March 23, 1999
MARGARET WARNER: After a 17-year break, Henry Kissinger has just published the third volume of his memoirs of his years as secretary of state and national security adviser in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He's the only person to have held both jobs simultaneously. His latest book, "Years of Renewal," focuses mainly on the Ford years from 1974 through early 1977.
Welcome, Dr. Kissinger.
HENRY KISSINGER: A pleasure to be here.
MARGARET WARNER: We're here to talk about your book, but first I want to ask you a little bit about Kosovo. Do you support the military action that the president seems on the verge of taking now in Kosovo?
|Crisis in Kosovo.|
HENRY KISSINGER: I am extraordinarily uneasy, and I have supported every military action that the president has undertaken. And it's very hard for me to express reservations. I do not understand what our strategic objective is. I do not understand how it's going to be brought to a conclusion. And I have read what one can get of the agreement, in the name of which are bombing and which we're trying to force Milosevic to accept, and I think that is a prescription for permanent confrontation with both parties, and, therefore, I'm extremely uneasy. If genocide is committed, I can understand that we insist that we cannot tolerate such an offense to our values -- but even then, very uneasy about what the president said today that this is similar to our domestic anti-hate legislation. And there are a lot of atrocities committed in the world, and we should oppose them, but not necessarily with American military forces.
MARGARET WARNER: Now he - as you heard I'm sure today - answers the national interest argument by saying we have a national interest in an undivided and free and democratic Europe and that we can't let the Balkans be the sort of cauldron that it is. How do you respond to that?
HENRY KISSINGER: Well, is he prepared, or should we be prepared as a nation to create a series of protectorates in the Balkans held down by American and even NATO military forces, which is the road on which we are now engaged? We are already in Bosnia with no way of getting out. We will be in Kosovo, in an infinitely more complicated situation in which there are no dividing lines, and in which, I repeat, the agreement that is being proposed and which provides for the disarmament of the Albanians and which leaves some Serbian police forces and which talks about autonomy when the Albanians want independence. This leaves so many land mines around that we are in the midst of a permanent turmoil.
MARGARET WARNER: So in other words, you think the agreement, itself, even could just generate more of the kind of instability -- it's designed --
HENRY KISSINGER: I do not think that it's the kind of agreement that American military forces should police.
MARGARET WARNER: As you noted, the president made a lot of the killings going on and stopping these atrocities that are going on.
HENRY KISSINGER: I have great sympathy for that and I can in individual cases support the use of American military force to stop it, but not as a general principle of American foreign policy. We are not doing it in Africa. We have not done it in many other places. We are not doing it in Kashmir. We are not doing it in all kinds of conflicts.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let's connect it to a theme in your book.
HENRY KISSINGER: And I'm not saying we should, incidentally.
MARGARET WARNER: There's a constant theme in your book about sort of American - you call it "Wilsonian idealism" or the sort of moral or missionary zeal that you think is over -- I'll let you describe it. You think this is a symptom of that, or --
HENRY KISSINGER: Let me make it -- yes, it is a symptom of this. But let me make it essentially here -- America is a country of ideals. It was formed by people who turned their back on the oppression in their countries. And I myself came here as a refugee, but the United States has to also know the limit of its capacities, and it cannot be the world's policeman. There are many things we can do; we can do many humanitarian things, many economic things. But our military actions should be confined to those in which we can explain to the American mothers who will be - who lose sons -- why it was undertaken and with arguments that look as good at the end of the crisis as at the beginning, a principle we did not follow in Vietnam.
MARGARET WARNER: But, as you know, there are many historians and some critics of you that say part of what makes America great is its idealism; that we aren't like the - the thinking goes -- the cynical Europeans.
HENRY KISSINGER: I affirm American idealism; I agree with it; but I believe that if American idealism goes beyond our capacities, we then turn on ourselves and tear ourselves to pieces, as we did during the Vietnam period. And that mustn't happen again.
MARGARET WARNER: Let's go back to that period and the sort of drama of the moment when you got word that President Nixon was going to resign. Now you and President Nixon had had a series of incredible accomplishments in foreign policy. How did you feel contemplating the fact that your new boss, the new president, was going to be Gerald Ford, who had no experience in foreign policy?
HENRY KISSINGER: Well, of course, it was building up for a long time, and for the last two weeks anyway before Nixon's resignation, one saw it coming, if not at that particular moment. Well, luckily, I had met Gerald Ford previously and I liked him as a person. And I had no idea how he would be as a president. And it was extraordinarily difficult to visualize how the transition would take place, how foreign governments would react, would somebody try to take it -- or even how do we continue the ongoing negotiations, so those were all questions on my mind and questions I couldn't raise until the transition had taken place.
