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.”The National Interest: The Morality Of Kissinger's Realism
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.
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.Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal: The Kissinger Question Does America need a foreign policy? Obama thinks not
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.
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