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現實主義需要新理論 - J. Levine


The Crisis of Realism


Jonathan Levine, 04/05/13


In 1928, the Kellogg-Briand Pact was inaugurated to great international fanfare. Its signatories, who included the United States and most of Europe, disavowed the use of war in resolving international disputes and promised instead to employ only peaceful means. The accord was hailed as a triumph in the evolution of international relations. The rest, as they say, is history.


No one can deny that much of the twentieth century belonged to the realists and neorealists, those chilly mandarins who place the national interest above ideological high-mindedness. The last century was replete with examples of leadership tossing aside principle in favor of practical: Molotov and Ribbentrop, Nixon and Mao, Sadat and Begin, to name a few. With the end of the Cold War, however, international relations headed into uncharted waters. The twenty-first century presents realists of all stripes with complex new challenges. States are weaker and the logic of nuclear security is shifting. For realism to stay as relevant in the twenty-first century as in the twentieth, it must update itself.


Nonstates and Small States


At no time since the Treaty of Westphalia have nonstate actors played such a disproportionate role in international relations. Since the conclusion of the Thirty Years War in 1648, foreign affairs have been dominated by states. The system was seen as anarchic because states were the highest level in the paradigm and operated without any higher super-authority. This absence of an “international 911” forced states to serve as the final guarantors of their own security and strategize accordingly. The consequences of this reality have shaped much of human history for the last 350 years.


Today, international terrorism, multinational corporations, Wikileaks and numerous other nonstate entities drive the agenda as often as the bluster and bombast of individual states. Yet the old models have shown themselves to be glacial in adapting.


For example, Mutually Assured Destruction, one of the Cold War’s most sacral totems, was an early casualty. Its value was potent when one’s adversaries were cold Soviet atheists. But the doctrine is less helpful when they are religious fundamentalists -- who not only do not fear their own demise but also seek it out as a strategic end. In their dealings with Hamas and Palestinian suicide terrorism, Israel has long understood this phenomenon.


The point was driven home in the West by September 11, yet the Bush doctrine that followed evinced the clunky and cumbersome challenges of grafting twentieth-century thinking onto a uniquely twenty-first-century conundrum. By targeting terrorists and “those who harbor them,” the president kept the Westphalian state-to-state conflict model intact, but at a cost of dangerously broadening the acceptable criteria for violence. What we got was Iraq.


In his seminal work, A Theory of International Relations, Kenneth Waltz, perhaps the most influential realist thinker alive today, famously dismissed nonstate actors as irrelevant. States, he said, were the highest unit, and among states only the most powerful should be considered. The great influence of the book notwithstanding, Waltz’s claim ran into numerous complications from the beginning: minor players like Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam have at times seemed to hold the fate of the world in their grasp, if not directly, then in their ability to induce major powers towards conflict. In the post-9/11 world, however, this element of Waltzian neorealism almost completely breaks down, as today even small states appear increasingly subject to the fissiparous dispersion of power.


Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Peace


As a tool of international relations, few things have been as vexing as the dilemma of nuclear weapons. Unmatched in destructive power, the bomb has proliferated during one of the longest eras of global peace in human history. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humanity has avoided the conflagrations that engulfed the world twice in the first half of the twentieth century.


Even the most ardent supporters of denuclearization today would be hard-pressed to deny at least some agency to nuclear weapons in preserving the peace of the world. The true test for realism and its competitors is how to apply this Cold War insight to a post–Cold War world.


Oxymoronic as it may sound, the idea of a “nuclear peace” does exhibit a graceful logic. If nuclear weapons kept the United States and the Soviet Union from blowing the world to bits out of nothing more than stone-cold fear, why then can such reasoning not be stretched to other nations, or even all nations -- an ultimate Sword of Damocles? As Waltz articulated in a major 1981 paper, miscalculation and accidents would be unlikely as even the most foolish and irrational of actors could not help but be cognizant of the potential devastation conflict could bring.


