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Henry Kissinger at Large, Part Two

TTBW 1205 PBS Feed 2/5/2004
'Henry Kissinger, At Large, Part 2'

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At Pfizer weíre spending nearly five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

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Ben WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. Think Tank is joined today by one of the towering figures of twentieth century American foreign policy, Dr. Henry Kissinger. He has served as secretary of state under presidents Nixon and Ford, as well as national security advisor during some of the most tumultuous years of the Cold War. Throughout the past three decades he has played an important role as an adviser to successive U.S. presidential administrations, currently serving on the Defense Policy Board. His thoughts on Americaís role in the world, though often controversial, are never ignored if not always heeded. He is the author of many books, including most recently Does America Need a Foreign Policy? And Crisis: Anatomy of Two Major Foreign Policy Crises. The topic before the House: Henry Kissinger, At Large, Part 2. This week on Think Tank.

Ben Wattenberg: Henry Kissinger, welcome to Think Tank. Let me go back to something if I might, because I have it here in my notes. We were talking about Europe. What do you think of this new wave of anti-Semitism? Is it real? Is it a press story? Is it uh...

Henry KISSINGER: No...

Ben WATTENBERG: Do you pick it up in your travels? What do you...?

KISSINGER: Well, it has a number of components. Thereís a new generation. For them the Holocaust is not anything of their experience. Secondly, the media in most countries are more or less dominated by the traditional left, and the traditional left has sort of slid Israel into the position they had Vietnam in. And thirdly in many of these countries there are significant Islamic minorities who create temptations for politicians. And the current problems in the Israeli/Palestinian relations are then put through all these filters. You rarely read in Europe that Israel is after all the country about whose extermination the dispute is. Israel isnít saying that the Arabs should disappear. The Israelis are sometimes, often, clumsy and not necessarily long-range statesmen. But this fundamental fact, that you have one side that wants to do away with the other, is not sufficiently recognized in Europe and there is undoubtedly now a worrisome anti-Semitic trend.

Ben WATTENBERG: What do you think is going to happen in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute? Is there real hope involved? Or are we kidding ourselves?

Henry KISSINGER: Well so much of our debate is on the issue that some day - some magic day - an agreement will be signed and peace will be declared and then everybody will go home and history is done. But in the Middle East things never end completely, and so I donít think you can work for a magic moment where you can say now there are no tensions.
I think that itís possible to make an interim agreement, of fairly long duration, that creates a Palestinian state with provisional borders and begins a process of coexistence so that the absolutely final settlement could be approached later. But nobody agrees with this. So the dominant view is that we ought to go for all the marbles at once. And I think we will always find that there is some thing that one side or the other cannot give up, and at the last moment it always deadlocks.

Ben WATTENBERG: You wrote in August of 2002, it is not true that the road to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem; much more likely the road to Jerusalem will lead through Baghdad. What does that mean?

Henry KISSINGER: First of all, what we had to do in Iraq was essentially independent of the Israeli/Palestinian issue. What we had to do in Iraq had to do with the international stability and the necessity of demonstrating in the region that to challenge the West, or at any rate the United States, had consequences that could not be controlled by the perpetrators. So, I also believed, and I think this will turn out to be correct, and has already partly turned out to be correct, that a demonstration of American determination in Iraq would change the perception of some Arab or Islamic countries and that change in perception in turn will influence other Islamic countries. Weíve already seen a different tone out of Libya, Syria and more or less out of Iran to some extent. So, in that sense, I believe the terrorist elements in the Palestinian Authority can be isolated. And even though I donít say victory in Iraq automatically brings peace in Israel and Palestine, I think it contributes to a better atmosphere.

Ben WATTENBERG: The argument was made - Iíd be curious to know your view - that this - I mean a Jewish conspiracy of neoconservatives to go into Iraq in order to help Israel. Is that um...

Henry KISSINGER: I have disagreed, as youíve already pointed out, with some of the neoconservatives because many of them were around Senator Jackson.

Ben WATTENBERG: Like me. [laughing]

Henry KISSINGER: Like you. But it is not a Jewish conspiracy. Of course, many of them are pro-Israel, but that does not mean they would advocate an American war with a third country.

Ben WATTENBERG: Let me go back to something else. Letís talk about some domestic situations, which I think relate to foreign policy. You taught at Harvard for many years and I know you still have close ties with many people in the academy. The argument, of course, is made that in the humanities departments of American college faculties they are far left, or fairly far left, and that theyíre really teaching that America is the bad guy of history. You buy that?

Henry KISSINGER: You know, maybe not in the precise detail, but in the sense that at least in the schools that I know there is a very strong influence from the generation that grew up in the Vietnam period and that had the basic view that America was the problem, America was the international troublemaker. I talked the other day to the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School in Princeton, and she said it was an interesting phenomenon at Princeton that the students were nearly a hundred percent in favor of the policy in Iraq; the faculty was nearly a hundred percent opposed to it.

