Thursday, March 10, 2016

Does America Need a Foreign Policy? by Henry Kissinger

Hardcover, 320 pages Published June 14th 2001 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2001)

Kissinger wrote this book in the spring of 2001, and in a very short period of time it was completely out of touch. Kissinger berates the American public in Chapter One for being unable to find other countries on a map, and for being so consumed with ourselves. Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski did the same, in 2008 in America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy. They are probably right. The map looks differently in two dimensions, and certainly we can be self-obsessed. One wonders if they would be pleased if we formed opinions on their conduct of foreign policy on our behalf.

Kissinger nowhere mentions the challenges that faced us later in 2001, an indication of how closely he was paying attention to world events. In a way, this book is a dry run for his later, shorter, more historically distant, and better received World Order (2014). While in that later book Kissinger talks about the long history of foreign relations, in this 2001 book he talks about the continuity of U.S. foreign policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At one point he suggests that Germany might align its interests with Russia, often historically powerful allies, showing how hard it must be for an old cold warrior to lose his traditional enemy and to admit that thinking of the world in large strategic chess pieces may cause us to overlook important details.

Kissinger does a better job of looking at Latin America and Africa than these types of books usually manage, though the only thing he praises about the “maladroit” handling of foreign affairs by President Clinton is NAFTA, the “fair trade” deal which we are reconsidering now. (Conversely, he praises the “wisdom” of President George W. Bush.)
“…it would be an irony if the new millennium’s most distinctive achievement were to turn into a vulnerability…the very process that has produced greater wealth in more parts of the world than ever before may also provide the mechanism for spreading an economic and social crisis around the world. Just as the American economy has been the world’s engine of growth, a major setback for the American economy would have grave consequences transcending the economic realm. Depending on its magnitude, it could threaten political stability in many countries and undermine Americans international standing.”
He got that right.

Regarding China, he makes the observation that Deng Xiao Ping “had been perhaps too daring in his economic reforms and surely too cautious in the political reforms his policies made inevitable—ironically, the opposite mistake of his contemporary, Mikhail Gorbachev.” Later he says
“American foreign policy became increasingly driven by domestic politics…[like when] early in his administration [President Clinton] made the granting of Most Favored Nation status to China dependent on Chinese demonstrations of progress on human rights within a year…Nothing illustrates better the collapse of the Westphalian notion of noninterference than the proposition that freedom of speech and the press, which has never existed in the five millennia of Chinese history, could be brought about through legislation by the American Congress…”
I guess that’s a “no” on tying cooperation to human rights.

One of Kissinger’s last arguments, disagreement with the “Responsibility to Protect” U.N. mandate adopted in 2009, was one which shows how far out of step with the world he was becoming.
”The United States has come a long way since John Quincy Adams warned against going abroad in search of monsters to destroy…On one level the growing concern with human rights is one of the achievements of our age and it is certainly a testament to progress toward a more humane international order…There is irony in all this when one recalls that, during the Cold War, the Wilsonians [the ideological Left] had argued that excessive concern with security was leading to strategic overextension and an illusion of American omnipotence. Yet now, in the post-Cold War era, they are urging a global mission for the United States and on behalf of humanitarian and moral values, which risks an even more sweeping overextension.”
I grudgingly concede he is right about that, which has led me to an in-depth study of foreign policy at this time. If we must lead by reason of our role as the world’s sole superpower, how can we best to do that? Even as I write this, I wonder if there might be some unexpected and enlightened leadership from an unlikely source, not a superpower, considering our domestic disarray and our navel-gazing populace. Whatever we decide will have to include some accommodation with the massive changes that will come when water rises around the globe and the dislocations resulting from that and changing weather patterns. How can we best face those pressures with dignity, grace, and that insistence on human rights?

At the end of this book is a remarkable polemic on universal jurisdiction, or the concept of submitting international politics to judicial procedures.
“The doctrine of universal jurisdiction asserts that there are crimes so heinous that their perpetrators should not be able to escape justice by invoking doctrines of sovereignty or the sacrosanct nature of national frontiers. …But any universal system should contain procedures not only to punish the wicked but to constrain the righteous. It must not allow legal principles to be used as weapons to settle political scores…”
Kissinger sounds horrified that Americans, in particular Americans in leadership, could be judged by such international standards of justice, when they were only pursuing a foreign policy that was for their exclusive benefit. Kissinger tries to explain his role in the CIA overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile and the installation of the notorious Pinochet regime. In any case, he should have known better. When the International Criminal Court later wanted to convict some of the leaders in the former Yugoslavia for “crimes against humanity,” an American judge put in place significant roadblocks which had the effect of raising the burden of proof involved in convicting political leaders. Thus Americans were not indicted for a range of activities that came awfully close to such definitions.

As usual, what Kissinger says is more reasonable and palatable than what he does.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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