senator Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) are co-chairing the congressional side of this year’s event. The breakfast is sponsored by a conservative evangelical group, the Fellowship, run by Douglas Coe. Christians have usually given the keynote address, but last year, U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Rajiv Shah, a Hindu, spoke.

TIME foreign affairs

The Most Dangerous Ground in the Middle East

Menahem Kahana—AFP/Getty Images Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks during a Likud party election campaign meeting in Tel Aviv on Jan. 25, 2015.

Lipsky is the editor of the New York Sun.

Congress is simply doing what the president should have—listening to the democracy that Iran has declared would be its first target

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu steps before a joint session of Congress, he will be entering what I have often called “the most dangerous ground in the Middle East.” It’s not the Golan Heights, or Gaza Strip, or Iran. It’s the constitutional no-man’s-land between the president and the Congress. In all of democracy it’s hard to think of a more dangerous minefield, one that can blow up on either the host and guest or the president — or all three of them.

Netanyahu certainly knows this. His speech March 3 will be his third before a joint meeting. The first two occasions had their downside as well as their up. In 1996, he was a newly elected, free-market-oriented premier, invited to the Hill by, in Newt Gingrich, a newly elevated, free-market-oriented Speaker. President Bill Clinton, whose most frequent foreign visitor at the White House was Yasser Arafat, was still trying to craft an agreement between Israel and the PLO.

The Israeli leader told of, among other things, how as a boy he knew Jerusalem as a divided city, rent by barbed wire. He used the word “dangerous” to describe any assumption that peace could be gained by re-dividing the city. It would never happen, he vowed. “Never,” he repeated, bringing the solons from both sides of the aisle to their feet in a thunderous ovation that could not have been lost on the administration that was hoping to divide the capital as part of a peace deal.

President Clinton, still mired in the soon-to-fail Oslo peace process, was apoplectic. His about-to-be state secretary, Madeleine Albright, loathed the Israeli leader. In the next Israeli general election, a raft of Clinton’s closest political strategists — Stanley Greenberg and James Carville among them — fetched up in the Jewish state to help one of Israel’s most decorated war heroes, Ehud Barak, defeat Netanyahu. Barak won the election, only to lose in 2001, after abrogating his promise not to dicker over dividing Jerusalem.

Ariel Sharon, who followed him, never addressed the Congress, which I always thought was a tragedy. No doubt he would have pulled out his maps — “meps,” is the way he pronounced the word — and lectured the solons on the order of battle. But Sharon did have his quarrels with the American president, George W. Bush, who felt Sharon had crossed a line when he declared that in the Middle East peace process, Israel would not play the role that had been assigned at Munich to Czechoslovakia.

What rescued them was a certain humility, the comprehension that the war that had been launched on 9/11 was bigger than both of them. So they let slide the bumps of public life. Soon after the Republicans gained control of the House in 2010, Congress promptly invited Netanyahu back for a second speech. It was an electrifying moment, made all the more so by the fact that Netanyahu and Obama were then quarreling over whether a settlement with the Palestinians should be done on the 1967 lines.

It was one of the most emotional speeches ever given to a joint session, though Churchill’s first was extraordinary, as was the address in 1986 of the new leader of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino (“Today I have returned — as the president of a free people”). Netanyahu dealt with the tensions with Obama by repeatedly praising him by name, and marking the bipartisan nature of the support Israel enjoys in America. His natural allies were Republicans, but he comprehended most Jews vote Democratic.

What makes Netanyahu’s third appearance before Congress so explosive is not that it somehow undercuts the president’s reception power — the power, as the Constitution puts it, “to receive ambassadors” — or lacks for standing to inform itself. Congress, after all, has its own duties in respect of foreign affairs. It is the branch granted the power to raise an army, provide a navy, declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and regulate commerce with foreign nations.

What makes it so explosive is that the president fears a veto-proof vote on sanctions. Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat who had been chairman the Foreign Relations, has been fighting heroically for a bill to ensure that, if Iran defaults on any nuclear arms pact, sanctions can be promptly restored, or even tightened. The negotiations were launched not just over the objections of Israel but also the doubts of Congress. It is now doing only what the president could have done to start with — listen to the democracy that Iran has declared would be its first target.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

The Saudi Transition Looks Smooth—For Now

Saudi King Abdullah in 2014.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images Saudi King Abdullah in 2014.

Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America in the Reagan Administration.

Behind the scenes, there may be powerful tensions pulling the Royal family apart

The death of the Saudi king does not portend major policy shifts, on oil pricing or on Saudi foreign policy. That policy was the product of an elite (or at least royal family) consensus, which will continue.

