The Trial of K Continues

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After taking his mallet to a dour, sour David Broder (and several pieces after his brilliant demolition of Lewis Lapham's attempted demolition of the right-wing "propaganda mill"), Jack Shafer has returned to a favorite bete noire, Henry Kissinger. The gist of his latest Slate piece is that Dr. K inevitably makes scarce when asked about his onetime shenanigans in Latin America, particularly in Chile.

We knew that, didn't we? But more interesting is how tough a sell is Kissinger's brand of "realist" politics today–whereby high national interest mandates, for example, an utter disregard for human rights. I recall that when I was studying politics in grad school almost 20 years ago, one was either a realist or a sappy liberal idiot. That's one reason why people end up libertarian, perhaps, but it's also worth reflecting on how the otherwise much-derided American neoconservative movement sought to bridge that yawning gap. The fact that Kissinger has to hide from the New York Times can be partly (and I do stress only partly) put at the door of the neocons.

After all, one of those who opposed Dr. K's foreign policy approach in the past was Paul Wolfowitz.

NEXT: Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print

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  1. The realists: “…high national interest mandates, for example, an utter disregard for human rights. ”

    I’m not so sure the neoconservatives are so different, they just think they are. War is their long-term agenda and war and chaos is the ultimate framwork for human rights violations.

    And most neoconservatives are not as broadminded as Wolfowitz is (as most SAIS alumni correctly assert) on subjects like human rights and Israel, where we give our most money in the long term. And Wolfowitz overestimates the power of military force and government to make the transition or rather, to midwife it.

    Alot of Ataturk-culting goes on among neoconservatives and others who forget that Turkey is a mess and Ataturk slaughtered Armenians and Greeks for reasons of ethnic purity and statism.

    They mouthe the pieties of human rights but the reality of neoconservatism may be worse than ideological “realism”. THe US isnt likley to be able to rescue Iraq from itself, nor Lebanon from Syria (in the long term), nor Lebanon from the Lebanese, nor the Palestinians from Arafat. It has to start within and among.

    There may be a critical mass to do so but this appears not to be the case.

  2. more interesting is how tough a sell is Kissinger’s brand of “realist” politics today–whereby high national interest mandates, for example, an utter disregard for human rights.

    Are you saying that the present administration has regard for human rights?

  3. “…it’s also worth reflecting on how the otherwise much-derided American neoconservative movement sought to bridge that yawning gap. The fact that Kissinger has to hide from the New York Times can be partly (and I do stress only partly) put at the door of the neocons.

    After all, one of those who opposed Dr. K’s foreign policy approach in the past was Paul Wolfowitz.

    There’s an interesting piece in the latest edition of the New York Review of Books entitled “The Making of a Mess”. It explores the differences between traditional, conservative policy and the foreign policy of the neoconservatives. A “realist” policy like Kissinger’s as compared to the utopian vision of the neoconservatives seems to mark the primary difference.

    Anne Norton’s “Strauss and the Politics of American Empire” is due to be published in October; if anyone at Reason has an advance copy, I’d love to read a review.

    If I tried to defend Kissinger, someone would trot out Sihanouk’s famous quote and I would have no reply. However, another example of “realist” policy might be Jean Kirkpatrick who the Reagan White House, reputedly, hired on the strength of her distinction between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.

    If the current political situation in Chile and Argentina is the product of Kirkpatrick’s “realist” policy, then, in those instances, I think we have to call it a success. That’s not to say that I don’t decry the horrors of the Pinochet regime, for instance, but we can only hope that the political situation in Iraq, twenty five years from now, will improve to the same extent.

    The jury’s still out, of course.

    P.S. Did anyone else out there read “The Making of a Mess” in the New York Review? Did you notice anything remarkable about the caricature of Paul Wolfowitz?

  4. Shafer can be pretty even-handed in pointing out the sins of both establishment conservatives and “liberals.” While I enjoyed his list of hectoring queries designed for “Mister” Kissinger, I’d like to see an array of the same for the lefty naifs who support(ed) Castro, Che, Allende, Ortega, and now Chavez.

    Kevin

  5. Aw, he’s only picking on Kissinger because Nixon’s dead.

  6. Ken Schultz,

    If the current political situation in Chile and Argentina is the product of Kirkpatrick’s “realist” policy, then, in those instances, I think we have to call it a success.

