I’ve spent the last decade much like some Hamlet wandering through a T.S.Eliot poem distracted from distraction by distraction, not sure what to do next, all antic and melancholy at the same time. I keep a low profile, and yet no matter how I try to avoid the pressure points of re-visited trauma, I always seem to take the wrong turn down some labyrinthine corridor of consciousness. Most recently, I detected a peculiar sound and turning right looked into the semi-dark of a chapel chamber to see Henry Kissinger on his knees, but not in supplication to some Redeemer, asking forgiveness for all the bad karma caused by his machinations – stealing liberty, poisoning the rule of law – no, on his knees now ravishing presumed First Lady MacClinton, the sound a slippyslosh of jowls and giblets in violin-like vibrato. Two aphrodisiacs at work.
Book Review: World Order by Henry Kissinger
Yes, Henry Kissinger is back, kneepads and all. That’s the thing about K. He’s always coming back: the Cathedral homunculus of a flying buttress, or a fat Keebler cookie elf, or the nose-picking intellectual giant speaking what Eric Schmidt called his “charming German.” When I’d almost forgotten him, up he pops in Harper’s magazine, the lead piece in February and March 2001, being excoriated, in the trial docks of the late Christopher Hitchens’ mind, for treason, war crimes and outrages against humanity. There was no reasonable doubt left after I’d finished reading; I can tell you that.
Then, as if to flaunt his impunity, in late 2002 Kissinger was appointed by G W Bush to head the 9/11 Commission investigation, only to immediately resign and run for his life from the fallout of an indignant public. One can only imagine what he might have offered to a commission so stymied and squelched by the White House that its outraged chief counsel, John Farmer, wrote The Ground Truth, a book detailing what amounted to obstruction of justice in what may be the single most traumatic criminal event in American history. But, then again, Henry’s appointment made sense; for he sure knows how to keep a president’s secrets, no matter how criminal they may be.
Unruffled, he continued on his over-priced lecture circuit, spouting much of the same stuff about order that he’s managed to fill his 15th book up with. Stopping by to speak with Eric Schmidt for an Authors@Google session in 2008, Eric thanks Henry for saving his life by ending a Viet Nam war for which Schmidt feels he almost certainly would have been drafted. (But no mention of Henry’s role in prolonging the war from 1968.) Kissinger praises Nixon and tells Schmidt that though he was not involved in Watergate he likes to think he would have done the right thing. (But does not mention how he ordered illegal wiretaps on journalists or fellow National Security Council peers.) The Google crowd swoons when Henry says he doesn’t even use email or Twitter.
Then, Henry releases World Order, and goes on the TV circuit. Next thing you know he’s appearing on the Colbert Report, where you reasonably expect Colbert to jib and jab the old diplomat with non-sequitors until he deflates. And it starts out promisingly enough, when Colbert sums up Kissinger’s neo-con foreign policy with the snark, “Bomb them back to the Stone Age, then invite them into the 17th century, eh?” But then Colbert has a gushy little breakdown and thanks his guest with a genuine, hero-worshipping handshake (the hand K had been using moments before to pick at his nose, I might add), and what little self-respect Colbert had disappears along with his image when I suddenly remote-kill the TV.
Still, Colbert’s snark is a good place to begin a review of World Order. Because Kissinger begins his book by acknowledging the influence of the Truman Doctrine on his formative thinking, but most of all the Truman notion of tough love for enemies, which Kissinger quotes Truman as summarizing thusly, “”That we totally defeated our enemies and then brought them back to the community of nations. I would like to think that only America would have done this.” Kissinger goes on to say that all presidents since Truman have followed this ‘beat the shit out of them and then invite ’em in for tea’ foreign policy approach. Of course, it takes Oliver Stone to point out that this Truman meme, which most other nations would likely find obnoxious and aggressive, may have had its origins in Truman’s ‘wimpy’ childhood filled with transgender issues, leaving the compensatory need to overachieve, such as with the overachievement of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
So right off the bat over the head, you could say that the principle theme of Kissinger’s new book is the restoration of world order, American style. Which is to say, the point of view of the narrative is the hawk’s eye view through the fog and clouds of discord and focussed ever on the prize of global control. World Order is an evolving pep talk and rallying cry for America the Exceptional (we murder for humane reasons) and the Indispensable (or else).