The question is whether the last year or two of drift, as King Abdullah grew ill, will now be replaced with strong Saudi leadership. Abdullah was widely respected at home and abroad, in part for his intelligence and in part for his piety. Whatever complaints were lodged against profligate Saudi royals did not apply to him, for his personal faith was very clear. He was in his way also a reformer, for example establishing the Kingdom’s first coed university, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. For decades, he and President Mubarak of Egypt were the two most powerful Arab leaders and key western allies. Mubarak fell in 2011, and Abdullah’s health began to fade soon after. The Arab world has lacked responsible leadership recently, although the Emiratis have tried to fill the breach.

What remains to be seen is whether King Salman can now return the kingdom to its accustomed role, or is himself too old. He too has been widely respected, for his decades as governor of Riyadh and his role as family disciplinarian. But he will now have to contend with two major challenges. First, the region is unstable. Iranian power is rising, American power is seen as declining, there is war in Syria and Iraq, and now Yemen is in unfriendly hands. ISIS and Al Qaeda are direct threats to the Royal family. Second, Salman will face internal rivalries in the Royal family itself. The sons of the late king Abdullah will seek to retain some of the influence they have gained in the last few years, but King Salman’s sons will try to wrest it from them. Crown Prince Muqrin is the youngest member of his generation and after him power must pass to the next generation. But to whom? Which clique, which group of full brothers, will take over? Salman, like most of the recent crown princes and kings, is one of the “Sudairi Seven,” seven full brothers of the founder, King Abd-Al Aziz, and the same mother. Abdullah was not; Muqrin is not. The push and pull between the Sudairis in this generation and the next, and all other grandsons of the founder, may be hidden from our view but is likely to be fierce.

So far the succession is smooth. It will look that way for months at least, and Saudi foreign and oil policy will appear little changed if changed at all. But behind the scenes, there may be powerful tensions pulling the Royal family apart.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

King Abdullah Wanted To Advance the Kingdom Into the Global Age

King Abdullah in 2014.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images King Abdullah in 2014.

Ambassador Smith served as U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2009-2013.

There may be no more conservative society in the world. Cautious, closed, careful, Saudi Arabia now mourns the loss of its King, a man who came from the desert but wanted to advance the Kingdom into the global age.

To say he pushed Saudi Arabia toward modernization is an understatement. He aggressively pursued commercial and economic development, spending billions of dollars on modern rail, metro, and infrastructure projects. He invested not just in the three major cities — Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam — but also in smaller cities across the country, building universities, hospitals, and establishing new economic zones. He was open and welcoming to American businesses, and worked to expand the private sector beyond petroleum-based enterprises. He advanced the opportunities for women in many areas, though for most in the West, the issue of women driving continues to be a lasting symbol.

Perhaps his most enduring undertaking was his embrace of education. His King Abdullah Scholarship program provides full scholarships to almost 120,000 Saudi students studying in the United States — scholarships based solely on merit, not family connections or gender. I can think of no other program of similar magnitude other than the GI Bill in the United States after World War II. A generation of Saudi students, are gaining access to advanced science, technology, and critical thinking programs that will be lasting tribute to the King’s vision for his country.

King Abdullah prized his country’s relationship with the United States, and he had a close working relationship with every American president. In my service as Ambassador, I saw his deep affection for both Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry. He was a close ally in the fight against extremism, and under his leadership, the U.S.-Saudi military and intelligence cooperation could not have been stronger. He felt a deeply personal reaction against the violence in the region, especially the suffering in Syria, which troubled him as early as May 2011. Even in his final months, he continued to look for ways to end the fighting there. He was the architect of the Arab Peace Initiative, which laid out a path that would support peace between Israel and Palestine through Arab state recognition of Israel and economic support to secure the peace.

As the elder statesman of the Arab and Islamic world, he was legendary in his support for Muslims worldwide. He brokered the first Religious Dialogue in Madrid then established the Religious Dialogue Center in Vienna. It was King Abdullah who called together in 2012 the leaders of all Muslim majority countries to begin a discussion on how to end the violence of Muslims against Muslims.

Some suggest that he could and should have done more. After all, he was an absolute monarch, one of the few remaining in the world. As everyone who has spent time in Saudi Arabia knows, however, there are competing constituencies, and resilient traditions, that make consensus-building difficult. But even within this most distinct and constrained culture, he opened the door to the world for a new generation of Saudi youth. He redefined the monarchy, from an austere and remote detachment to a caring and smiling face of optimism. It is an optimism that may seem a distant memory in the troubled times ahead.

