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The Statesman
June 4, 2013 8:09 AM   Subscribe

In Defense of Henry Kissinger - The 20th Century's Greatest 19th Century Statesman

Robert D. Kaplan (STRATFOR, CNAS )writes in The Atlantic:
I have been a close friend of Henry Kissinger’s for some time, but my relationship with him as a historical figure began decades ago. When I was growing up, the received wisdom painted him as the ogre of Vietnam. Later, as I experienced firsthand the stubborn realities of the developing world, and came to understand the task that a liberal polity like the United States faced in protecting its interests, Kissinger took his place among the other political philosophers whose books I consulted to make sense of it all. In the 1980s, when I was traveling through Central Europe and the Balkans, I encountered A World Restored, Kissinger’s first book, published in 1957, about the diplomatic aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. In that book, he laid out the significance of Austria as a “polyglot Empire [that] could never be part of a structure legitimized by nationalism,” and he offered a telling truth about Greece, where I had been living for most of the decade: whatever attraction the war for Greek independence had held for the literati of the 1820s, it was not born of “a revolution of middle-class origin to achieve political liberty,” he cautioned, “but a national movement with a religious basis.”

When policy makers disparage Kissinger in private, they tend to do so in a manner that reveals how much they measure themselves against him. The former secretary of state turns 90 this month. To mark his legacy, we need to begin in the 19th century.
The National Interest: The Morality Of Kissinger's Realism
What it says about Kaplan is that he has few peers these days in the historical forcefulness and analytical clarity of his writings on geopolitics and the meaning of strategic realism. What it says about Kissinger, in summary, is that, notwithstanding the often vicious attacks on him over the decades as a man whose love of power politics blinded him to any proper regard for morality in affairs of state, he was in fact the greatest statesman of his age. He operated in the mold of Britain’s great nineteenth-century foreign secretaries, Castlereagh and Palmerston, whose strategic realism fostered Britain’s rise on the world stage as well as much good that Britain was able to accomplish as a result of that rise.

Kaplan reminds us that, just as Kissinger has been hated in his time by those given to moralistic views on foreign policy, so were Castlereagh and Palmerston in their own times by the same kinds of intellectuals. Writes Kaplan: "Like Castlereagh, Palmerston had only one immutable principle in foreign policy: British self-interest, synonymous with the preservation of the worldwide balance of power." Both men sought to maintain the global status quo in the interest of stability even as they desired a better world.
Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal: The Kissinger Question Does America need a foreign policy? Obama thinks not
more TNI: Bret Stephens Misreads Henry Kissinger
Der Spiegel: Unlikely Heir: Obama Returns to Kissinger's Realpolitik

Big Think and Al Jazeera report on recent release of US diplomatic cables from 1973-1976.
posted by the man of twists and turns (92 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ftuih.

Kaplan. Enabler of war criminal defends a war criminal. Colour me surprised.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:15 AM on June 4, 2013 [14 favorites]


Interesting post with some excellent links. Thanks for posting.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:17 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Apparently comparison to the architects of 19th century colonialist empires is supposed to be a compliment now?

We're supposed to be evaluating people like this in terms of their "greatness" at something caled "statemanship" the way that a war nerd might evaluate the greatness of Nazi generals, without regard to what they were fighting for?
posted by edheil at 8:24 AM on June 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


Kissinger must be feeling the lick of the flame already.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 8:24 AM on June 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


Beyond Eastern Europe, revolutionary nihilists were attempting to make more Cubas in Latin America

Well, I'm glad this defence doesn't descend into cheap ad hom or anything.
posted by jaduncan at 8:24 AM on June 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I have been a close friend of Henry Kissinger’s for some time,...

No need for me to question my assessment of Kissinger based on this guy's writings, then. Still a war criminal with responsibility for thousands of needless deaths.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:24 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, how about an article by a survivor of the secret Cambodian bombings. I think they might have a slightly different perspective.
posted by lumpenprole at 8:27 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


No need for me to question my assessment of Kissinger based on this guy's writings, then.

Well, at least he put the disclaimer right up front!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:27 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just a small point: "tactical miscalculations" = "tens of thousands dead". Or maybe that's too moralistic?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:28 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The ritualistic vehemence with which many have condemned the bombings of North Vietnam, the incursion into Cambodia, and other events betrays, in certain cases, an ignorance of the facts and of the context that informed America’s difficult decisions during Vietnam.

The troop withdrawals that Nixon and Kissinger engineered, while faster than de Gaulle’s had been from Algeria, were gradual enough to prevent complete American humiliation."

If Kaplan and Kissinger are capital R Realists, then why do they give a flying fuck about humiliation?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:28 AM on June 4, 2013 [22 favorites]


quoted without comment:

"In the fall of 1973, with Chile dissolving into chaos and open to the Soviet bloc’s infiltration as a result of Salvador Allende’s anarchic and incompetent rule, Nixon and Kissinger encouraged a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, during which thousands of innocent people were killed. Their cold moral logic was that a right-wing regime of any kind would ultimately be better for Chile and for Latin America than a leftist regime of any kind—and would also be in the best interests of the United States. They were right—though at a perhaps intolerable cost."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:31 AM on June 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Apparently comparison to the architects of 19th century colonialist empires is supposed to be a compliment now?

