The German weekly Der Spiegel ran an interesting interview with Henry Kissinger about the Treaty of Versailles and Barack Obama’s foreign policy. There are those who simply condemn Kissinger as a war criminal and choose to ignore his opinions – but by most accounts, his tenure as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under Presidents Nixon and Ford were a virtuouso performance as he exercised American power at a time when many saw it being diminished. I do not seek to defend Kissinger’s green-lighting of the Chilean coup or his sabatoging of the Paris peace talks with Vietnam to ensure Richard Nixon’s election in 1968. This last act was certainly treason – and his role in Chile led to the reign of the convicted war criminal, Augosto Pinochet and the removal of the elected leader of that country.
But existing alongside these amoral acts – and underlying these acts – are an understanding of power – as it is, rather than as it should be. Kissinger saw – with Nixon – that by persuading China to seperate itself from the Soviet Union’s world order, he would strengthen America’s hand significantly – and help end the stalemate that the Cold War had become. With Richard Nixon succumbing to alcoholism late in his term, it was Kissinger who single-handedly ran America’s foreign policy – managing crises and coups d’etat throughout the world.
Unsurprisingly to some (Stephen Walt had already described Obama’s foreign policy as “Kissingerian“), Kissinger seemed to have a more substantial understanding of Obama’s foreign policy approach:
Obama is like a chess player who is playing simultaneous chess and has opened his game with an unusual opening. Now he’s got to play his hand as he plays his various counterparts. We haven’t gotten beyond the opening game move yet. I have no quarrel with the opening move.
Kissinger offers a revealing criticism of Wilson’s Fourteen Points and America’s role in the Treaty of Versailles – which also rather neatly contradicts the Bush doctrine:
The American view was that peace is the normal condition among states. To ensure lasting peace, an international system must be organized on the basis of domestic institutions everywhere, which reflect the will of the people, and that will of the people is considered always to be against war. Unfortunately, there is no historic evidence that this is true.
And of course Kissinger also came out with this quotable line:
I believe more suffering has been caused by prophets than by statesmen.
[Image by DarthDowney licensed under Creative Commons.]