I had the rare privilege to represent my country in Saudi Arabia, and for that reason I add a personal note. King Abdullah was a kind man, someone who welcomed guests and treated everyone around him with respect. One of my most memorable visits was by Rep Nita Lowey; she and King Abdullah talked about grandchildren for a full 30 minutes. He certainly was at ease on the throne, but I often felt he was most comfortable with real people. He was truly a man of the desert, and his nation mourns for him today.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

America’s Counterterrorism Policy Is Failing

David Sedney was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia from 2009-2013 and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia from 2007-2009.

Our tactics produce more dangerous, more committed extremists

The U.S. approach to countering violent extremism is failing badly. Our current “light footprint,” counter-terrorism approach, posits that a combination of precisely targeted drone strikes, U.S. special forces raids, and training small, elite units of local forces can kill enough of the extremists’ “core” leadership to render those groups incapable. But, there has never been a strategy behind this hope, never an articulated theory of the case to explain where we were headed.

These methods have, for limited periods, degraded extremists’ capabilities. But, today it is clear they are fundamentally flawed and severely counter-productive. Rather than reducing threats, our tactics produce more dangerous, more committed extremists. The crucible of the pressures we have created has not destroyed the extremists, instead it has evolved them into more virulent forms. Our singular focus on killing, without any serious attempt to ameliorate basic societal problems — and the absence of a moral core for our actions — have led huge swathes of the world to see us as the evil doers. Extremists today seek revenge for those we have killed, to punish us for abuses they suffer, and to end our support for abusive, corrupt rulers.

The shape of the new world we are creating can be seen in the Charlie Hebdo attack, the growing Islamic State, the rampaging Boko Haram, the fractured, chaotic Yemen that features two radical groups that both hate the U.S., and the Taliban who massacre school children.

Rather than a safer international environment with decreasing terrorism, terror attacks are at an all-time high and increasing. Two organizations — Al Qaeda and the Islamic State — are competing for adherents through escalating public brutality. And it is working: New believers are flocking to their banners; they control serious chunks of territory in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, and Yemen; they aim for a caliphate that rules from Myanmar to the Mediterranean; and they are quite clear that they will use violence to control us and our societies. The attacks in France, plots in Belgium, and threats to Japan of the past two weeks are only a harbinger of what is coming.

How did we get here? Weren’t the wars supposed to be over? Didn’t we “degrade and destroy” core Al Qaeda? Aren’t we chasing the Islamic State to the “gates of hell”? Sadly, but understandably, for the the last 12 years, U.S. administrations have been unwilling and unable to acknowledge that we face larger problems than any individual terror attack or group. The causes of violent Islamic extremism run deeper and the way forward requires more than killing, more than bombing and invading counties as the Bush administration did, more than the drones and special ops the Obama administration favors.

The causes for the multiple state and societal failures in the greater Middle East are complex, ranging from the absence of economic opportunity, to rigid social structures, and to authoritarian rule that cloaks itself in Islam, but at its core is a simple lust for power. Our instincts have been to try and ignore and isolate these problems, hoping that some sort of internal evolution will occur before these problems become ours. Unfortunately, the evidence is that these hopes are not realistic and the future is headed for worse.

One little remarked upon commonality of Presidents Bush and Obama is their hostility to what they called nation building — a long-term commitment to fixing countries not by remaking them in our image but by helping them along paths that emerge from their own realities. This is hard, expensive, and takes a very long time. Can it work? We can point with pride to our help to post-WWII Germany and Japan, to Europe in the Marshall plan, to Korea and Taiwan as examples that prove such endeavors can succeed. We can also point to failures such as Haiti, where we have applied fewer resources, with less skill and less adaptability to indigenous factors, as examples that prove we can get it wrong.

There is no good news here. We have tried the “easy” answers. They haven’t worked. Instead, they have costs tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. Our surges and partial counter insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan never had our full commitment. We were only partly at war. Similarly, today our counter-terrorism approach and the killings it requires are understood by few Americans. The public sees it all as some sort of action movie. The reality is that a light footprint only produces light, transitory results — but that reality is ignored.

