When I was growing up, I was taught to respect the assumed intellect and genius of Henry Kissinger. It was only later that I began to see his limits and failings as a strategist. Granted, all humans make mistakes and we all have limits, and frankly the difference between a wise man and a foolish one, often comes down to the wise man knowing his limits. Which reminds me, I don’t see any evidence that Dr. Kissinger ever admitted making mistakes or failing as a strategist.
So anyway, time passes and Dr. Kissinger has decided to opine again on National Security. Considering his record on Vietnam and Détente, I am hardly surprised that he chose to lay low for so long, but here he is again, with a short article on what Dr. Kissinger calls “the three revolutions”. As always, Dr. Kissinger’s work reflects a sharp mind but also poor assumptions. He starts his article by claiming there are three simultaneous “revolutions” going on; Europe’s transformation into a single continental union, the Islamist international Jihad, and the “drift of the center of international affairs from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans”. Ahem. The British have an apt phrasing for such hyperbole. The inane notion is dismissed as ‘balderdash’ and the person selling it is a ‘wanker’. While Dr. Kissinger may be offended by being dismissed in such a vulgar fashion, to my mind it is difficult enough getting folks to understand what is going on, without playing up the muddle of pretentious rhetoric and pompous egotism in its analysis. That is, these are not ‘revolutions’ at all, they are not even new in the way things go, and Dr. Kissinger’s assumptions are once again wrong and dangerous.
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Before I go into those false assumptions, I would also like to comment on Dr. Kissinger’s observation that Americans are much more willing to sacrifice for a cause than Western Europeans. While this is true, Dr. Kissinger seems to believe this is something new, an error my father and grandfather could have corrected immediately. My father understood before the United States entered World War 2, that we would have to go in and win the damn thing, because while Europeans could be counted on to look after their own self-interests, only the British had a history of taking on the tough fights when it was someone else in danger. My grandfather would have said the same thing, noting that in World War 1 a major part of the conflict was both sides hoping to sway the United States. Even 90 years ago, the world knew that whatever side the United States was on, would win, and that the United States was the one nation which would help someone else for no reason beyond their conviction that it was right and necessary. Dr. Kissinger’s belief that this is some new trait, is well off the mark.
These sorts of errors also show in the “revolutions” Dr. Kissinger wants to sell in his article. You see, a revolution is not just some new event or behavior, but a substantial and radical shift in beliefs and culture. The American Revolution changed the world from monarchy to representative government, beginning in the American colonies. The Industrial Revolution changed how we live, work, and dream. While the conflicts are important, the changes in Europe are not revolutionary, but evolving commercial agreements. The Islamic Jihad is simply a new cycle of the same cult which provoked the Crusades and inspired piracy in the Mediterranean Sea for centuries. And the interest in the Pacific region is not new at all; trade with Asia was a priority at least as far back as Marco Polo, and the importance of democratizing the region goes at least as far back as the Spanish-American War. The situation is simply not what Dr. Kissinger claims.
Why is this important, and why is it relevant to the present condition? Because most people have a poor grasp of History these days, not only in the United States but around the globe. Europe has forgotten why Pontiers matters. They have forgotten why the Congress of Vienna was important. They have forgotten why the Council of Europe was formed after World War Two. So, the lessons will come slower and harder for Europe than they need to be, but History reminds us that Europe will learn what it knew before.
As for the Islamists, the threat is very real, but events do not occur in a vacuum. The modern Islamists lack the military power of the first Jihads, and they lack the moral force needed to sway opinion. It may be too much to hope for a Muslim version of the Reformation, but the movement can be stopped by a determined opposition, even in a unilateral action such as Dr. Kissinger disdains, should that defense be by a competent and motivated alliance or nation, such as already fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Kissinger himself admitted that no serious President of the United States would even contemplate abandoning Iraq or Afghanistan to the whims of the region’s aggressive powers. But he failed to properly count the historical record in addressing how the present Jihad’s mistakes and limits make it a serious threat, but not an unstoppable one.
As for the Pacific and Indian oceans and their influence, Dr. Kissinger seems unaware that population and GDP growth in the Asian continent and Indian subcontinent are by no means new, much less revolutionary, nor does simple catch-up through industrial progress mean that either region is poised to claim economic dominance, much less secure ownership of global influence beyond the scale of existing powers. Part of this is the continual liberal blunder of discounting military power (just as conservatives tend to overstate military power as an influence-builder), and the rather foolish presumption that recent history is the best indicator of long-range future developments. I do not mean to pretend that China, India, and the Pacific Rim will not play important roles in the 21st Century, but it seems strange to me how little Dr. Kissinger seems to have thought of their 20th Century history. To put it another way, China had a revolution which changed its government, but it is not a world revolution, nor should any one of the considered nations be judged without consideration of relevant events and actions with and by other nations, and of the known historical progression up to this point.
Dr. Kissinger asks what sort of goals can America “realistically” set for itself in the century to come, demonstrating his greatest failure. After all these years, Dr. Kissinger still does not understand that the United States does not set just ‘realistic’ goals, but unrealistic goals. Like a world where kings do not own serfs, a world where all people are free to live and work with the same rights as other people, a world where tyranny is disarmed and toppled from power, and one nation will change the world to establish Justice, even if it starts on its own to do so. After all these years, Dr. Kissinger still does not understand America, or her people.