The first two-thirds of the book are devoted to a historical survey and summary of previous systems of order. Kissinger starts out by describing the Westphalia Peace treaty of 1648, which not only ended the Thirty Years War, which had torn old Europe apart, but introduced to Europeans and the world (through colonial expansion) the concepts and protocols of territorial sovereignty and balance of power, which have been the standards of Western statesmanship since.
He then rightly points out that this is not the only operative concept of order and that other regions have followed principles derived from their own histories and cultural identities. In Asia there are a ‘multiplicity’ of governing orders that contrast with Western claims to hegemony. For instance, writes Kissinger, “China rejects the proposition that international order is fostered by the spread of liberal democracy and that the international community has an obligation to bring this about.” But China is not alone in the region: India, Japan, South Korea, are all ‘major players’ (based on either their economic clout and/or military might) who have systems of order tied to historical and cultural legacies that are largely incompatible with the Westphalian protocols.
This goes for Russia, as well, which Kissinger describes as incorrigibly expansionist. And the inseparability of Islam from politics makes the Arab states of Middle East (and some would include Israel’s Zionist core) fundamentally at odds with European standards. Such difference is why, Kissinger points out, “No truly global ‘world order’ has ever existed.” The Westphalia system of territorial sovereignty and balance of power principles is the closest the world has come, argues Kissinger.
“The genius of this system, and the reason it spread across the world,” he writes, “was that its provisions were procedural, not substantive. If a state would accept these basic requirements, it could be recognized as an international citizen able to maintain its own culture, politics, religion, and internal policies, shielded by the international system from outside intervention.”
But interestingly, while Kissinger pays effusive homage to the French statesman Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu as a kind of progenitor of the Westphalian peace accord, with all its stabilizing influence for Europe, not long afterward Henry is sweetly steeping himself in the descriptive analysis of Machiavelli’s Prinicipi. However, it is not the foreign policy protocols of Richelieu, or the seminal realpolitik of Machiavelli, that gets aphrodisiacal blood pulsing in this discussion, but rather the 4th B.C. Indian minister Kautilya, who Kissinger describes as a fusion of Machiavelli and the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, and in whom he finds the embodiment of practical realism informed by latent treachery.
“For Kautilya, power was the dominant reality,” Kissinger writes. “It was multidimensional, and its factors were interdependent. All elements in a given situation were relevant, calculable, and amenable to manipulation toward a leader’s strategic aims. Geography, finance, military strength, diplomacy, espionage, law, agriculture, cultural traditions, morale and popular opinion, rumors and legends, and men’s vices and weaknesses needed to be shaped as a unit by a wise king to strengthen and expand his realm—much as a modern orchestra conductor shapes the instruments in his charge into a coherent tune.” And now one has the image of Henry K. as The Abominable Dr. Phibes conducts the dark forces of the world, when in walked Hillary.
Perhaps it was Kautilya who inspired Kissinger in Paris 1968 when, according to multiple sources, he helped undermine an imminent peace accord between North and South Viet Nam, in order to throw the presidential election Nixon’s way, and which led to some 20,000 more preventable US war deaths (plus, unknown numbers of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians). Maybe Kissinger should have disclosed that to Eric Schmidt and his Google gaggle at that gaga fest.
This might be a good time to raise the fact that World Order fails to mention Africa or, in any substantial way, Latin America, in its analysis. Maybe because they continue represent merely exploitable repositories of fabulous wealth for a psychopathic few.
Of course, always the intent of the book is to make the case for a return to the strengths of the Westphalian system, presided over by the latest incarnation of the Truman Doctrine. As Kissinger all but admonishes the reader, “Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order. Chaos threatens side by side with unprecedented interdependence: in the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the disintegration of states, the impact of environmental depredations, the persistence of genocidal practices, and the spread of new technologies threatening to drive conflict beyond human control or comprehension.”
Again, little or no mention is made of the US foreign policy decisions and actions that have helped lead the world down a path toward chaos and potentially self-immolation. Herr Doktor K makes no mea culpa as decency, let alone justice, requires. Kissinger can say of the Iran’s Khomeini that he seeks a West-threatening Islamic Awakening and is an ideological expansionist, but he fails to discuss the US-led coup that toppled Iran’s democratic republic. He can talk the disintegration of states yet fail to acknowledge his role in toppling the legitimate democratically elected Allende government, resulting in years of repression and brutality for Chileans. He has the nerve to raise the spectre of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ignoring the carpet bombing and napalm and Agent Orange he triggered, and pretending that the recent sale of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia never happened, and that all these acts of US aggression have no consequence.
