Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Kissinger on Kissinger

A review copy of Kissinger on Kissinger: Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership by Winston Lord was sent to me. Winston Lord is credited as the author but the book is really a compilation of some discourses between Kissinger and Lord who was Kissinger's right hand man for many of the events talked about in the book.

It was a short book, just 140 pages, but well worth the time as it gave tremendous insight into the period of time where Henry Kissinger was on center stage in world events.

One of the core tenets underlying much of the events and strategies laid out by Kissinger during the Nixon years was the Nixon belief that "since you pay the same price for half-measures, you should adopt bold moves." And that when it came to leadership that the qualities most needed are character and courage." And with the hindsight of history you can appreciate how bold some of these moves by Nixon and Kissinger really were.

The partnership between Nixon and Kissinger was partly remarkable when you consider that the two had never met prior to Nixon appointing Kissinger to the NSA in 1968.

One thing that is forgotten by history is the fact that in 1969 Russia and China were very close to an all-out war. It was this fact that spurred much of the US's policy towards both counties with Nixon supporting China because he "decided that it was against American national interest to have China defeated." The side benefit was that "the opening to China facilitated the opening to Moscow and vice versa."

The first few years after the opening to China the biggest fear on the part of the Chinese was still an attack from Russia which made the nascent relationship all the more important as a counterbalance against Soviet aggression. It is mind-blowing to wonder what would have been the course of history if Nixon did not open China to the West (a path made possible by the groundwork of Kissinger). Today we worry about China as an economic rival but if that Nixon trip never happened we could easily today be worrying about the possible military aggression from a nation of 1.4 billion starving people.

The summit between Nixon and Brezhnev in 1972 was a direct result of Nixon opening China to the US. The book also goes into some detail about the Paris Accords and Vietnam as well as Kissinger's Shuttle Diplomacy in the Middle East. Well worth the read.

Kissinger also makes an interesting observation about the incivility that has invaded politics. "When I was a graduate student in the fifties, Harvard was 90 percent Democratic, as it has remained and maybe increased, but when Republican Cabinet members showed up at Harvard, they were treated with respect. The political debate in America in the fifties and early sixties was about the adequacy of policies. Sometime in the sixties, the political debate turned into a debate about the motivation of leaders and their inherent moral adequacy."

We have gotten away from discussing policies and solutions to our current issues. That has to change and in a strange twist President Trump may be making that possible. He takes so many hits on the personal level but shrugs them off. His supporters point to his policies and accomplishments and the debate sooner or later has to turn to address those because discussion about Trump's many personal failings are falling on deaf ears. The majority have tuned those out "scandals" out.

No comments:

Post a Comment