Maybe They'll Listen to Kissinger

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has been trying to explain to the adolescents in charge of American foreign policy in both parties that our Ukraine policy has been a disaster. As he told the German news organization Der Spiegel Nov. 13:

Crimea is a special case. Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time. You can’t accept the principle that any country can just change the borders and take a province of another country. But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia….Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine…

We have to remember that Russia is an important part of the international system, and therefore useful in solving all sorts of other crises, for example in the agreement on nuclear proliferation with Iran or over Syria. This has to have preference over a tactical escalation in a specific case. On the one hand it is important that Ukraine remain an independent state, and it should have the right to economic and commercial associations of its choice. But I don’t think it’s a law of nature that every state must have the right to be an ally in the frame work of NATO.

Now, of course, we have Western panic over a new Sino-Russian rapprochement. This was obvious from the outset of the Ukraine crisis. What did the West think Putin would do?

Regarding Iraq, Kissinger had this to say to Der Spiegel:

SPIEGEL: In 2003, you were in favor of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. At that time, too, the consequences of that intervention were uncertain.

Kissinger: I’ll tell you what I thought at the time. I thought that after the attack on the United States, it was important that the US vindicate its position. The UN had certified major violations. So I thought that overthrowing Saddam was a legitimate objective. I thought it was unrealistic to attempt to bring about democracy by military occupation.

SPIEGEL: Why are you so sure that it is unrealistic?

Kissinger: Unless you are willing to do it for decades and you are certain your people will follow you. But it is probably beyond the resources of any one country.

The good news is that Kissinger is speaking about these issues; the bad news is that the only major international news organization to interview him at length is German, not American. A few are listening in the U.S. George F. Will, a Reaganite rather than a Kissingerian back in the 1980s, is now listening to the old statesman’s common sense, as in his Nov. 13 Washington Post column.

My Republican colleagues like to deride Obama for being weak rather than assertive. Where we set out to be assertive, though (as in the State Department’s over-the-top support for the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine and the prospect of taking Crimea away from Russian control), we got our heads handed to us, just as we did when we set out to build democracy in Mesopotamia. We have been stupidly assertive where it got us nowhere, and we have been stupidly weak when we should have wielded an iron fist — as with Iran. That was true of the Bush administration as well as the Obama administration, for a simple reason: We could not promote Shi’ite majority rule in Iraq and make war on Iran at the same time. Then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen told Charlie Rose on March 16, 2009: “What I worry about in terms of an attack on Iran is, in addition to the immediate effect, the effect of the attack, it’s the unintended consequences. It’s the further destabilization in the region. It’s how they would respond. We have lots of Americans who live in that region who are under the threat envelope right now [because of the] capability that Iran has across the Gulf. So, I worry about their responses and I worry about it escalating in ways that we couldn’t predict.”

It isn’t enough to crank up the volume for the theme from Rocky and feel the testosterone surge. One also has to look dispassionately at the chessboard and think more than one move ahead.

Maybe they’ll listen to Kissinger. He has real credentials. They surely did not listen to me. My voice is metaphorically hoarse from shouting, as in the extracts below:

 On March 26, 2014:

A specter is haunting Europe, and that is the specter of a Russian-Chinese alliance at the expense of Europe. China is dynamic, and its dynamism is transforming the “Silk Road” countries that lie across Russia’s southern border. China is building high-speed rail and high-speed internet south to Rangoon and eastward to Istanbul, intent on transforming its neighbors into an export market for high-value-added manufacturing and high-tech products. It’s one of the most remarkable ventures in world economic history, and the most underreported story of the year. My conservative friends have been predicting China’s economic demise every year for the past dozen, and have been wrong each time. They notice the elephant dung, but ignore the elephant.

On March 16, 2014:

 The West had the chance to sponsor a constitutional referendum that would have given the peoples of the Ukraine a fair chance to decide whether they wished to become a Ukrainian people, or separate peaceably. Now we have a Russian fait accompli.

We know what comes next; we saw it in Egypt. The U.S. Congress and European parliaments will hand the matter of bailing out Ukraine to the IMF, the IMF will propose austerity measures that the hodgepodge Maidan government can’t sell, the Russians will raise gas price and collect back debts, and Ukraine will stay in chaos. Maybe Putin will pick up other pieces; maybe he won’t. Sadly, it will depend on his whim.

Putin is riding a wave of popular support at home, which also should be no surprise. Remember that Putin threw his Serb allies under the bus during the wag-the-dog war of 1998 when NATO backed the secession of Kosovo. We lied about Serbian genocide then, just as Putin is lying about fascist threats to Russian nationals today. Call it the soft bigotry of low expectations, but I don’t expect the truth from Moscow–I do expect it from Washington. Putin stood back on Kosovo precisely in order to let NATO set a precedent for the secession of provinces with large ethnic minorities. It doesn’t matter what we think. From the Russian way of looking at things, the takeover of Crimea was justified.

And on March 20, 2014, quoting Norman A. Bailey, president of the Institute for Global Economic Growth: “The reaction of Europe and the U.S. to the Russian takeover of Crimea ensures no Russian cooperation on any meaningful agreement with Iran concerning their plans to achieve the means to produce nuclear weapons.  Indeed, Russia has just agreed to provide Iran with another nuclear power plant.”