Paging Niall Ferguson.
posted by Artw at 8:34 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Trying to remake, like McNamara. Only at least McNamara appeared contrite and realized the errors he made.
posted by k5.user at 8:34 AM on June 4, 2013


Kaplan's a goddamned fool who got wrong the single most important foreign policy decision of the millenium so far:

Robert Kaplan, the national security correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, is one of our country's anointed foreign policy geniuses. In November, 2001, he attended a secret meeting (along with Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria), organized by Paul Wolfowitz, for the purpose of producing a report for President Bush on Middle East policy which, among other things, outlined all the great reasons why we should invade Iraq.

Thereafter, both Kaplan and Zakaria became two of the country's most enthusiastic pundit-advocates for invading Iraq, without ever revealing their participation in Wolfowitz's meeting (they signed confidentiality agreements not to disclose anything that was discussed). It is obviously an extremely odd situation for a "reporter" to participate with government officials in the preparation of such a report, but Kaplan told his Atlantic Monthly editors in advance and "was given approval to attend because 'everybody was in a patriotic fervor.'" None of that has impeded Kaplan's career or journalistic credibility any.


He's a plausible Exhibit A in the "all of the neocons who screamed for the invasion of Iraq have failed upward in foreign policy circles" proceedings.
posted by mediareport at 8:37 AM on June 4, 2013 [38 favorites]


Accused war criminal.

What most tantalizes my curiosity on the subject of Henry Kissinger is why ctrl-f does not find him on war nerd's beautiful tale of the Nigerian civil war. In the Hersh book it is the subject of Biafra where they had infant skeleton photos in the newspapers and close advisors to Nixon were trying to get the rebels some rice and bandages and Kissinger vetoed it to demonstrate to Nixon what a tough guy he was. I can't cite that but as near as I can recall that is a pretty close to an exact quotation. Hersh depicts him as a real world model for Darth Vader.

The der spiegel article is the most anti-Obama one I have seen on their site. Also Kissinger looks great for 90 but I think he might try turtlenecks.
posted by bukvich at 8:37 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"In his later years, Kissinger has not been able to travel to a number of countries where legal threats regarding his actions in the 1970s in Latin America hang over his head."
posted by Nelson at 8:38 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


For a Jew who was in his early teens when his family fled Nazi Germany it was kinda ironic that he supported so many right wing regimes, but the cold war was a funny thing.
posted by three blind mice at 8:38 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


But because the settlement restored the Bourbon dynasty in France, while providing the forces of Liberalism little reward for their efforts, Castlereagh’s accomplishment lacked any idealistic element, without which the radicals could not be mollified
Oh FFS. Castlereagh was hated for his parts in the Peterloo Massacre and the horrific clampdown on civil liberties in Britain following the French and American Revolutions. It's not just about "tee hee, wishy washy liberals didn't understand the realities of foreign policy, just like today".
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:48 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Once again the age-old question is posed: Who is more evil, the genocidal war criminals or their ideological camp followers?
posted by williampratt at 8:50 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kissinger, like Giap, realized that the Vietnam war could not be "won" by the US and it's clients in any meaningful sense without resorting to genocide, or at the very least, total war against a civilian population.

What Kissinger also realized, though, was that while it couldn't be won, it could be prolonged.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:58 AM on June 4, 2013


Accused war criminal.

He's not exactly shopping about for an impartial forum in which to clear his name.

He's not the worst statesman America has ever produced, and his realism was not without merit. Normalizing relations with China was a brilliant move. The trouble is...

If Kaplan and Kissinger are capital R Realists, then why do they give a flying fuck about humiliation?

Precisely. It's not at all clear that preserving America's reputation for toughness was worth dragging out the war at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. Not to mention that Nixon's sabotage of the Paris peace talks on Kissinger's advice had absolutely nothing to do with America's interests and everything to do with partisan political gain.

If he was a more consistent foreign policy realist he would have been less of a monster.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:03 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kissinger has not been able to travel to a number of countries where legal threats regarding his actions in the 1970s in Latin America hang over his head

The Swedish Wikipedia page shows Kissinger as late as 1990 exiting the back door to avoid protestors in Malmö.

What Kissinger also realized, though, was that while it couldn't be won, it could be prolonged.

But it was George Aiken who hit upon the idea to "declare vistory and go home." Selling that idea to Nixon was no small act of statesmenship either, but they don't give Nobel peace prizes to people like that.
posted by three blind mice at 9:04 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


'Kissinger' - its a horrible word. It is poisoned. If you are unfortunate enough to be born with that name, change it.
posted by vicx at 9:20 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was a dark and stormy night and the cold war was a funny thing. It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it. And Hanoi. And Cambodia. Being a Realpolitik politikian means making hellacious decisions to preserve the phony quo. I was that man.

The Memoirs of Dr. Strangekisser
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:20 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


He's not the worst statesman America has ever produced, and his realism was not without merit.

Realism always struck me as needlessly simplified. Which I suppose works when you see the world as good team vs bad team.
posted by Hoopo at 9:24 AM on June 4, 2013


"For a Jew who was in his early teens when his family fled Nazi Germany it was kinda ironic that he supported so many right wing regimes, but the cold war was a funny thing."

He was an arch-realist on foreign policy. He was very good at it.

We can rightly criticize the amorality of realist foreign policy, but the neoconservatives demonstrated that its opposite can be just as murderous and even more foolish and self-defeating.