The primary argument against adopting the theory as policy is that it would demand a level of accuracy that only hard science could provide. International relations is not physics. Even in recent years, as the field has sought to cloak itself in quantitative obscurantism, it remains a soft science. The profession’s luminaries are many, but there are no Newtons or Einsteins because international relations will always be limited to theory. There are no laws. The vagaries of human behavior will never conform to expectations as elegantly as an apple falling from a tree.


Nuclear peace demands 100 percent accuracy, but history already has shown this to be an impossibly high bar. In 1999, India and Pakistan fought over Kashmir in the Kargil War. Nuclear weapons went unused as cooler heads prevailed, but this will not always be the case if nuclear weapons continue to spread. Even if proliferation led the world to avoid nine hundred and ninety-nine of one thousand conflicts, that one exception might alone be worse than the sum of all we were spared.


The Importance of Theory


As the globe reverts back to multipolarity, circumstances such as nuclear weapons and the rise of nonstate forces threaten to make old forms of neorealism obsolete. This is not to say that the shortcomings of modern realism will herald the rise of a new neoliberal utopia. As Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner and Steven Weber pointed out in the most recent issue of The National Interest, the liberal order and the renaissance of global governance that were supposed to follow the end of the Cold War remain mostly aspirational. While the influence of nonstate actors in the form of international organizations has increased, their ability to promote peace and transcend the dilemmas of anarchy has not. Academics have spent an inordinate amount of time attacking ideological opponents or reanalyzing the implications of the Punic Wars; as a result, they have allowed theory to atrophy.


This neglect of theory is dangerous. While it will never rise to the realm of law, theory remains critically important in providing signposts that guide U.S. foreign policy. For example, whether you agree with it or not, one of liberalism’s most lasting contributions has been the Democratic Peace Theory. This idea that mature democratic countries do not go to war with each other has been extraordinarily influential in guiding U.S. democracy-promotion efforts for the last twenty years. Realism today does not offer anything as compelling.


The coming decades promise a blizzard of international uncertainty. If the United States is to retain its eminence in the global order, it is essential that the marketplace of ideas in international relations remain vibrant and relevant. Realists need to do their part.


Jonathan Levine is a lecturer of American Studies and English at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a contributing analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group. You can follow him on Twitter at @LevineJonathan.



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現實主義信條 – R. Kaplan


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The Realist Creed             


Robert Kaplan, 11/20/14


All people in foreign policy circles consider themselves realists, since all people consider themselves realistic about every issue they ever talk about. At the same time, very few consider themselves realists, since realism signifies, in too many minds, cynicism and failure to intervene abroad when human rights are being violated on a mass scale. Though everyone and no one is a realist, it is also true that realism never goes away -- at least not since Thucydides wrote The Peloponnesian War in the fifth century B.C., in which he defined human nature as driven by fear (phobos), self-interest (kerdos) and honor (doxa). And realism, as defined by perhaps the pre-eminent thinker in the field in the last century, the late Hans Morgenthau of the University of Chicago, is about working with the basest forces of human nature, not against them.


Why is realism timeless and yet reviled at the same time? Because realism tells the bitterest truths that not everyone wants to hear. For in foreign policy circles, as in other fields of human endeavor, people often prefer to deceive themselves. Let me define what realism means to me.


First of all, realism is a sensibility, a set of values, not a specific guide as to what to do in each and every crisis. Realism is a way of thinking, not a set of instructions as to what to think. It doesn't prevent you from making mistakes. This makes realism more an art than a science. That's why some of the best practitioners of realism in recent memory -- former U.S. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III -- never distinguished themselves as writers or philosophers. They were just practical men who had a knack for what made sense in foreign policy and what did not. And even they made mistakes. You can be an intellectual who has read all the books on realism and be an utter disaster in government, just as you could be a lawyer who has never read one book on realism and be a good secretary of state. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was unique because he was both: an intellectual realist and a successful statesman. But successful statesmen, intellectual or not, must inculcate a set of beliefs that can be defined by what may be called the Realist Creed:


Order Comes Before Freedom. That's right. Americans may think freedom is the most important political value, but realists know that without order there can be no freedom for anyone. For if anarchy reigns and no one is in charge, freedom is worthless since life is cheap. Americans sometimes forget this basic rule of nature since they have taken order for granted -- because they always had it, a gift of the English political and philosophical tradition. But many places do not have it. That is why when dictators are overthrown, realists get nervous: They know that because stable democracy is not assured as a replacement, they rightly ask, Who will rule? Even tyranny is better than anarchy. To wit, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was more humane than Iraq under no one -- that is, in a state of sectarian war.


