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Henry Kissinger at Large, Part One

TTBW 1204 PBS feed 1/29/2004
'Henry Kissinger, At Large, Part 1'

Funding for Think Tank 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 Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, and the Smith Richardson 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 adviser 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 Foreign Policy Crises. The topic before the House: Henry Kissinger, At Large, Part 1. This week on Think Tank.

Henry Kissinger, welcome to Think Tank. Believe it or not there are people younger than us who donít know your full history and I wondered if you could briefly tell us where and when you were born, when you came to America. I know you served in the military. Just give us a little background.
Henry KISSINGER: Well I was born in Germany in 1923 in a little town called Furth near Nuremburg, which has the same psychological relationship to Nuremburg as Brooklyn has to New York. Itís basically part of the same city but itís got a separate entity. My father was a teacher in a local Gymnasium, and it was sort of a German middle-class existence until Hitler came to power in 1933, whereupon my father, being Jewish, was forced to resign and conditions became progressively more difficult so in 1938 my parents decided to immigrate to the United States.

Ben WATTENBERG: You were how old?

Henry KISSINGER: I was fifteen. Just fifteen. And we were sort of typical immigrants in the sense we didnít have any money. So every member of the family worked and...

Ben WATTENBERG: What did you do?

Henry KISSINGER: I worked in a shaving brush factory.

Ben Wattenberg: I have a scoop!

Henry Kissinger: I worked in a shaving brush factory for five years.


Henry KISSINGER: Working my way up from the manufacturing end - the low end of the manufacturing end--to shipping clerk, and from a salary of $11 a week to $15 a week. Was drafted into the army, where I served from 1943 through í46.

Ben WATTENBERG: And what was your assignment?

Henry KISSINGER: I served with the 84th infantry division in France and Germany and then when our division reached Germany I was moved to the G2 section of the intelligence section. I was a rifleman until then. And then I worked in the intelligence section - G2 section - for about a year.

Ben WATTENBERG: On what? De-Nazification and that kind of thing - this was...?

Henry KISSINGER: Yes. That was part of my job. Then when I left the army or when I was demobilized from the army I stayed for one year doing the same thing.

Ben WATTENBERG: In Germany.

Henry KISSINGER: In the army...

Ben WATTENBERG: In Germany.

Henry KISSINGER: In Germany as a civilian ...

Ben WATTENBERG: How did that feel given your experience there?

Henry KISSINGER: Well, I tell you, I was then twenty-one/twenty-two and by the time I was in intelligence I had unlimited power of arrest. But I thought that having suffered...

Ben WATTENBERG: That in theory you could go arrest some of those sons a bitches.

Henry KISSINGER: I could, but I didnít. I thought it was important to show that we did not apply to them the methods they had applied to us. But I was responsible at that time, from about May í45 for a year and a half of de-Nazification and beginning the reconstruction of the government in a region of about 200...I was twenty-two.

Ben WATTENBERG: You were an enlisted man, not an officer. Is that right?

Henry KISSINGER: I was an enlisted man. But the CIC people, which is what I was - Counter Intelligence Corps - we actually wore uniforms which suggested we might be officers, except we had no insignia. We had 'U.S.' instead of insignia. And then I was a civilian.


Henry KISSINGER: And I taught at the European Command Intelligence School for a year before I came back and then I went to Harvard

Ben WATTENBERG: Letís start with something that I know you have thought about and Americaís thought about for decades...this alleged conflict in American foreign policy between idealism and realism. Why donít you give us your take on that.

Henry KISSINGER: The American approach to foreign policy is a very special approach, because we have been the only major county in the world that did not have a significant neighbor for two hundred years of our history, that weíre protected by two great oceans, and that was populated by immigrants who consciously turned their back on Europe - most of them at that time--and tried to create a new society. So therefore the democratic experience for Americans is a more significant experience than for any other people in the world. And thereís also a tendency to believe that if American values could spread around the world they would automatically guarantee peace because democratically we donít fight among each other and therefore our real mission is not foreign policy in the normal sense, but the conversion of people to the democratic, or to make it possible for the normal tendency of people towards democracy to occur to them.

Ben WATTENBERG: And the so-called idealists amongst--because I worked for Scoop Jackson, I was on that side--made the case that the best realism was idealism.

Henry KISSINGER: Thatís slightly more complicated. Iím just trying to state the case that is often made. And therefore you had Woodrow Wilson entering World War I.