Aside from flirtations with liberal moralism under Carter and Clinton, American foreign policy has always been realist until the neocon era. And, even then, the idealism was inconsistent, self-serving, and the actual influence of the neocons was limited and, for the most part, those with various and idiosyncratic interests made the ultimate decisions. Bush II era foreign policy was a mishmash, really.

Obama has returned to the post-Nixon era's standard of disguised realism.

Kissinger's sin was to be a highly visible and highly influential wartime foreign policy realist during a time of idealistic liberal political activism. Nothing that he was involved with compares, for example, to the war crimes of firebombing Dresden and Tokyo and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All of the US's foreign policy and military apparati prior to Kissinger's time advised and made decisions exactly as Kissinger did, with calculations of American interest that minimize such unimportant considerations as the deaths of foreign innocents or international law.

The major difference is that since the late-60s onward, there is a greater American sense that our foreign policy should reflect our ostensible ideals. That has almost never actually happened (Carter excepted), but rather has resulted in leaders being more careful to create and espouse moralistic/idealistic rationales for realist goals.

Given the, er, reality of geopolitics, we still live in a world where a truly idealistic foreign policy is a recipe for disaster. But pure, naked realism, and especially realism that is short-sighted, has proven to often be self-defeating, too.

The very fact that the US presents itself to the rest of the world as the good guy means that it actually must, to some significant degree, act accordingly. It loses influence every time it acts hypocritically.

France, in contrast, has about zero pretense of having an idealistic, moralistic foreign policy. It's always been very realist and everyone expects it to be realist. It barely lost much leftist credibility during its socialist era when it badly treated its former colonies because everyone understands that it was, and still is, quite brutally realist on these matters. That doesn't make that position morally correct. It's just an example that the US's special failure here, and markedly with regard to Kissinger, was presenting itself to itself and the rest of the world as the most moral, the nicest, the best-behaved nation around even as it was bombing villages to death in nations it wasn't even at war with.

I'm not so interested in defending Kissinger as I am in damning all of the rest of US foreign policy, before and since, for the same reasons we're damning Kissinger. It's a sorry naivete of the American left to think that Kissinger is exceptional, because he's not. I mean, he is exceptional, but he's not exceptional for being evil. He's exceptional in that he is brilliant and was an unusually effective Secretary of State and advisor on foreign policy. I will agree that with that talent, perhaps he had a greater responsibility to not be evil.

But at this level, pretty much no one can avoid being evil without resigning. Prior to being elected President, I'd never have thought of Obama as being evil. But being President of the US pretty much requires that one order the killings of innocent people, as well as all sorts of other terrible things. Perhaps that makes this whole ruling structure evil. I'm not going to disagree.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:29 AM on June 4, 2013 [32 favorites]


I didn't see anything about Kissinger's involvement in scuttling peace plans in 1968 in order to aide Richard Nixon's election as President. shameful actions that cost a multitude of lives for no worthwhile gain.
have fun at Bilderberg!
posted by TMezz at 9:29 AM on June 4, 2013


A couple years ago I visited Chile for a few weeks. I spent my last few days in Santiago, where I went to a memorial to those who were killed by the Pinochet regime. I had been struggling to pick up any amount of Spanish when I was down there, and I didn't really feel like I was understanding the language until that day. I was in the Cementerio General de Santiago, looking at an inkjet-printed sign somebody had left under a Chilean flag near her father's grave. I knew just enough to understand the important words. I took a picture so I could translate more fully later: "Father, I know you're with God, your memory is with me every day and you will always be in my heart."

There was a marble wall full of names, and many of those names were decorated with signs and memories and pictures of children and loved ones. The word justicia appeared over and over.

The Kaplan essay says "Henry Kissinger believes that in difficult, uncertain times ... the preservation of the status quo should constitute the highest morality." Show me the status quo before Pinochet took power, and I'll show you how much revisionist bar-lowering remains undone.
posted by compartment at 9:37 AM on June 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Castlereagh was hated for his parts in the Peterloo Massacre and the horrific clampdown on civil liberties in Britain following the French and American Revolutions.

I met Murder on the way –
He had a face like Henry K –
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
A pack of pundits followed him.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:38 AM on June 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


As an aside, the dichomotization of foreign policy approaches into realism and idealism is a false dichotomy, distorts the historical record of how international relations first became theorized, and is philosophically contingent, not necessary. There is nothing pure, non-ideational, or objective about any realist belief.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:40 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Realism always struck me as needlessly simplified. Which I suppose works when you see the world as good team vs bad team."

I think you must mean something somewhat different than what you wrote. Realism is not "good team" and "bad team", it's "us" and "them". It sees nations as amoral actors on an international stage where morality has absolutely no meaning, just pure self-interest. Which is pretty much what international relations always was and still mostly is.

Where naive realism fails is when it's still stuck in a pre-globalism view where the projection of power is all that matters ... and not, to put it bluntly, global public relations. We live now in a world where global public relations matters a great deal, and Americans, especially American conservatives, are slow to understand this.

Conservative realist foreign policy that is appropriate to today's world would pursue American self-interest the way that a multi-national corporation does and only use military force as a last resort. Use advertising and public relations and law and networking influence, as well as force (military and economic), to achieve self-interested goals. But conservatives don't really want to do this because they a) don't like the rest of the world and therefore find it demeaning to care what the rest of the world thinks, and b) have long been trained to believe that military might is the first and last answer to every question.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:40 AM on June 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Realism, as it is traditionally understood, is not just about amorality, but also about how international relations is and should not be concerned with ideational or cultural factors.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:43 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


...their ideological camp followers.