MARGARET WARNER: You wrote a very interesting thing after your conversation with him. You said, it was the first time that since you'd come to the White House that you said, "I left the presidential presence without afterthoughts, confident that there was no more to the conversation than what I had heard." Explain that.
|Nixon and Ford.|
HENRY KISSINGER: Richard Nixon was an outstanding president, especially in the field of foreign policy. He made good decisions, he showed great courage, and he was a great patriot, but on the human level, on the personal level he had many complicated aspects, one of which was that he could not bear rejection, including disagreements, face-to-face disagreements, and in order to protect himself against it he was playing endless games. So you never knew whether what you heard was actually the real import of his remarks. A journalist once said to me, "We all know you're the director of this play," and I said to the journalist, "I'm either the director of this play, or I'm an actor in some other play whose plot they haven't told me yet."
MARGARET WARNER: But with Ford it was very different. What he said --
HENRY KISSINGER: Ford was a Midwestern - a middle-sized city American from Grand Rapids. What you saw was what you got. You didn't have to worry; he played no games. He made no maneuvers. Nobody could back bite you. He would not back bite. And so a great calm settled over the government.
MARGARET WARNER: Did this difference in personality and in style make a substantive difference in the way he, or you and he handled foreign policy?
HENRY KISSINGER: Well, actually, Nixon was primarily interested in the grand strategy. Nixon didn't want to be bothered with details, and he really didn't concern himself with the details of negotiations until they were nearly completed. Ford sort of accepted the strategy as it was, but he paid a lot of attention to how it was executed. So I met with Ford every day that we were both in the same city for about an hour reviewing what was actually going on, so you could argue that he was a more "hands on" man than Richard Nixon was. On the other hand, Nixon was more of a philosopher, statesman.
MARGARET WARNER: You write, though, that he had a difficult time, you both did, because the legacy of Vietnam and Watergate had really polarized even worse than perhaps during the Vietnam War, the American foreign policy debate and that both extremes were sort of attacking you - extremes as you saw it.
HENRY KISSINGER: First of all, in a sense, I mean, from an historic
point of view, Watergate was a
MARGARET WARNER: McGovernite, really.
HENRY KISSINGER: A McGovernite Congress. So we were caught between the McGovernite Congress and the emerging right wing of the Republican Party, which wanted a much more assertive policy, while the left wing of the Congress wanted a less forward policy. And in those days, the Congress was heavily liberal and the Foreign Relations Committee had a number of presidential candidates on it, all of whom were liberal. So it was a very difficult situation to manage.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see that polarization still in our current debates, whether it's Kosovo or China?
HENRY KISSINGER: It's -- we lack a clear concept of foreign policy. And we are polarized on China. We are not yet polarized on Kosovo, but if it goes on for any length of time, it will lead to a very difficult situation. And I want to make clear that even though I'm uneasy about what the president is doing, I will not make his life difficult once the military action is underway.
MARGARET WARNER: Final question I want to ask you about, I'm sure you've seen this in reviews, some critics say, "Well, you know, Henry Kissinger based this book a lot on records that he's -- his personal papers he's put in the Library of Congress and said can't be opened until after he dies."
HENRY KISSINGER: I'm so glad -- I'm really glad you asked that question. This is one of the worst canards that is around. When I left government, like eight other Secretaries of State in this century, I took copies of those documents in which I was involved and put them in the Library of Congress under procedures that had long been established. There are originals of every document in the Library of Congress. There are originals in the Department. Any historian can go to the Department and ask for copies of those -- or for the originals of these documents. So nobody is being kept from doing historical research because I have copies. I had -- the courts held that telephone conversations were not official records, but I've turned -- I've opened those also to historians of the State Department.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you confident -- my real question is, are you confident that when historians ultimately read all of these materials and everything's declassified that they'll come to the same assessment you have of this time that you're writing about?
HENRY KISSINGER: Well, the first thing that I hope as a historian is -- first of all, no other secretary of state has kept such detailed records. No other secretary of state has kept verbatim records of the conversations, either before or after, and nobody will again, because they have seen how they're now being played with. But -- I think my judgment will be sustained, but at least I hope that my seriousness in trying to present a true picture will be sustained.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you very much, Dr. Kissinger.