    I think it can be reasonably argued that Chile has had some measure of success despite Pinochet and Allende’s efforts. I know a lot of people like to point to Pinochet’s supposed adoption of Chicago School of Economics prescriptions, but as far as I can tell, that was more window-dressing than reality. Pinochet was just as cronyist as your typical Latin American right-wing dictator after all; and this cronyism brought about his eventual downfall – because it was tied significantly to the near collapse of the pension system Chile created under him. Indeed, it was economic problems, and not his human rights record so much, that eventually pushed Pinochet out of power (something that his most ardent supporters tend to ignore).

    As to Argentina, well it remains a Latin American basket case. I have a number of Argentinian friends (some but not all Jewish) who have fled the country for either Israel, the U.S., Spain or France.

  7. Does he make scarce when someone asks him about East Timor?

  8. Sad really, since (IMO at least) realism makes a zillion times more sense than the “neo-conservative”, benevolent-imperialism approach. If the safety of the US seriously is served by occasionally turning our heads at unkosher goingons then so be it, our representatives aren’t responsible for the rest of the world. “neo-conservative” foreign policy is just social engineering with missiles.

  9. Amen. The purpose of war is to defeat an advesary, not to cure social ills or restore democracy. We can’t (as a government), and shouldn’t even try that, at home. We stopped Hitler by cooperating with a fiend like Stalin not by promising liberal democracy.

    We didnt fight Germany and Japan to liberate them but to defeat them as adversaries united in attacking us.

    They simply returned to normal development after the aggressive regimes were subdued, and a Soviet threat made us and them also treasure their independence. We didn’t democratize their societies.

  10. Pinochet took the good will of the United States into consideration when he decided to keep his promise and hold a referendum. I don’t think Argentina is an economic basket case anymore, but even if it is, at least it’s not a basket case with an intractable military junta.

    If the goal of our policy was to see a transition without a total civil war, then we have achieved the most desirable outcome and my hat’s off to Kirkpatrick, Shultz, Baker, some of the other classic conservatives and their policy of engagement. I’m not a fan of Kissinger, as I stated above, and I’m not a fan of Nixon either.

    However, I find myself wondering if the neoconservatives are capable of putting something like our China policy together; I’d bet that most of them are enthusiastic about defending Taiwan, but I don’t know. When China’s MFN status was still important, I remember hearing a lot of criticism of China from the right; was some of that coming from the neoconservatives?

  11. Ken-

    In the 1990’s, criticism of China policy always came from the power out of the White House. Clinton said in his nomination speech in 1992 something about standing up to dictators “from Baghdad to Beijing.” Once he took office, of course, he was the one criticized for being too friendly with Beijing.

    I suspect that the reason we haven’t heard anything from Kerry about China (well, not anything making the front page anyway) is that other stories are dominating the campaign. But if China did come up, I assume that Kerry would complain that Bush is too cozy with the Chinese gov’t. It’s just the way the game works.

  12. matthew,

    War is politics by other means.

    Defeating an enemy is not an end unto itself if after the defeat the enemy regroups and we must do it again. That is uneconomical.

    Thus the necessity for a post war vision.

  13. Why would libertarians endorse ANY foreign policy? They wouldn’t endorse any industrial policy.
    Governments ALWAYS get us into a fine mess.
    Foreign policy is government’s way of getting us into a fine mess on the cheap, and behind our backs. So, it’s even more disgusting than industrial policy.
    All together now, sing:
    When will we ever learn?

  14. Ruthless,

    By your ligts we need to get rid of the State Dept. and the War Dept.

    After all with Depts. like that how can foreign policy be avoided? Without such Depts. it will be relatively easy to avoid foreign policy.

    In fact the Constitution says the Senate must ratify treaties. So if we eliminate the Senate too that will be a help.

    The wisest move would be to eliminate the Federal Government altogether to eliminate any idea of a foreign policy. No tariff either.

    Next of course the State governments will have to go. They too in the absenceof a Federal Government might be tempted into having a foreign policy. Once that is done away with we will need to get rid of local governments and all citizens.

    Then America will be free.

  15. M. Simon,
    Enjoy your stay in Damascus!

  16. I’d take issue with Ruthless but I’m standing in line at the DMV right now, and I’m feeling like something of an anarchist myself.

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