A nicely-turned phrase.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:47 AM on June 4, 2013


Nothing that he was involved with compares, for example, to the war crimes of firebombing Dresden and Tokyo and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ivan Fyodorovich

I think the bombing of Cambodia compares quite well to Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in some ways was worse.

According to the Frontline PBS site "the US dropped 540,000 tons of bombs , killing anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 civilians." That was more bombs (TNT firepower including factoring the two atomic bomb explosions) than dropped on Japan by America during all of World War II.

Also this was in a country with which we were not at war. Also, this was a secret campaign with a marginal goal: to save US face when Nixon withdrew the troops after his reelection.

Finally, the bombing of Cambodia empowered the Khmer Rouge, leading to genocide and further destruction of the country. I'm not supporting the bombings of Dresden or any city where you have a lot of civilian casualties, but to say Cambodia was not comparable...
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:49 AM on June 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


According to the Frontline PBS site "the US dropped 540,000 tons of bombs , killing anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 civilians." That was more bombs (TNT firepower including factoring the two atomic bomb explosions) than dropped on Japan by America during all of World War II.

I've always thought that it was to some extent driven by explosive use-by dates.
posted by jaduncan at 9:53 AM on June 4, 2013


- Bangladesh: In 1971, Bangladesh, which was at the time East Pakistan, declared its independence from Pakistan. The Pakistani military responded with a brutal military campaign that included massive killings and the estimated systematic raping of nearly 200,000 Bangladeshi women. When Daka Consul General Archer Blood and other American diplomatic staff began to protest the Pakistani army’s behavior to Washington, Nixon and Kissinger had him dismissed. During the height of the atrocities, Kissinger sent a message to Pakistan General Yahya Khan, congratulating him on his “delicacy and tact” in his military campaigns in Bangladesh.

Statesman indeed....
posted by asra at 9:53 AM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


He ruined the lives of millions of Indochinese innocents and overthrew democratically elected governments, yet he keeps being rewarded and lauded.
But keep on applauding his real politik; all those peasants were going to take the bread out of American mouths or some such.
Henry ''the illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer'' Kissinger.
It would be sooooo good to see him face a tribunal for his crimes. Bastard.
posted by adamvasco at 9:59 AM on June 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Finally, the bombing of Cambodia empowered the Khmer Rouge...


"Despite the North Vietnamese invasion of eastern Cambodia in 1970, the U.S. Congress substantially cut aid between 1971 and 1974 to the Lon Nol regime, which had replaced Prince Sihanouk’s, and also barred the U.S. Air Force from helping Lon Nol fight against the Khmer Rouge. Future historians will consider those actions more instrumental in the 1975 Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia than Nixon’s bombing of sparsely populated regions of Cambodia six years earlier."

And present ones as well.
posted by ocschwar at 10:01 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


the way that a war nerd might evaluate the greatness of Nazi generals, without regard to what they were fighting for?


Kissinger generated policy. It doesn't make a criminal defense lawyer a criminal because he fights for a criminal.
But any argument on the direct disposition of U.S. forces aside, Kissinger (and Nixon) were directly involved in some very illegal activity. Chile for one. Perón for another.
Pakistan/Bangladesh - the state department was screaming "genocide" in '71 and the administration in giving military aid illegally blew off (and knowingly) congress to do it.

But to condemn him outright verges on sanctimony, if not delusion. Kissinger has, in fact, been quite moral—provided, of course, that you accept the Cold War assumptions of the age in which he operated.

He didn't "think big" About all I'll give to him.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:02 AM on June 4, 2013


For a Jew who was in his early teens when his family fled Nazi Germany it was kinda ironic that he supported so many right wing regimes, but the cold war was a funny thing.


That is... a much more offensive statement than you think it is.
posted by You Guys Like 2 Party? at 10:02 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, a short philosophical aside on RealPolitik. The main problem with RealPolitik is that you fool yourself into thinking what you are doing is reality based. It is not. It is alternative future based. The Dominos are going to fall. We need to put the Shah (or Pinochet) in power because these countries can not govern themselves and we must correct their errors because they won't. We need to bomb Hiroshima or lose a million casualties in the invasion of Japan.

Problem is that you never know whether these alternative futures would come true. You do get to see how stupid putting the Shah in power in Iran was over the years.

It is only rarely you have an occasion where the reality you are predicting is inevitable without intervention AND that your intervention will change that.

Truth is that few of America's grand interventions are necessary and most are out and out foolish. There are other ways of achieving goals without the heavy hand of RealPolitik. RealPolitik is just a macho way of pretending like you are a pragmatist.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:06 AM on June 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


Phew... he's still alive and its only a retrospective of his career's highlights and Oscar nominees.

btw, why the defense, now, at this point of time? He retired from public service, no?
posted by infini at 10:07 AM on June 4, 2013


"That is... a much more offensive statement than you think it is."

What is offensive about saying that Kissinger was/is an American Fascist?
posted by vicx at 10:09 AM on June 4, 2013


"I think the bombing of Cambodia compares quite well to Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in some ways was worse."

I didn't intend to minimize the horror of the Cambodia bombings. But I don't think it's accurate to compare an entire multi-year campaign to the individual examples I provided.