Where does that leave us? Faced with horrific attacks by extremists bent on creating a new reality with no place for our model of a liberal, secular world based on mutual respect for differences, what do we need? Leadership. Leaders who will explain just how tough the choices are and how high the stakes. Leaders who have the breadth of vision to understand that there are no quick, easy fixes. We need leaders ready to admit that we can’t kill our way out of the extremist problem. The application of force without a commitment to justice is neither effective nor worthy of the America we want to be.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

How French Intelligence Missed the Charlie Hebdo Terrorists

FRANCOIS LO PRESTI—AFP/Getty Images Members of the GIPN and RAID, French police special forces, walk in Corcy, northern France, on January 8, 2015 as they carry out searches as part of an investigation into a deadly attack the day before by armed gunmen on the Paris offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

John Mueller and Mark Stewart are the authors of the forthcoming Chasing Ghosts: The Costly Quest to Counter Terrorists in the United States.

Terrorism's very high cost combined with its very low probability make stopping terrorists as difficult as finding a needle in a hastack

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Paris, French police and intelligence agencies are being asked to explain why known militants—including one who had visited an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen several years ago—were not subject to intense surveillance before they launched last week’s terrorist attack at the offices of a French satirical weekly.

The answer is fairly simple, if less than satisfying: it costs a lot of money to do so. A perhaps somewhat high estimate is that the full-scale surveillance of an individual for a year costs some $8 million. The costs of watching even 125 people in that way would add up to $1 billion—a sum that is one-third of the entire FBI counterterrorism budget.

French police believe that, among prisoners alone, 200 would “merit attention” and 95 would be “dangerous” once released.

Nor is malpractice evident in the fact that the surveillance of some terrorist suspects is relaxed over time. Very often, would-be terrorists lose their enthusiasm for the enterprise. As terrorism specialist John Horgan has pointed out, walking away from terrorism is a common phenomenon. It is not that they necessarily abandon their radical views, but that they abandon violence as a means of expressing them.

Policing agencies must therefore pick and choose carefully. At any one time there could easily be thousands of plausible candidates for scrutiny, and many of them may well seem to be more threatening those who actually committed terrorist mayhem in Paris.

Under the influence of what might be called “the 9/11 Commission Syndrome,” in which all terrorism leads are supposed to be followed up on, government agencies chase more than 5,000 “threats” in the United States every day. The vast majority of this activity leads, of course, to nothing, and the massive enterprise is often called “ghostchasing” in the FBI, an agency that may have pursued well over 10 million leads since 2001.

The enterprise leads to only a very small number of productive investigations—there are only 100 or so arrests on terrorism charges in the United States each year, and most of these are of would-be terrorists who are either trivial or at most aspirational. However, in addition, there will be a considerable number—thousands or even tens of thousands—who are deemed suspicious enough to watch. At that point, budgetary considerations must necessarily come into play. Investigators can afford to give only a few the full surveillance treatment.

When something like the French tragedy happens, policing and intelligence agencies are urged to work even harder to ferret out potential terrorists in our midst—in other words, to heap even more hay onto the haystack. That is certainly an understandable reaction, but it almost never comes associated with even the barest elements of a rounded analysis. This should begin not with the perennial question “Are we safer?” but rather with one almost never asked: “How safe are we?”

On average, one or two people have perished per year since 2001 at the hands of Islamic terrorists in the United States and in France, less than that in Canada and Australia, a bit more in the United Kingdom. Under present circumstances, then, the likelihood a citizen in those countries will be killed by a terrorist is one in millions. Whatever the fears of French police and however wrenching the last week has been, terrorism in their country, looked at rather coldly, has not resulted in many deaths.

The question then becomes, as risk analyst Howard Kunreuther put it shortly after 9/11, “How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are already extremely low?”

In seeking to answer that key question, it should be kept in mind that terrorism often exacts considerable political, economic, emotional, and psychic damage that may not be inflicted by other hazards, natural and unnatural. Moreover, it is worth considering that terrorism in the developed world might suddenly increase in frequency and intensity. However, this would be a sharp reversal of current patterns, and the terrorist surge would have to be massive to change the basic calculus.

As with crime, perfect safety is impossible, a rather obvious point that is nonetheless often neglected. Funds directed at a hazard that kills few might sometimes be more productively directed at one that kills many.

John Mueller is a political scientist at Ohio State University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Mark Stewart is an engineer and risk analyst at the University of Newcastle in Australia. They are the authors of Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security and of the forthcoming Chasing Ghosts: The Costly Quest to Counter Terrorists in the United States.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

We Should Be Laughing at Charlie Hebdo, Not Pledging Our Allegiance to It

Charlie Hebdo Press Conference
Yoan Valat—EPA The new editor-in-chief of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Gerard Biard, caricaturist Luz, Journalist Patrick Pelloux and editor-in-chief of French newspaper Liberation, Laurent Joffrin, hold a press conference about the next Charlie Hebdo edition, at the Liberation newspaper headquarters, in Paris, Jan. 13, 2015.