Ben WATTENBERG: And you wrote about it in your book Diplomacy, in 1994, that split between Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Henry KISSINGER: Right.


Henry KISSINGER: Now the realist school is that you have to learn from history is what they would argue and that the relations among states, governed in an important way by the national interest of the states, and that security is the minimum condition of foreign policy. The ultimate realists would say the only thing that matters is the balance of power. Scoop Jackson sayís the best realists are idealists. I donít quarrel with this. I believe ...

Ben WATTENBERG: Let me just interrupt. Senator Jackson was a democratic senator from the state of Washington who was very active in armed services and was regarded as a hawk and you and he were in some conflict during the Nixon years... just for our viewers.

Henry KISSINGER: No, we have to be precise. Scoop Jackson saved the American defense budget against a very dovish democratic Congress, and Scoop Jackson and I worked closely together...

Ben WATTENBERG: I understand.

Henry KISSINGER: ...until for a two-year period between 1974 and 1976 our paths diverged because he thought we went too far in arms control negotiations and to be fair he also was running for President...


Henry KISSINGER: And he needed to distinguish himself. But there was no huge philosophical difference. Usually the idealist would say you had to show understanding for the communist point of view and you have to create an atmosphere in which they feel comfortable.


Henry KISSINGER: I did not that have that view. My view on that was very similar to Jacksonís. The dispute of 1974 to 1976 is that I was Secretary of State. I had gone through the Vietnam War. I was serving a president who was unelected. We had a McGovernite democratic Congress. McGovernite being a representative of the view of Senator McGovern who had run a very dovish...

Ben WATTENBERG: ...and his slogan was 'come home America.'

Henry KISSINGER: ...come home America, against a big military budget and so forth. I did not think that we could go into a major confrontation with the Soviet Union from this base , and I believed that it was essential that we had to demonstrate to the American public that they had an administration that was dedicated to trying to achieve negotiated outcomes if at all possible. So that if we did have to confront the Soviet Union, as we after all did on a number of occasions in the Middle East, Angola and elsewhere, that if we did that it could be from that background. Jackson looked at it more from the point of view of can you trust these people and are you not confusing the American public when you start dealing with them. It was a legitimate debate, and so I had then and I have now very high regard for Scoop Jackson. But to go back to my point, I think to put the opposition between realism and idealism in absolute terms is a misconception.

Ben WATTENBERG: Itís much more complicated than that.

Henry KISSINGER: But I believe, letís take America. For the reasons that I gave, America must be idealistic. It is in its nature to believe in democracy. On the other hand America had to learn and still has to learn the realities of the world in which we live. So the art of foreign policy...if you confine yourself to power politics it becomes extremely difficult to calculate accurately and you have no emotional safety net. If you insist entirely on implementing your ideal, you can be dragged into adventures beyond your capacity and beyond the capacity. So, where to strike that balance is the art of statesmanship. The great statesmen operate at the outer edges of that balance. The ordinary ones are more on the purely practical side. This seems to me the real issue.

Ben WATTENBERG: The Cold War ended and you now have a free and united Europe. With all the arguments that always go on between the United States and various European players, that is one of the great human stories of our time, isnít it?

Hnery KISSINGER: Absolutely. And the unification of Europe.


Henry KISSINGER: ...that uh, thereís absolutely no doubt whatever the numbers are that the countries of eastern Europe were ten years ago, fifteen years ago, communist dictatorships and the communists were evicted and democracies have been established there in the overwhelming majority of the countries, I would say in all of them.

Ben WATTENBERG But even in old Europe the idea that a young German boy would be in an army to invade France when he can get there without even a visa now, I mean, itís a great human story.

Henry KISSINGER: Itís enormous. Itís enormous progress.


Henry KISSINGER: And itís an enormous progress also of another American ideal - the idea of federalism. If anyone had predicted fifty years ago, certainly if anyone had predicted in before World War II that Europe would create a federated state and that it would be arguing about something like our Senate and our House of Representatives, it would have been unthinkable. Today war is unthinkable.

Ben WATTENBERG: President Bush, George W. Bush, the current president, ran his election campaign in 2000 sort of on the realist side. He said American foreign policy has to be more humbled - pronounced in Texas 'umble' - and that American military shouldnít be involved in nation-building and things like that. It now seems, given the speeches that heís been making, that he has become converted--I guess thereís a lot of reasons for it - toward the idealist notion and just to put in one other thing--and he has mentioned it as well, the president--that the Freedom House numbers show that there were forty-three free states back in 1973 and in 2003 there were not forty-three, but eighty-nine. So you really have what seems to be to the naked eye a wave of democracy, of democracy-building. Does that add up to you and what do you think of that whole democracy movement that America is pushing so hard on it?