The 48-hour incendiary bombing of Tokyo in March of 1945 was designed and intended to create a firestorm, destroying as much of the city as possible, and killed about 100,000 people alone. In two days.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2013


"Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, 'The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.'"

-Henry Kissinger, not a fan of FOIA
posted by mullingitover at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


But at this level, pretty much no one can avoid being evil without resigning. Prior to being elected President, I'd never have thought of Obama as being evil. But being President of the US pretty much requires that one order the killings of innocent people, as well as all sorts of other terrible things. Perhaps that makes this whole ruling structure evil. I'm not going to disagree.

Very nice post, Ivan. I'm reminded of the Orwell quote,

> Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old -- generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how you can improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another. Marx exploded a hundred tons of dynamite beneath the moralist position, and we are still living in the echo of that tremendous crash. But already, somewhere or other, the sappers are at work and fresh dynamite is being tamped in place to blow Marx to the moon. Then Marx, or somebody like him, will come back with yet more dynamite, and so the process continues, to an end we cannot yet foresee. The central problem -- how to prevent power from being abused -- remains unsolved.

Emphasis mine, tragedy everyone's.
posted by officer_fred at 10:14 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Holocaust does not have one meaning or theme, especially to the people who lived through it. Demanding the survivors meet some kind of ideological litmus test otherwise they are 'betraying the memory' of the event or some other such nonsense is BS, and honestly TBM has made some other comments in a similar vein I find... inappropriate.
posted by rosswald at 10:16 AM on June 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ensuring a nation’s survival sometimes leaves tragically little room for private morality. Discovering the inapplicability of Judeo-Christian morality in certain circumstances involving affairs of state can be searing. The rare individuals who have recognized the necessity of violating such morality, acted accordingly, and taken responsibility for their actions are among the most necessary leaders for their countries, even as they have caused great unease among generations of well-meaning intellectuals who, free of the burden of real-world bureaucratic responsibility, make choices in the abstract and treat morality as an inflexible absolute.

From the main link. Interesting that it not only needed to be written as a free standing paragraph, but one that introduces why this person perhaps might be ... "despised in certain quarters"... otoh, taking this in conjunction with the rest of the links, including the rather gushing snippet on Kaplan and his introduction of perceptually fancy history - ooo Palmerston and wow Castlereagh - overlooks just how different the world was back then, in both the 19th and teh 20th centuries and completely ignores the locus of global power having shifted geographically, socially, technologically and empirically since then.

This will be interesting.
posted by infini at 10:22 AM on June 4, 2013


while we're at it, don't forget aiding and abetting the genocide in East Timor not to mention the death squads operating within Indonesia against opponents of the Suharto dictatorship.

Kissinger's real genius was always toadying up to powerful men. The idea that he is some grand statesman, comparable to Bismarck or Talleyrand or whoever is a product of his ferocious egotism. His career is exhibit A in the decline of the 3rd American republic: a born syncophant rises to power perverting american foreign policy to achieve his career goals. Realist? Only when it came to jumping up the ladder...
posted by ennui.bz at 10:27 AM on June 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sadly, there will be some folks who only think of him as the inspiration for Dr. Henry Killinger and his Magic Murder Bag from the Venture Brothers.

At least Dr Killinger could be redeemed slightly, if only for the term "Venchmen." No such redemption for the real good doctor.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:28 AM on June 4, 2013


The Holocaust does not have one meaning or theme, especially to the people who lived through it. Demanding the survivors meet some kind of ideological litmus test otherwise they are 'betraying the memory' of the event or some other such nonsense is BS

I can certainly agree with this, but I would still hope that survivors of such horrors would in turn not support dictatorships, stripping people of civil liberties, displacement of people, torture, and genocide.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:32 AM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think you must mean something somewhat different than what you wrote. Realism is not "good team" and "bad team", it's "us" and "them".

Not really. I don't think Realism in practice meant what its proponents and practitioners said it meant. Even the name they gave to their approach implies a healthy dose of confirmation bias.

It sees nations as amoral actors on an international stage where morality has absolutely no meaning

It sees states as rational actors on an international stage where there is no higher authority and a state of anarchy exists. Morality isn't explicitly a factor, but "amoral" and "morality has absolutely no meaning" may be overstating things somewhat. Although that would depend on your predisposition to see "morality" as something that is or is not compatible with being a rational actor in that context.
posted by Hoopo at 10:34 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


But real history is not the trumpeting of ugly facts untempered by historical and philosophical context—the stuff of much investigative journalism.

No wonder I think so differently than the people who are in charge of dropping thousands of tons of bombs on anywhere they want to...
posted by hellslinger at 10:43 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


We can rightly criticize the amorality of realist foreign policy, but the neoconservatives demonstrated that its opposite can be just as murderous and even more foolish and self-defeating.

Neoconservatism and "realism" are not opposites, just slightly different variants on the same murderous geopolitics. Both are tools used to further the goals of the American elite, deployed when and wherever the context demands its application.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:45 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Kissinger was one of the worst statesmen of the last 100 years. This myth making bullshit frustrates me.
posted by humanfont at 10:46 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Doonesbury is Relevant.

Prior to this storyline1, in which Henry Kissinger is "kidnapped" for an (obviously fictional) episode of This Is Your Life, G.B. Trudeau had mentioned/featured Kissinger many times before2, 3, 4, but to my recollection never seemed to assign him direct responsibility for American atrocities in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Obviously, that changed with the insinuations in that strip and storyline, which would be reprised or expanded in some form in strips published May 4, 1975 and Nov. 7, 1976.