As Kissinger cites Kautilya, “the state is a fragile organization, and the statesman does not have the moral right to risk its survival on ethical restraint.” And following Arjuna, the warrior, “He should accept the circumstances with equanimity and fulfill his role with honor, and must strive to kill and prevail and ‘should not grieve.'” Yes, strive to kill. One recalls those largely suppressed lines of a younger Winston Churchill, expressed to a friend in a letter, regarding the Great War: “I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can’t help it — I enjoy every second of it.” They really do enjoy it.
Of course, such sentiments come easy when you soft hands, a fat belly, and the power to send another to his (or her) death as a proxy warrior of your policy.
I have been reading a growing body of work around the idea of the breakdown of the nation-state, disorder, and potential cataclysm. Deborah Mackenzie had a long piece in New Scientist recently, aptly titled “End of Nation-States: Is There An Alternative to Countries,” which interestingly enough concludes by seemingly tying a solution to the adoption of the two outstanding secret international trade treaties – the TTP and TTIP, which would bypass the disharmony of competing national interests by over-riding constitutional mandates in signatory nations. Foreign Affairs also had a recent piece by Richard Haass, titled “The Unraveling: How to Respond to a Disordered World,” that for all intents and purposes could be an abstract of Kissinger’s new book. Clearly, a certain kind of diplomacy never had more value.
And the Internet complicates things even more, since it currently represents a kind of No State beyond any one government’s control (although word is the US has installed kill switches at critical junctures in case of ‘an emergency’). There has been discussion of the potential Balkanization of the Internet into regions – the World Wide Web becoming a series of Region Wide Webs – in fact, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen devote a whole chapter to such a fissure in The New Digital Age (2013). Is it a coincidence that just such regionalization appears to be part of Kissinger’s advocacy for an updated Westphalian system?
Clearly, no genius is needed to perceive that the world is currently full of critical problems and it’s clear that a One World principle is necessary to fix some of the outstanding global issues – that’s what the UN was meant to do. The problem is: Who will control this One World? There has never been a time when trust in government has been so comprehensively questioned worldwide. One could almost argue that such discord has been intentionally sown to set up a corporate solution; a variation of the Truman meme.
Readers expecting anything fresh from Kissinger’s new World Order will be disillusioned; there’s nothing here but the same old same old, with some minor updating to include the influence of ISIS, a reference to the Ukrainian crisis, and a coded declaration that the two trade partnership agreements across the Atlantic and the Pacific – the TTIP and TTP – are the essential upgrade needed to the Westphalian principles that have provided “order” to the Western-controlled world since the 17th century.
And, on this latter point, certainly it is not inconsequential that Henry’s World Order arrives on the verge of Hillary Clinton’s coming out for the 2016 Democratic nomination for the presidency. That explains her recent Washington Post review of Kissinger’s new book, in which she trades in her former loud and acerbic criticism of all things Henry in order to polish his German helmet to a fine sheen.
Who better than a Clinton to see sovereignty-destroying trade legislation passed and then managed? (NAFTA anyone?) They have been praising each other in public ever since. But when two old trolls make such love under the bridge, where all that blood flows, you can bet it ain’t the bed you hear creaking. And for those who see the Kissinger-Clinton connection as an anomaly, recall rigid Ann Coulter’s preference for Hillary of over John McCain – because “Hillary is absolutely more conservative.” A scary thought indeed.
In the end, when Kissinger, Clinton and Schmidt talk The Future there is nothing comforting in it for common ordinary people. The world will remain in the hands of the same old hierarchy of elites, a buffer zone of bourgeois and their wannabes, and vast swathes of humanity – billions – born into lives of servitude and exploitation.
For toads and toadies like Henry K, Clinton and Schmidt the hoi polloi, who make up the majority of the world’s population, are entirely disposable and of no importance beyond ravishment.
Absent thee from felicity awhile, O world. And order in the court.
NOTE: This is an extended and somewhat different version than the piece published in the Prague Post on November 27, 2014. http://praguepost.com/142-culture/42909-book-review-world-order-by-henry-kissinger