Just What Does Kissinger Think

of the Neocons?

by Simon Jones

Dissident Voice

May 24, 2003


Henry Kissinger is identified with foreign policy terms as “realpolitik,” “balance of power,” and “shuttle diplomacy.” As a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, he fit the bill perfectly - the quintessential outsider, the brilliant academic, the secular Jew, with no Zionist ax to grind. Very much a self-made man, he served in the US army in occupied Germany and earned his PhD in history from Harvard, where he initiated an International Seminar which gave him a platform to meet budding political figures from around the world, which proved to be a goldmine for his future career as statesman. (As a revealing footnote, he acted as an unofficial informer to the FBI for these seminars.)


His career is contradictory, with his views ranging from advocating limited nuclear war when massive first strike was the rage in the early 50s, to a condemnation of limited nuclear war when such peaceniks as Paul Nitze and Edward Teller looked a tad bit too deranged for comfort, from active engagement with the Soviets via detente, to covert subversion of such policies, including the infamous 'madman' strategy for negotiations during the Vietnam disengagement.


The most prominent legacy is perhaps his enduring belief in negotiations, mediation, striving for stability in international relations, maintenance of the status quo. He believed in traditional 19th century diplomacy, in the role of great statesmen in shaping policies to protect the balance of power of nation states without resort to outright war. One of his favorite quotes was Goethe: "If I had to choose between justice and disorder, and injustice and order, I would always choose the latter."


All this is of course anathema to neocons, steeped in moral crusades, and eager to destabilize unfriendly regimes, hoping to replace them with friendly, 'democratic' (i.e., 'our bastard') ones.


At the same time, K was an obsessive anti-communist, and viewed all international politics through a Cold War prism, despite knowing deep down (at least in his last days in power) that this was wrong. For instance, in a speech in Missouri in 1975: "We must outgrow the notion that every setback is a Soviet gain or every problem is cause by Soviet action." Sadly, his brilliance as negotiator in the end was hoisted on his own petard of anti-communism. An almost Shakespearean figure, a mix of Falstaff and Lear.


Because he saw ALL events as proxies for the Cold War, his grand policy ended up justifying to him what can only be called crimes against humanity (bombing of North Vietnam, Cambodia, overthrowing the Socialist government in Chile, the betrayal of East Timor, a myriad of covert and not so covert operations in dozens of other countries - the list seems tragically endless).


Here the neocons take a leaf from Kissinger's book, as they are equally obsessed, perhaps for different reasons with America's 'enemies.' The most prominent neocon, with claims to inadvertently founding the movement, is Ronald Reagan, a classic (at least off-screen) of neoconography. Originally a New Deal Democrat, he drifted with the growing anti-Red tide in the 30-40s to position himself well inside the Cold War Republican camp, readily denouncing his progressive actor friends as their careers were destroyed for their belief in social justice and world peace. His political career thrived and finally brought him the supreme political prize (such a shame he wasn't given an Oscar instead). Kissinger despised him as stupid and shallow.


The next generation neocons were also originally liberal Democrats, or even socialists and Marxists, often Trotskyites. They drifted to the right in the 1960s and 1970s as the Democratic Party moved to the anti-war McGovernite left (Charlton Heston's 'Democrats for Nixon', later Dixiecrats – the  crossovers are many as the difference between the parties fades). And concern for Israel loomed large in their change. As political scientist, Benjamin Ginsberg puts it: '


“One major factor that drew them inexorably to the right was their attachment to Israel and their growing frustration during the 1960s with a Democratic party that was becoming increasingly opposed to American military preparedness and increasingly enamored of Third World causes (e.g., Palestinian rights). In the Reaganite right's hard-line anti-communism, commitment to American military strength, and willingness to intervene politically and militarily in the affairs of other nations to promote democratic values (and American interests), neocons found a political movement that would guarantee Israel's security.” [1]


Though Reagan was no fan of Kissinger either, his fanatical anti-communist gang made creative use of the fruits of Kissinger's detente efforts which they had so vociferously maligned as they clawed their way to power – the crowning item being the Helsinki accords, with their human rights 'basket'. Combined with now President Reagan's massive new arms race and Gorbachev's ill-defined perestroika, this precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union, much to Kissinger's surprise. The first great neocon 'con' was thus the 'winning' of the Cold War, the triumph of 'freedom,' 'democracy', etc, over tyranny, dictatorship, etc. And, Irony of ironies, they have their hated Nixon and Kissinger with their realpolitik and detente (among other causes of course) to thank.