Kissenger left public service with the Gerald Ford administration, and (following a canceled appointment to Columbia University) taught a seminar at Georgetown University. This seminar - or at least Trudeau's rendering of it - became a recurring feature through 1980, and provided many more opportunities to satirize and criticize Kissinger's views and actions in Indochina5, 6.

---
  1. Storyline: This Is Kissinger's Life (self-link)
  2. Strip: Feb. 1, 1974, referring to his premature declaration that "peace [was] at hand."
  3. Strip: Aug. 11, 1974, referring to his use of illegal wiretaps.
  4. Search: All Kissinger-related Strips before March 17, 1975 (self-link)
  5. Strips: Mar. 13, 1977, Apr. 21, 1977, Sep. 22, 1977, Jan. 5, 1979, Feb. 25, 1979, Jul. 22, 1979, Sep. 23, 1979
  6. In addition to Kissinger himself, recurring participants in this seminar included Uncle Duke's sometime aide-de-camp Honey Huan, as well as Barney Perkins and Mr. Weinburger (both self-links), for whom little other context exists. J.J. Caucus briefly attended (Storyline; self-link) as well.

posted by The Confessor at 10:46 AM on June 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Aside from flirtations with liberal moralism under Carter and Clinton, American foreign policy has always been realist until the neocon era. And, even then, the idealism was inconsistent, self-serving, and the actual influence of the neocons was limited and, for the most part, those with various and idiosyncratic interests made the ultimate decisions. Bush II era foreign policy was a mishmash, really.

Actually, this is not true either and makes much too much of what labels the various administrations have hung on their foreign policy. The reality is that US foreign policy has always been about protecting and extending US business interests abroad. No president has clean hands. Carter for example, though his enemies always made him out to be some sort of lily livered Ghandi wannabe, supported the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza to the end and was instrumental in supporting the Afghan mujehadin against the USSR, quite deliberately creating the Soviet Vietnam.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:51 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here is a snip of a Chomsky interview which uses the word genocide.

In your reading of history, why do leaders of states go so terribly wrong as to slaughter anyone who had ever been to school or who wore glasses? Can you imagine the intellectual or emotional basis for how perpetrators of mass killings are able to blithely live with themselves as instruments of mass killing?

It's a good question. We can also ask similar questions about our own society, which we should be able to understand better. Just keep to Cambodia. The intense bombing began under President Nixon's orders, which Kissinger loyally transmitted to the US military with these words: "Massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves." That's the kind of call for genocide that one rarely finds in the archival record of any state. The statement was published in The New York Times, and there was no reaction among its mostly liberal intellectual readers, few of whom even remember it.

posted by bukvich at 10:53 AM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


People forget that it was, in part, an idealistic sense of mission that helped draw us into that conflict—the same well of idealism that helped us fight World War II and that motivated our interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s. Those who fervently supported intervention in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia yet fail to comprehend the similar logic that led us into Vietnam are bereft of historical memory.

I think Kissinger's analysis, his judgement of how it would play out, and what the U.S. would/would not probably do was correct.
But I can't justify an argument inaction on genocide. It might have been practical. But it'd be practical for me to stay home with my family instead of going and fighting for something like that. Nevertheless, I'd have been happy to march in to stop it. I think an expansion of our involvement in Kosovo might have prevented more as well.

Comparisons with Vietnam simply because they were based on idealism doesn't hold. After Dien Bien Phu there was going to be an election in '56. Certainly, collectivization starved masses, but that wasn't the cause.
One can achieve a cessation of genocide. Stopping the spread of an idea, bit different. Whether it's an evil idea or a swell one, different strategies entirely. Saturation bombing, not so much the best solution for either.

Holocaust aside - I don't see how Kissinger could make a stand against the use of force in Kosovo based on sovereignty given his experience.
Granted the U.S. didn't exactly fight WW2 only because of genocide, but it was certainly worth having on the table.
I wonder what that war would look like in retrospect without the holocaust. I doubt there would be the same clarity that we were fighting for the right cause.
And yet, with Rwanda, Kosovo, etc. those were perfectly clear.

Accused war criminal.

Recruiter: Have you ever been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor? That's robbery, rape, car theft, that sort of thing.
John Winger: Convicted? No.
Russell Ziskey: Never convicted.

-----
Nixon: C'mon, it's Cambodia. We zip in, we pick 'em up, we zip right out again. We're not going to Moscow. It's Cambodia. It's like going into Bavaria.
Kissinger: Well I got the shit kicked out of me in Bavaria once. Forget it!
Nixon: Come on! Let's bomb the shit out of them.
Kissinger: No.
Nixon: Yes.
Kissinger: No.
Nixon: Yes.
Kissinger: No.
Nixon: Yes.
Kissinger: No.
Nixon: I'll fly.
Kissinger: Okay.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:01 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, if you can't be serious, you can always mock, especially if you're Eric Idle.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:01 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Spiegel article linked above is fantastic.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:03 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Neoconservatism and 'realism' are not opposites, just slightly different variants on the same murderous geopolitics. Both are tools used to further the goals of the American elite, deployed when and wherever the context demands its application."

I disagree. Pretty much in every respect.