Ben WATTENBERG: Yes, we have polling data on that showing that the students are more moderate than they were in the flaming í60s and that the faculty is more liberal. I mean, itís not just anecdotes.

Henry KISSINGER: Well thatís understandable because many of the faculty were graduate students...


Henry KISSINGER: ... in the Vietnam period, and some of them were graduate students in order to get deferments, so their views are very heavily colored by that experience.

Ben WATTENBERG: I remember, I guess during the í70s-itís interesting, I mean, it spread across the board--Commentary Magazine ran a huge symposium entitled 'Has America Lost Its Nerve.' And one of my problems - I mean weíre going back thirty years I guess - at that time was that you felt that, after Vietnam, that the American people really had lost their nerve and that this led to this Détente view. Whereas, a student of survey research and polling, I never really thought that that was true, that American people remained very strong and steadfast, even in the worst of times. So Iíd be curious to know um...

Henry ISSINGER: Ben. Ben. I didnít think the American people had lost their nerve. I had gone through four years of the Vietnam War in which, with all due respect, most of the neoconservatives were on the wrong side of the barricade.

Ben WATTENBERG: I was on President Johnsonís staff and I was on the - I was...

Henry KISSINGER: No, no. You were with Roche and those people.

Ben WATTENBERG: Yeah. Right.

Henry KISSINGER: No, no. Iím not talking about you. But, you know, Norman Podhoretz and people like this.

Ben WATTENBERG: Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Henry KISSINGER: They went on the other side of that argument. Then I went through a period when we had to fight for every missile. So then we have Watergate, we have a president who resigns, and an unelected president, and I thought you had to prepare your confrontations carefully in order to conduct them successfully. But during the period of Détente, we drove the Soviets out of the Middle East essentially. We brought about the reversal of the alliances of Egypt with the Soviet Union, and we got all the military equipment of the Soviets out of the region. The real difference between me and some of the neoconservatives was the neoconservatives wanted to fight it as a philosophical battle; I wanted to fight it as a geo-strategic battle.

Ben WATTENBERG: Would you accept this case that the Cold War - just the phrase, itís a war - a war consists of many battles and you win some and the one who demolishes the other side wins the war. This is a case Walt Rostow makes and I make it some days, I must say, that for all the tragedy in Vietnam and the defeat and the mistakes on everybodyís side, it was a battle in the Cold War and the Cold War was one of the great and heroic accomplishments of the Western alliance and of the human species.

Henry KISSINGER: Absolutely.

Ben WATTENBERG: You buy that.

Henry KISSINGER: I wish we had won the Vietnam War.


Henry KISSINGER: But there are many who believe - I believe--that it gave us enough of a breathing space in Southeast Asia so that we could contain communism where it was. I have never criticized Presidents Kennedy and Johnson for getting us into it. I think it was a good cause, not well-conducted.

Ben WATTENBERG: The argument is made, I guess mostly by people on the left, that we have courted stability and security at the expense of liberty, and that particularly during the Cold War we got involved with dictators and thugs. Is that true? Is it justified? And I assume that this terrorist situation now is an exception to that idea.

Henry KISSINGER: Well, the Cold War was as desperate a battle as the fight against terrorism, and in the Cold War we had the same alternatives; in fact they were in a way starker because you could lose everything in a day. When we brought about the change in alliance in Egypt, President Saddat was not a democrat. Should we have said we canít deal with you until youíre a democrat? Take the Shah of Iran. The evolution towards democracy in countries, in our own history, was slow. You can always strike the wrong balance. When you ask somebody like me, Iíve been studying foreign policy all my life. Itís my hobby as well as my profession. So when Iím not working Iím reading foreign policy or history. So Iím apt to think that I was right, because I thought about these things. Doesnít mean that you canít argue another case, but I donít think itís as simple as saying, 'Well, he had that great chance at a democrat and he picked an authoritarian.' Where? Where would that have been the case, concretely?

Ben WATTENBERG: Well, I mean, I guess the argument is made about Chile, but itís a long argument.

Henry KISSINGER: Well, Chile. Here was a country that was heading straight towards communism.


Henry KISSINGER: And we didnít pick this guy anyway. We didnít know who Pinochet was when he emerged. He was only appointed Chief of Staff of the Chilean Army a month before he made the coup, and there are documents where Iíd say, 'Who is this guy?' and theyíd say, 'Well, he is a constitutionalist. Heís not going to do much.' So Pinochet was not our creation. Once Pinochet was in office, we tried to avoid bringing radicals back, thatís true. So we did not attack Pinochet all out. On the other hand, we both privately and publicly strongly urged him to improve his human rights record. Now people say I did not do it in a condemnatory way. No, I used the language of engagement rather than of confrontation, because we had radical revolutions all over Latin America. We had thirty thousand Cuban troops in Africa, and we had a Cold War going on. Now did we strike the right balance in every single country? That can be debated forever.

