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Between the war in Ukraine and tensions with China, President Biden's handling of foreign policy issues is being put to the test. In former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's new book, "Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy," he examines how past leaders faced the challenges of their times. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the book, the state of global politics and more.
Between the war in Ukraine and tensions with China, President Biden's handling of foreign policy issues is being put to the test.
In former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's new book, "Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy," he examines how past leaders in the era after the World Wars faced the challenges of their times.
I sat down with the 99-year-old veteran diplomat in his New York City office yesterday to discuss the Ukraine war, the state of global politics, and much more.
In this latest book, you tell us the story of six leaders on the world stage after World War II.
You say they were both statesmen and prophets. And my first question is, is there anyone in the world today, a world leader, who comes close to embodying the qualities of these six you portray in the book?
Henry Kissinger, Former U.S. Secretary of State: None, in my observation.
Of course, many of the contemporary leaders haven't finished their careers yet. And maybe they haven't faced their big challenges yet. But the reason I wrote about these six is because they made a difference in the evolution of their societies. And maybe one can learn something from them at a time when the transformation of societies is one of the big issues almost everywhere.
It's interesting. The one American president you choose is Richard Nixon.
We were talking about this, controversial figure, in large part because of the war in Vietnam. You write about his opening to China that was brilliant. But then the war in Vietnam prolonged, more years. Thousands of Americans died. There were so many things that came from that that arguably led to Richard Nixon's worst instincts.
Well, he destroyed — he destroyed himself.
And it was partly because of the atmosphere domestically that had grown up around the war in Vietnam. But it's important to remember that war had been going on in previous administrations, that the deployment of 500,000 troops was what Nixon inherited.
So, you said he prolonged the war. That implies that he could have ended it earlier on terms that the American people could understand. And we settled as soon as we agreed to the fact that South Vietnam's people would have a right to choose their own government.
But it took nearly four years to get there. But our predecessors hadn't even started a negotiation yet. So it wasn't so simple.
It remains something that people identify with Richard Nixon.
I want to turn you, Dr. Kissinger, to the main conflict in the world today in Ukraine. Do you see this just going on until the two sides are exhausted, or is there — do you see a quicker way to bring it to an end?
A curious aspect of this war is, it almost looks like World War I.
If one side clearly wins, then it will have profound consequences. I think a negotiation is desirable. And I said so in Davos, and I was attacked for it. But I think we will be heading in that direction.
And your comments at Davos did draw criticism, attention. People were saying you were arguing for Ukraine to give up territory.
No, but the funny thing is, I did not say that. What I said was, a cease-fire line should be drawn at where the war started.
I think Russia should not gain anything from the war.
Right now, Russia has almost complete control of the Donbass.
They're trying to consolidate that now. They have Crimea.
If Russia were to say, OK, let's have a truce, should Ukraine go along with that and let them have what they have got?
It's their country. And if they decide that, we would have to accept it.
I would deplore it greatly. And I hope that decision will not be made.
The U.S. and NATO have said they're prepared to do whatever it takes to support Ukraine. But does that mean indefinitely? Does that mean…
Yes, but that is — that is exactly the question.
I, therefore, hope that a negotiated outcome will be found. We cannot give up — Ukraine, above all, cannot give up territory that it had when the war started, because this would be symbolically dangerous for NATO and for the problems we face in the — in Asia.
Do you believe Xi Jinping is looking at this and thinking he is more likely to want to take over Taiwan or less likely, watching what Russia's experience in Ukraine is?
Well, he must know that an all-out attack on Taiwan or any kind of attack designed to take it over is going to be resisted by America in its current mood.
So, I think an all-out attack on Taiwan is the last thing that the Chinese plan right now.
Do you think it would be better now for the United States to drop any ambiguity about Taiwan and its relationship with China and just say flatly the U.S. will defend Taiwan?
If we abandon that and declare Taiwan an independent country, then China will almost be forced to undertake military action, because it has been so long and for — so fiercely a part of their domestic problem. So, the ambiguity is to prevent conflict.
But the deterrent effect needs to be also firm.
so I hear you saying you think the U.S. has made it clear enough that it will come to Taiwan's defense?
I think so. I mean, the very concentration of our forces makes that clear.
Different subject, Dr. Kissinger, about former President Trump.
As you know, the January 6 Committee looking into his actions and the actions of the people around him leading up to the attack on the Capitol last year. From your perspective of someone who knows international affairs, what do you think he did to America's role in the world during his four years in office?
When he started and asserted the American national interest, and not only abstract principles, I had sympathy for him.
But as his position developed of being so centrally focused on one person, so turning issues into confrontations, I became less enthusiastic. I wasn't enthusiastic, but I was hoping.
And I met with him several times when he became president. At the end, for an American president to challenge the constitutional system and to try to overthrow the constitutional system is a grave matter. And I find no excuse for that.
Do you think he should be prevented from running for president again?
I think, if he runs, it should be weighed by people who vote.
Dr. Henry Kissinger, still writing books at the age of 99, thank you very much.
Watch the Full Episode
Judy Woodruff is a senior correspondent and the former anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for five decades at NBC, CNN and PBS.
Ali Rogin is a correspondent for PBS News Weekend and a foreign affairs producer at the PBS NewsHour.
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