I think there were sincere neocons who a) conceived of and formulated foreign policy in ways distinct from, and in some cases explicitly in opposition to, the conservative foreign policy establishment, which has traditionally self-identified as realist; b) the interests served by neoconservativism, other than the personal ones of prestige and influence, were distinct from those served by realism and largely distinct from those of the elite; which is why, c) the actual foreign policy and prosecution of two wars was, in practice, not in accordance with neoconservativism, but was something else.

That said, I'll agree with you and others that this pretty much describes the actual situation with regard to realism, too, in that it acts as a rationale, a fig-leaf, for pursuing a set of goals that are often idiosyncratic but can be relied upon to primarily be about the various personal and political and financial interests of those with the greatest influence and power and opportunity to profit from it. So the actual policies and practices in all cases don't vary much.

So I agree in some ways and disagree in others. I think the end result is the "same murderous geopolitics", and not just with these two positions within conservatism, but also liberal counterparts. I disagree in that I think the intellectual structure of these two versions of conservative foreign policy are, in fact, truly different and I disagree in that I think there are people who sincerely believe these things. They have varying influence.

There's something about my fellow progressives that causes them to want to equate Kissinger and Wolfowitz, and I think this is odd and deeply mistaken. I think they are both monstrous; but I think they are each monstrous in very different ways. I also think that Wolfowitz was more a useful idiot than he was influential, quite unlike Kissinger in this respect. But that's not really important. I think they conceived of their respective wars in very, very different terms. Though both to horrific effect.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:14 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Spiegel article linked above is fantastic. - honest and straight-forward.
posted by hellslinger at 11:19 AM on June 4, 2013


Hoopo (et al.) -- is there a reason to differentiate between states and nations? Thanks!
posted by samofidelis at 11:20 AM on June 4, 2013


"Actually, this is not true either and makes much too much of what labels the various administrations have hung on their foreign policy. "

You need to read what you quoted again and then read what you wrote. We don't disagree.

That's why I qualified with "flirtations", wrote that the Bush admin wasn't really neocon, and wrote that pretty much US foreign policy has been "realist" and by that I certainly include "protecting and extending US business interests abroad".

I separately wrote that I though Carter was exceptional but not so much that I think that actual policy changed very much. Rather, because he's pretty much the only President who directed the State Department and his cabinet to formulate US foreign policy on the basis of an explicitly idealistic foundation (human rights).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:22 AM on June 4, 2013


Here is a snip of a Chomsky interview which uses the word genocide.

Chomsky, the same guy who pooh poohed the Cambodian Year Zero democide while it was going on. He has good reason to want to change the subject there. History won't be easy on Kissinger, but at least Kissinger wasn't Chomsky.
posted by ocschwar at 11:23 AM on June 4, 2013


Yes, where nations begin and end are contested, not nearly to the extents that states are. States have an ontological status quite different than nations. States can be formed overnight, nations not so much.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:23 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


History won't be easy on Kissinger, but at least Kissinger wasn't Chomsky.

Yeah, one killed thousands upon thousands of people, the other didn't.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:24 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


is there a reason to differentiate between states and nations? Thanks!

Usually a state (or State) is a political division, while a nation can be an ethnic or cultural one. This can be mostly clearly seen in the spate of ethnic nationalism surrounding WWI in Europe.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:28 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


btw, why the defense, now, at this point of time? He retired from public service, no?

Maybe because he doesn't want to be remembered as the point man on watch when the US murdered Pablo Neruda?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:30 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, one killed thousands upon thousands of people, the other didn't.

Chomsky never got the chance to hold the reins. And for that I am thankful.
posted by ocschwar at 11:34 AM on June 4, 2013


Chomsky, the same guy who pooh poohed the Cambodian Year Zero democide while it was going on. He has good reason to want to change the subject there. History won't be easy on Kissinger, but at least Kissinger wasn't Chomsky.

Chomsky's main problem is that he doesn't really care about finesse, and says whatever he wants to say whenever he wants to (eg, pointing out that the West condoned Indonesia's brutal occupation of East Timor while condemning the Cambodian genocide, or saying the there was no difference between the US and terrorists following 9.11).

However, they're just words. Kissinger dropped bombs, and a lot of them.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:39 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


samofidelis, the answers above are quite good IMO and it's one of those little nitpicky thing political science majors like myself never let slide. You can have states that contain a number of nations--Canada being an example, where French Canada as a nation likely won't factor into Realist international relations but the state of Canada would.

It's also important in discussing Realism because (as one of my profs liked to describe it) they look at states interacting in the world like a bunch of billiard balls on a table, each ball representing a state as a fundamental unit in their IR theory. It's a problematic approach because it doesn't give much weight to trans/supra/inter/multi/whathaveyou/ -national groups and institutions as actors in international relations.
posted by Hoopo at 11:42 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Chomsky, the same guy who pooh poohed the Cambodian Year Zero democide while it was going on. He has good reason to want to change the subject there. History won't be easy on Kissinger, but at least Kissinger wasn't Chomsky.

Citation? Primary source please...in context. Wait never mind this has been refuted so many times that it isn't even necessary anymore. Not to mention that it is a derail.

Chomsky never got the chance to hold the reins. And for that I am thankful.

