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Dr. Kissinger describes a United States that is militarily and economically ascendant, uninterested in foreign policy, directed by domestic concerns . . . yet drawn into global peace-keeping and humanitarian activities. What should the U.S. be doing? Well, the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 certainly changed that perspective.
The book is a virtual country-by-country look at the historical foreign policy issues, current situation, and potential future economic and security concerns of the United States. Most people will find the historical references helpful. Many more will disagree on the prescriptions for tomorrow.
The book's overall theme is how to combine idealism and realism in a consistent way that foreign countries can rely on. The tests he suggests are:
(1) Should be universally applicable
(2) Should be sustainable by American public opinion
(3) Resonates with the international community
(4) Has some relationship to the historical context.
Reasonable people can differ on how to apply these points, so I'm not sure how helpful they will be.
Where most can agree with in the book is that the United States cannot act without listening to and responding to the concerns of other nations in its international relations. Act like the U.S. is king of the hill, and everyone else will gang up to topple the U.S. from that spot. It's also counter to U.S. principles, more importantly.
Dr. Kissinger is skeptical about tracking down those who have violated human rights and trying them. In that and many other ways, he seems more comfortable with pragmatism than with idealism. If we believe in democracy, peace, fairness, and prosperity, why shouldn't we lobby for, encourage and invest behind those aims? The more the world operates in those ways, the safer and more economically successful the United States will be. Would leaders who do great harm try so hard if they knew the United States would lead coalitions to see justice done? Isn't the problem with Iraq that the leader was not held accountable for his many murderous activities?
If we look back on the history of the 20th century, few would argue that more short-term pragmatism and less idealism would have worked better. Heading off abusive governments is easier done before they do the bulk of their harm.
Obviously, the United States cannot do everything for everybody everywhere. And I think few want America to. The U.S. example and encouragement can, however, help get some company from other nations in moving towards a better, more humanitarian world. Isn't that kind of idealism more pragmatic than falling back on the old balance-of-power game that has failed so often in the past?
Who can write on a clean slate of what we can and should accomplish with foreign policy? I don't know the answer, but I do not think it is Dr. Kissinger.
Learn from the past, what not to repeat in the future!...
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on 29 August 2001
Kissinger's writing style is attractive and makes for easy reading. He also talks about a fascinating subject area and one in which he is in a position to speak with great authority. However, his analysis is unashamedly pro-American and, while a critical and global perspective is required to truly appreciate the plurality of tasks facing the international community, he steams ahead with an approach, which for me, epitomises the arrogance and lack of understanding that has gotten American fingers burnt so many times before.
His appraisal of the European responses to issues such as American sanctions on Iraq etc, and the Missile Defence project, barely contains his opinion that we in Europe shouldn't question US policy and that we should be grateful to the US for "taking all the military risks". Does he think we in Europe are foolish enough to think that the US is gallantly taking these measures to safeguard its European allies? Surely,no-one (bar Dr. Kissinger himself) thinks that, because it simply isn't the case.
On issues such as the Missile Defence Shield, the US is running its own agenda and to its own liking. Any attempts to persuade Europeans that America is risking something to protect Europe is insulting.
On other issues, Kissinger displays other facets of his lack of understanding on complex issues. His description of the Iranian regime, for example, with his references to the current regimes' hostility to America, it's troublesome meddling in the Middle-East peace process and its support for groups such as Islamic Jihad, betray Kissinger's naivety and his narrow American perspective. While I would never condone any association with terrorism, a realsitic appraisal of the complexities of the Middle-East would surely alert one to ask some searching questions: WHY is there so much hostility to the US? Why was the Shah (talked about in positive terms by Kissinger)overthrown? (Nothing to do with the CIA's role in his installation as an "American-friendly" puppet?) Also, Kissinger's view of Iran disrupting the peace process fails to acknowledge that, for many Iranians, Iran IS PART of the peace process, as part of a country that is seen by many as the very essence of Islam and therefore a major voice in the protest against an American-backed country (Israel) which is illegally occupying traditionally Arab lands and carrying out a devastating military campaign to safeguard its illegally won territory.
While my own brief appraisal of the Middle-Eastern situation is simplistic (space constraints), Kissinger's narrow view adds further fuel to the claims that (some)Americans want a homogenous Americanised globe and that any societies that resist such moves, are "rogue". Yes, Iran has a poor record on human rights and has a recent history of warring. However, an honest and critical appraisal would concede that US involvement in many spheres has been as distasteful as anything that Kissinger could write about countries such as Iran.
This narrow and blinkered perspective blights an otherwise easy-reading, which is enjoyable and informative if you are American, have no interest in any other perspective outside that of the "American Way" and love glorifying in how squeaky-clean Uncle Sam will save the world from those who (shock, horror)choose to construct their societies in a different way or who are ungrateful enough not to see what America is trying to do for them. Stop, Dr. Kissinger, you're killing me...............
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