Henry KISSINGER: Well, itís certainly great progress. That so many political leaders around the world fight their battles in the name of democracy and stated that objective to propagation of democracy and that is undoubtedly progress. Whether all these eight-nine states that call themselves democracy are democracies...

Ben WATTENBERG: Well, they also have a category called partly free. These are fully free, but itís arguable.

Henry KISSINGER: If you asked me to sit down now and to name you eighty-nine states that are democratic...

Ben WATTENBERG: ... be hard.

Henry KISSINGER: I donít think thatís an acc... It may be definitionately an accurate number, but I would have problems with that. But that hasnít changed the case that no government today says authoritarianism is better than democracy even those who are not really democracies, still claim to be democracies, which is at least a considerable progress.

Ben WATTENBERG: Letís get to the war in Iraq. You say you support it. On what grounds do you support it?

Henry KISSINGER: I support it on the grounds that on September 11th when the United States was attacked, it was attacked not by just criminal groups, but by an Islamic system - an Islamic fundamentalist system and a terrorist strategy that reflected the views of the radical groups in the whole region. And the United Statesí necessity then became to break the link between the states and the terrorists, and also to reverse the trend of believing that attacking the United States was a way of rallying the Muslim world, and to demonstrate rather that attacking the United States runs the risk of disintegrating the Muslim world. Not that that is our objective, but that itís steps we would have to take. And finally, we had every reason to believe that Iraq was working on and probably had weapons of mass destruction. So here was a country that had for twelve years violated seventeen U.N. resolutions, that had used chemical weapons against its neighbors, that had attacked all of its neighbors at one point or another, and that whose very existence was a challenge to the kind of world that we felt was necessary. So I think the demonstration that the United States, when challenged, will try to remove the centers of these activities was essential. So I think that this was the reason why... this is the reason that I think is the reason - I know why I supported the invasion of Iraq. Now the question is did we have a plan? We were dealing here with a country that had been governed with autocracy throughout its history, but with a particularly brutal form of dictatorship for the last thirty years. That system collapsed entirely. And we then inherited a big territory with a twenty-four million population. But we inherited it with a deployment that was geared to the possibility that Turkey would let us move in the north while Kuwait was agreeing to let us move in from the south. Turkey in the last moment didnít give that permission, so we did not have enough forces in the north to establish the degree of stability they ideally would have liked. I have some questions about the concept that we could handle Iraq like the occupation of Germany and Japan. And I think that was probably a mistake to believe that. But I do not see what plan we could have had that would have led to a result much different from the one we now see. Iraq is composed of three different ethnic groups, or three different religious approaches at different ethnic groups - tribes, and how you establish - reestablish a legitimate authority there was going to be a problem no matter what our plan is. I fundamentally support the foreign policy of President Bush. Iím a strong supporter of it. I donít agree with those who think that we can spread democracy in a limited period of time and that the solution to foreign policy problems in the short run is to make countries democratic. Weíre learning that in Iraq. Again, I support our basic Iraq policy, but the outcome will not be a pure democracy. It may be in ten years. We ought to remember it took seven years in Germany.

Ben WATTENBERG: If weíre lucky in ten years. I mean itís not gonna be uh...

Henry KISSINGER: It took seven years in Germany before we had a fully democratic system.

Ben WATTENBERG: Is it more important for America to ensure that the new government in Iraq is pro-American and secular or should we allow a democratic process that might propel a fundamentalist Shiite majority into power? Are we gonna just let it play out?

Henry KISSINGER: You know, a fundamentalist victory would be one election, one time and there wouldnít be a democratic outcome.

Ben WATTENBERG: One man, one vote, one time right?

Henry KISSINGER: One man, one vote, one time. I donít think we must insist on a pro-American government. We must do our utmost to produce a government that is not fundamentalist, that are secular, and that is at least not institutionally anti-West. And I think that has to be our objective, and if we conclude this by having a radical anti-western government in Baghdad we will not have achieved our objective.

Ben WATTENBERG: Okay, Dr. Henry Kissinger, thank you very much for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you. Please remember to send us your comments via email. Itís how we hope to make our show better. And remember to join us on a future episode of Think Tank for part two of our conversation with Henry Kissinger. 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 Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.

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