Apparently in your head hypothetical atrocities that some mirror-universe Chomsky commits are more important to discuss in this thread about real actual atrocities....Unfuckingbelievable.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:48 AM on June 4, 2013 [13 favorites]


Yeah, an argument about Chomsky seems to be a derail that invites a lot of trouble into the thread.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:51 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


^ ocschwar; you really are full of it. Are you condoning mass murder? Just to help you, read a bit more. The Hitchens articles are illuminating.
For an unelected official who never rose above Private in the military Kissenger certainly got away with a lot of crimes, and here you are spouting off about someone who only thinks.
posted by adamvasco at 11:58 AM on June 4, 2013


Thanks, gang.
posted by samofidelis at 11:58 AM on June 4, 2013


I wouldn't really trust Hitchens not to have a pile of skulls to his name if he had ever gotten the chance. Iraq mostly doesn't count because his influence was so minor. Mostly.
posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on June 4, 2013


It's really stupid to argue hypotheticals like this. I believe you are wrong about Hitchens, though. I highly doubt he would have a "pile of skulls".
posted by lazaruslong at 12:42 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize. " -- Tom Lehrer
posted by pxe2000 at 2:28 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


When Kissinger goes, it will make the Thatcher Obit thread seem like a Cute-Kitten-and-Otter-SLYT-thread or something.

So while he's still alive to enjoy,
Fuck Kissinger. Seriously.
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:31 PM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


You can also have nations that are contained in a number of States; think of the Mohawk, the Maya, or the Russians.

It must be remembered that Nations, like States, exist mostly in our heads, and that great manipulations are necessary to keep them standing there. Population exchanges, wars and genocides, but also education and cultural subsidies. I mean, look at the English: they think Wilhelm von Battenberg-Saxe-Coburg-und-Gotha is a fitting heir to their kingdom!
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:54 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


He is an evil, evil man hiding behind a quick wit and a facile memory. If the deaths he created were paper cuts he would have been dead before the war was done. He is a shame upon all of mankind.
posted by elmaddog at 3:01 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ivan F wrote.
Nothing that he was involved with compares, for example, to the war crimes of firebombing Dresden and Tokyo and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Unlike virtually all of the mega-death-decisions kissinger (and his ilk) had their hand in, I would posit that the wars that these crimes were perpetrated in were justifiable, even if the crimes themselves were not.
posted by lalochezia at 3:19 PM on June 4, 2013


Kissinger's real sin was that his grand strategies were bullshit. If we accepts that the end justifies the means, consider the ends of Kissenger's strategies. Kissenger talks a good game on realism, but his policy choices while in power were terrible. America left Vietnam humiliated and with our major allies wondering if we had the ability to live up to our security commitments. Chilie and Argentina were horrible clusterfuck a that did very little to protect our economic and security interests from corrupt despots. We saw the first oil crisis because of his inability to deal with OPEC and the Arab oil embargo. His only major foreign policy success was the opening with China. However his ability to use that to secure a better deal in Vietnam or address the other issues in South East Asia is debatable. The massive trade deficits we run with China are contrary to his expectations that opening China would lead to huge new markets for American products. We seem to have given China a lot and gotten very little.

Kissenger wasn't a realist in my opinion as much as he was driven by expediency. His choices reflect quick and dirty over sound and long term thinking.
posted by humanfont at 5:35 PM on June 4, 2013 [8 favorites]


"The massive trade deficits we run with China are contrary to his expectations that opening China would lead to huge new markets for American products. We seem to have given China a lot and gotten very little. "

China is now our third-largest export market, after Canada and Mexico.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:57 PM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The fact that Kissinger is still alive is one of the reasons why I don't believe in a god. The man is despicable and should have been swinging from the gallows long ago.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:40 PM on June 4, 2013


“Yale is honored,” President Levin said, “to be chosen as the home for the papers of Dr. Kissinger, who has been among the major figures of the past century in shaping U.S. foreign policy. The papers will provide an extraordinary resource for future scholarship..."
Get on the job, scholars!
posted by homerica at 7:05 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


For January-April of this year US exports to China totaled 37 billion dollars, however imports were 130 billion dollars, leaving us 97 billion dollars in the hole. The strategy of opening China was supposed to help drive political reform, split them from the Soviets, and create a new market for american products, supporting our manufacturing jobs. The political reform is uncertain. China was never really in the soviet orbit, and has long had a tense relationship; it seems doubtful we really influenced that in opening to them. Instead of supporting American manufacturing, we've broken up our unions, obliterated the middle class and moved those jobs to China.
posted by humanfont at 8:42 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The day Henry Kissinger cried

When Chomsky wept
posted by homunculus at 9:32 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


What I think the appearance of these stories at this moment in history means is that Pablo Neruda was in fact poisoned by the Pinochet government with active complicity by the US including at least specific approval from Kissinger (as indeed the assassination of General René Schneider, then head of Chilean armed forces was before the Pinochet coup); and that Kissinger believes his role in those crimes will out and he could be arrested if he ever leaves this country for most anywhere; and that he and his friends think there is a need to get his name in front of the public in a positive light as a sort of preemptive strike.

I hope and pray his worst fears are realized, and it pleases me no end that he's evidently lived for so many years in such a state of dread of retribution for his abominable crimes.
posted by jamjam at 3:31 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Trying to remake, like McNamara. Only at least McNamara appeared contrite and realized the errors he made.

Interesting piece on McNamara: The Dictatorship of Data. Robert McNamara epitomizes the hyper-rational executive led astray by numbers.
posted by homunculus at 12:38 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


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