Guillemette Faure is a French writer and columnist for M, Le Monde’s weekend magazine.

Standing up for the satirical newspaper became something of a patriotic gesture, even though Charlie’s dead cartoonists hated patriotic gestures

If you turn the cover of Charlie Hebdo upside down, you can see a penis. At least according to a journalist friend of mine. “This is how Luz always draws them,” he said, referring to prophets. I’m not sure I can see it. But I am sure this is what teenaged boys do: hide phalluses in cartoons. And Charlie Hebdo used to be a newsroom of teenaged grandpas.

We were trying to make sense of the cover. “Everything Is Forgiven,” Muhammad crying and holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign. Was it a critique of the hypocritical support of Charlie Hebdo by important figures? Was it mixing blasphemy with forgiveness, the most likable promise of all religions?

People were standing in line for the unveiling of its newest issue Wednesday morning, and it was sold out in my train station by 6:45 a.m. Terrorists have taken a struggling paper and made it the most sold-out publication in France. A young agent of the French police special operation unit who took part in the rescue operation told me he had only heard about Charlie just before the attack. Even residents of Paris’ bourgeois 7th arrondissement, host to anti-gay marriage protests, seemed eager this morning to get their share of anticlerical jokes. As Le Gorafi, France’s version of The Onion, wrote this morning, “lots of French people wanted to touch printed paper for the first time.”

The problem is that Charlie Hebdo is not supposed to be consumed with such religious fervor. We used to read it rapidly, sometimes disliking the jokes (and, for me, all the phalluses). Charlie Hebdo was not designed to be read with an offense meter, every word and cartoon weighed. “Irresponsible magazine,” proclaims its cover. Cartoonist Luz was the first to feel both comforted and uncomfortable with the immense wave of support. Last week he reminded supporters that the newspaper was a fanzine, illustrated mostly by a gang of anarchist guys who didn’t want to grow up. “Charlie is not supposed to be a symbol,” he said. The day before this new issue, he advised readers to buy another paper along with Charlie.

The remaining team did the greatest thing they could have done: publish a new paper, on time. Not even one or two days earlier, like the weeklies that wanted to cash in on the tragedy. Not a day later, because of all the trouble they had to go through. Just on time. It was a regular Charlie Hebdo, with a regular Mohammed on its cover.

“When you don’t understand that you can’t draw a little guy, you keep drawing little guys,” wrote Luz in a cartoon for this new edition.

And yet here we are, unable to refrain from checking that everything is in place: Mohammed, the rabbis, and the popes. We’re relieved to see that the Catholic Church is also mocked (“Message to the Pope who supported us,” ends the editorial, “we would appreciate hearing the bells of the Vatican, but only if rung by the FEMEN”), even though we know offense-math is wrong, since religious people don’t get offended in the same way by the same things.

In the aftermath of the attacks, we French subscribed to the magazine to be sure it would stay alive. In just a few days, standing up for Charlie became something of a patriotic gesture, akin to standing up for freedom of speech—even though Charlie’s dead cartoonists hated patriotic gestures.

Living in a diverse neighborhood of Paris, I don’t want Charlie to become a symbol of patriotism. We can’t impose an injunction against feeling offended as a sign of solidarity, even to those who should get the joke. “We don’t have to agree,” write the editors Charlie Hebdo in the issue. “The cops died to defend ideas that maybe were not theirs.” The hardest thing today is to accept that, even when discussing matters of principle, we can disagree. Philippe Lançon, a Charlie writer who survived the attack, wrote in the newspaper Libération that the very morning of the attacks, Charlie’s staff had a heated argument about terrorism. “We wanted to laugh and argue about everything,” he wrote.

In the current issue of Charlie Hebdo, Luz brilliantly summarizes these contradictory emotions that we all go through. He tries to assess the situation with two columns—plus and minus. On the plus side, huge crowds of people taking to the streets of Paris with Charlie signs. On the minus side, having to hear the national anthem. On the plus side, Madonna supports Charlie (could she send her underwear?). On the minus side, having to shake the Prime Minister’s hand.

On the plus side, millions in financial help to go to print. And then this overwhelming minus: a bloody empty room.

Guillemette Faure is a French writer and columnist for M, Le Monde’s weekend magazine.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com