Kissinger's Warning and Recommendations for 'A World in Flames'

Under the headline “The World in Flames,” Henry Kissinger warns in a London Sunday Times op-ed of the consequences of state failure and anarchy in the Muslim world. Read it carefully: Kissinger reviews the collapse of America’s idea of exporting democracy during the Arab Spring and its dire consequences. He suggests that the US needs to work with Russia to put out the fire:


Participants in the contests search for outside support, particularly from Russia and the US, in turn shaping relations between them.

Russia’s goals are largely strategic: at a minimum to prevent Syrian and Iraqi jihadist groups from spreading into its Muslim territories and, on the larger, global scale, to enhance its position vis-à-vis the US.

America’s quandary is that it condemns Assad on moral grounds — correctly — but the largest contingent of his opponents are al-Qaeda and more extreme groups, which the US needs to oppose strategically.

Neither Russia nor America has been able to decide whether to co-operate or to manoeuvre against the other — though events in Ukraine may resolve this ambivalence in the direction of Cold War attitudes.

Political Islam has brought large parts of the world into something resembling the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, Kissinger says (and of course I agree: I have been citing the 30 Years War example for a decade):

Zones of non-governance or jihad now stretch across the Muslim world, affecting Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan and Somalia. When one also takes into account the agonies of central Africa — where a generations-long Congolese civil war has drawn in all neighbouring states, and conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan threaten to metastasise similarly — a significant portion of the world’s territory and population is on the verge of falling out of the international state system altogether.

As this void looms, the Middle East is caught in a confrontation akin to — but broader than — Europe’s 17th-century wars of religion. Domestic and international conflicts reinforce each other. Political, sectarian, tribal, territorial, ideological and traditional national- interest disputes merge. Religion is “weaponised” in the service of geopolitical objectives; civilians are marked for extermination based on their sectarian affiliation.


I am surprised that Kissinger does not mention China in this context; perhaps his forthcoming book (from which the Sunday Times op-ed was excerpted) will do so.

Kissinger is magnificently right.

Now that American conservatives are determined to demonize Russia over Ukraine, his advice will go unheeded (or will be scorned), but the world chessboard remains what it was when I wrote about the trade-off between Ukraine and the Middle East back in 2008. I asserted six years ago that the US had common ground with Russia:

Russia’s help in containing nuclear proliferation and terrorism in the Middle East [this is Spengler writing, not Kissinger] is of infinitely greater import to the West than the dubious self-determination of Ukraine. The West should do its best to pretend that the “Orange” revolution of 2004 and 2005 never happened, and secure Russia’s assistance in the Iranian nuclear issue as well as energy security in return for an understanding of Russia’s existential requirements in the near abroad.,,Russia has more to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran than the United States, for an aggressive Muslim state on its borders could ruin its attempt to Russify Central Asia. Russia’s strategic interests do not conflict with those of the United States, China or India in this matter. There is a certain degree of rivalry over energy resources, but commercial rivalry does not have to turn into strategic enmity.

If Washington chooses to demonize Russia, the likelihood is that Russia will become a spoiler with respect to American strategic interests in general, and use the Iranian problem to twist America’s tail. That is a serious risk indeed, for nuclear proliferation is the one means by which outlaw regimes can pose a serious threat to great powers.


For example: We could have dealt with Syria, Erik Prince once suggested to me, by offering a deal to Moscow: Assad leaves, but Moscow chooses his successor. With the Assad family gone (and Iran out of the picture), Syria could have been stabilized, perhaps by partition, rather than becoming the ghastly meatgrinder it is today.

It is remarkable that in 2014, on the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, we are setting in motion a regional conflict that again will claim millions of lives. First time as tragedy, second time as farce, as Karl Marx paraphrased Hegel: in 1914 the contending powers had existential interests that could not be reconciled. Today we have bucket-headed ideology, provincialism, and stupidity to blame. Disgusting as it is, we are in a farce not a tragedy, for the bad things that happen do not happen because they are in some sense inevitable (tragic) but because we are acting like clowns.

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