October 02, 2006

Henry Kissinger argues Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy in Iraq*

Fred Halliday recently described the Bush administration as a reprise of the Ford administration with Rumsfeld and Cheney back in positions of importance. Halliday may according to Bob Woodward's latest book be more right than he beleived he was- it seems not merely Cheney and Rumsfeld but the most baleful influence of them all, Henry Kissinger, has returned to advising the President. For Woodward Kissinger and the rest are attempting to make right the mistakes made in Vietnam. For Kissinger the mistakes of Vietnam were clear, they lay in the fact that the United States withdrew and showed its weakness to the world. By being weak, the US leant encouragement to its enemies and failed its friends.

Kissinger was reared upon scholarship about the European 19th Century, his doctoral dissertation focused on the great 19th Century politician and architect of stability, Prince von Metternich (Austrian Foreign Minister 1809-48). The interesting thing about Kissinger is that he learnt an incredible ammount in the Austrian archives about the power relations between states- correctly inferring how the wise and resolute application of strength could deliver the ends of the state that used it. By fearing the madman Richard Nixon, the Soviets and Chineese would be driven to negotiate in a way that they would not have with Lyndon Johnson or John F. Kennedy.

Kissinger in his Washington Post article of 2005 had a particular comparision in mind- Vietnam. For Kissinger Iraq was a test of resolution for an alternative kind of domino effect- whereas Vietnam must be held because of communist triumph across Asia if it fell, Iraq must be held if not Islam will triumph all over the Middle East and throughout the wider Islamic world. Again we see a misunderstanding of the situation- both in Vietnam and Iraq the worldwide challenge was buttressed by a local challenge, a challenge of nationalism.

What is wrong with Kissinger's viewpoint in 2005 and wrong now with Bush's view is the concentration on the broad canvass- the geopolitical view- ignoring the political, local view. The realist view of diplomacy focusing on relationships between the great power, the kind of great dance of the diplomatic leaders, misfocuses the attention of the world upon the wrong arena. In Vietnam and Iraq the United States policy has run into the sand (literally in the latter case) because of this realist way of thinking. Concentration on the broad canvass, concentrating on playing off the leaders of the movement or eliminating them rather than realising that all these come second to the local political aspect of foreign policy.

Increasingly the greatest players in the Middle East include Al Jazeera along with Iran. Increasingly in Iraq eliminating leaders and capturing the members of the ex-regime has had no result- dealing with the ideological challenge of Islamism through regime change has failed. The problem has been that dealing with an ideology and nationalism through power politics and a realist approach has proved unsuccessful. That's not to say that the approach doesn't have its merits- but as the approach in Vietnam and Iraq of Bush advised by Kissinger, Rumsfeld and Cheney has been a failure.

Obviously other things have motivated US policy but trends of realist thinking have lain behind it and have not been stressed enough by pundits concentrating on neoconservatism, obviously there are other ideas lying behind US policy but I hope this analysis shows that some of the failures have to be attributed to a foreign policy establishment reared on realists.

LATER Here is a really interesting read about the realists in the Administration and the way that they are striking back at the Right Zionists through Bob Woodward. Worth reading definitely.

A NOTE ON SOURCES The paraphrase in the title is Bob Woodward and comes from a transcript of a report done by CNN's Howard Kurtz on 28th September 2006. The interview with Halliday where he made the comment about the Ford Administration was up in July of this year at this address but unfortunately has now been deleted.