Ben WATTENBERG: Is there a certain irony to all of this that America, during the Cold War, helped build up some of these Islamic powers or states, or ... I guess Afghanistan would be the one that comes to mind.

Henry KISSINGER: But you know, after the event itís always easy to be heroic.

Ben WATTENBERG: Iím not criticizing.

Henry KISSINGER: What got us into Afghanistan at first was that the Soviet Union invaded the country and was going to incorporate it into the Soviet Union. We then supported groups - any group - that would oppose the Soviet occupation. Now should we have asked ourselves on some of these groups, eventually or almost certainly, going to turn against us? Yes, we probably should have. We might have been a shade too indiscriminate in distributing technology and weapons. But I think thatís a marginal issue - that we had the choice of either can we defeat the Soviets and do what we could, or become so discriminating that the Soviets prevailed in Afghanistan. Then we would have had the same problem in another guise.

Ben WATTENBERG: Do you believe in this concept of preemption?

Henry KISSINGER: I believe in the concept of preemption in the sense that there are dangers. Now, when youíre dealing with terrorists youíre dealing with people that cannot be reached by deterrence, because they have nothing to defend. They cannot be reached by negotiations, because they are not seeking a compromise. And therefore you cannot let them strike and then respond. The same is true with inspect to weapons of mass destruction. Where we have to be careful with the concept of preemption is not to create the impression that any nation can define its own concept of preemption and can attack anybody it wants. So I strongly supported preemption on Iraq. I strongly supported what the president has done, but I would now also urge that in the next phase of foreign policy we talk at least to the other democracies to see whether we can get some principles of preemption that prevents preemption from becoming always a solitary effort. The European countries and we have a similar history and they come from comparable roots and they have comparable institutions. The world you and I have been talking about is extremely complex and no single nation should undertake to do it alone if it can avoid it. So I think that is a sort of a democratic destiny and something in which the democracies should try to work together. Or if it cannot work then one has to look at other means.

Ben WATTENBERG: Is the next big threat, or potential threat, and are you concerned about it, China?

KISSINGER: No. I think China is going to be the next very powerful country. Does it have to turn into a threat? That depends in part on our policies. Now, we should not create the impression in China that we are a congenital opponent of China. On the other hand, China has to understand that we will not be indifferent to the intent of any country to dominate Asia. But we should also do our utmost to avoid facing that situation.

Ben WATTENBERG: Let me ask you a couple of final questions. Is America an empire?

Henry KISSINGER: America is the strongest nation in the world. So in this sense, that it is an empire in the sense that whenever it wants to use its force it can impose its will. On the other hand, the problem of foreign policy is not just to impose your will once, but to make it last. In order to make it last you have to build a consensus. Just as the Romans governed first with their legions and then with Roman law. And the British did it - governed India with, I think, a maximum of sixty thousand people. So the fact that we are what the Europeans call a hyper power, thatís a fact of life, and we have to accept it and act on it. But then we have the responsibility of trying to build it into some sort of consensus internationally. This is aided somewhat by the democratic idea. Itís handicapped somewhat by the fact that Americans donít understand foreign psychologies very well, because in most of our history we havenít had to deal with them.

Ben ATTENBERG: Has the world ever seen a country like America?

Henry KISSINGER: No. Thereís no comparable country.


Henry KISSINGER: No. Thereís no country that you can come as a fifteen-year-old, speak all your life with an accent, become Secretary of State during a period when the president is under siege, have almost presidential powers, and while I got many nasty letters I never got a letter saying 'who are you to be in this position?'. That couldnít happen anywhere else. And thereís no other country that, even when itís naēve, that thinks of itself as defined by freeing people from oppression, helping the needy, always available. I mean, you take just recently the earthquake in Iran. Nobody said, 'Why would we help people who have been so hostile? Who have an American flag at the airport tarmac so that people have to walk over it and get into the airplane?' Nobody says that and nobody feels it. So in that sense America is an absolutely unique country.

Ben WATTENBERG: How about Henry Kissinger? Has it been a good life?

Henry KISSINGER: Yes, Iíve had a good life. Iíve had difficult periods. Iíve been subjected to attacks. But I have had the privilege of being able to do what I am interested in, to try to contribute to a safer world, and to have an opportunity to express myself. I have had a full life and I have no complaints. No, I have great gratitude.

Ben WATTENBERG: Okay, on that note uh, Dr. Henry Kissinger, thank you so much for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you. Please remember to send us your comments via email. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.


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Funding for this program is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending nearly five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

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