Interestingly, the triumph was delayed until Bush senior came to power. Bush is at best a reluctant neocon, himself steeped in Kissingerian balance of power diplomacy from his days as Ambassador to China under Nixon and his term as CIA head. As for the next neocon prize, a Middle East dominated by a Greater Israel, not only did the Bush senior administration dash neocon hopes by leaving Saddam in place, but its proposed 'New World Order,' as implemented by Secretary of State James Baker, conflicted with neocon/Israeli goals, being oriented toward placating the Arab coalition that supported the war.


It did have a polite footnote about curbing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as a condition to receive $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees, but the hue and cry soon made a mockery of this pitiful concession to the Arabs, and soon hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union were pouring in, instant Israeli citizens taking the place of the Palestinians who had lived there for millennia. Although Bush caved in to American pro-Zionist pressure just prior to the November 1992 election, his resistance disaffected many neocons, causing some such as William Safire to back Slick Willie in the election of 1992 (a long road for a Nixon speech writer). Clinton, it turns out, did not disappoint his new friend (at least in neocon terms), maintaining a vicious, relentless bombing of Iraq, in hopes of toppling Hussein 'naturally', and bringing the so-called Oslo accords (which gutted an already rump Palestine) within a hair's breath of fruition with his slick charm. Furthermore, he set the stage for the new generation of (old) neocons, with the Gore/ Lieberman ticket 'fighting' the Bush/ Cheney one. Tweedle-dum vs Tweedle-dee.


So let's not dump on Kissinger for this particular Armageddon scenario. He has much to answer for on Judgment Day, but he will find a different niche, perhaps a tad higher, than the neocons in Dante's Inferno. Besides, unlike the neocons, he has a scintillating wit, which Dante rated highly. When asked days before he was to resign in Dec.1976 "What do you consider to be your greatest success and your greatest failure?" K: "I don't quite understand your second point."


Joking aside, what can we point to in Kissinger's illustrious and long career as non-neocon (or rather good realist neocon) as his shining moment?


I would point to two rather nonevents: first, the short period following the collapse of South Vietnam and Congress's reassertion of some control over foreign 'adventures', which forced (allowed?) Ford to strike out in a different direction in Africa. After Kissinger's unquestionably dazzling career as shuttle diplomat, his most positive, creative foreign policy move was in fact something terribly modest. By Congress cutting 'aid' to FNLA and UNITA in Angola, and Ford instructing Kissinger to attempt to mediate transition to majority rule in Zimbabwe, Kissinger unwittingly was the midwife of a rare instance of US foreign policy actually based on the much-vaunted, observed-in-the-breech US ideals.


Even there, Kissinger feared the Soviets would 'exploit the racial tension', but his hands were tied. He was still stuck in the zero-sum mindset and couldn't abide supporting a policy of social justice alongside the Soviets – it stuck in his craw, but Ford managed to shove it down anyway and let him take the credit (most important). He mustered his genius as tactician, and suppressed momentarily his wild fantasies as strategist. And like a good donkey, blinkers in place, he was gently whipped a short way along the road to peace. Bravo, Balaam's Ass! Black Africa was as surprised as anyone, and began to look more to Washington than to the Soviets for support against apartheid.


Secondly, despite an ego worthy of Zeus, K rather surprisingly turned down a last, glittering cameo on the world scene: namely, the chance to preside over America's most outrageous and mysterious tragedy – 9/11 itself. It was a bold gamble on Bushie's part: compromise his most bitter foreign affairs antagonist to cover his own ass. K politely declined, demurring that he didn't want to expose his albeit very secret list of clients. But maybe, just maybe he knows so much of the dirt behind it all, and maybe, just maybe he loathes these neocons with their toxic, revolutionary brew, far more nefarious than anything he, the mighty K, could ever have dreamt up, and wants no part of their explosive, stinking mess. I'd like to think so.


K wrote that the real task of statesmen is to forestall revolutions. "The true conservative is not at home in social struggle. He will attempt to avoid unbridgeable schism, because he knows that a stable social structure thrives not on triumphs but on reconciliations." Not for THIS White House. Maybe, just maybe, there is no possible reconciliation, as the K sees it...


I bet K is shaking his head sadly in his dottering old age. 'Oy-vey, no one likes me. Washington, London, even Brussels wants to lock me up. I spend my whole life trying to make people happy, and look at the thanks I get!"


Simon Jones is a Canadian freelance journalist living in Uzbekistan. He writes for Peace Magazine (Toronto) and has published pieces in Counterpunch and YellowTimes.org. He can be contacted at sj958@yahoo.com




[1] Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 231



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