Work With the Material at Hand. In other words, you can't just go around the world toppling regimes you don't like because they do not adhere to the same human rights standards as you do, or because their leaders are corrupt or unenlightened, or because they are not democrats. You must work with what there is in every country. Yes, there might be foreign leaders so averse to your country's interests that it will necessitate war or sanctions on your part; but such instances will be relatively rare. When it comes to foreign rulers, realists revel in bad choices; idealists often mistakenly assume that there should be good ones.


Think Tragically in Order to Avoid Tragedy. Pessimism has more value than misplaced optimism. Because so many regimes around the world are difficult or are in difficult straits, realists know that they must always be thinking about what could go wrong. Foreign policy is like life: The things you worry about happening often turn out all right, precisely because you worried about them and took protective measures accordingly; it is the things you don't worry about and that happen unexpectedly that cause disaster. Realists are good worriers.


Every Problem Does Not Have a Solution. It is a particular conceit that every problem is solvable. It isn't. Mayhem and human rights violations abound, even as the United States cannot intervene everywhere or take foreign policy positions that will necessarily help. That's why realists are comfortable doing little or nothing in certain instances, even as they feel just as bad as idealists about heartrending situations.


Interests Come Before Values. A nation such as the United States has interests in secure sea lines of communication, access to energy, a soft dominance in the Western Hemisphere and a favorable balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere. These are amoral concerns that, while not necessarily in conflict with liberal values, operate in a different category from them. If Arab dictatorships will better secure safe sea lanes in and out of energy-producing areas than would chaotic democracies, realists will opt for dictatorship, knowing that it is a tragic yet necessary decision.


American Power Is Limited. The United States cannot intervene everywhere or even in most places. Precisely because America is a global power, it must try to avoid getting bogged down in any one particular place. The United States can defend treaty and de facto allies with its naval, air and cyber power. It can infiltrate communications networks the world over. It can, in short, do a lot of things. But it cannot set to rights complex Islamic societies in deep turmoil. So another thing realists are good at -- and comfortable with -- is disappointing people. In fact, one might say that foreign policy at its best is often about disappointing people, not always creating opportunities so much as keeping even worse things from happening.


Passion and Good Policy Often Don't Go Together. Foreign policy requires practitioners among whom the blood runs cold. While loud voices abound about doing something, the person in charge must quietly ask himself or herself, If I do this, what will happen two steps down the road, three steps down the road, and so forth? For passion can easily flip: Those screaming the loudest for intervention today can be the same ones calling your intervention flawed or insufficient after you have embarked on the fateful enterprise.


Reading this list, you might think that realism is immoral. That would be wrong. Rather, realism is imbued with a hard morality of best possible outcomes under the circumstances rather than a soft morality of good intentions. For there is a big difference between being moral and moralistic: The former celebrates difficult choices and the consequences that follow, while the latter abjures them. Realism is a hard road. The policymaker who lives by its dictums will often be rebuked while in office and fondly recalled as a statesman in the years and decades following. Look at George H.W. Bush. But foreign policy realists who have served in high office, I suspect, are more comfortable with the kind of loneliness that comes with rebuke than some of their idealist counterparts. Loneliness is normal for the best policymakers; it is the craving for the adoring crowd that is dangerous.


Robert D. Kaplan is Chief Geopolitical Analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm, and author of Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific. Reprinted with the permission of Stratfor.



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當現實槓上信念,你如何選擇 - M. Shermer



Why We Should Choose Science over Beliefs


Ideology needs to give way



Ever since college I have been a libertarian -- socially liberal and fiscally conservative. I believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility. I also believe in science as the greatest instrument ever devised for understanding the world. So what happens when these two principles are in conflict? My libertarian beliefs have not always served me well. Like most people who hold strong ideological convictions, I find that, too often, my beliefs trump the scientific facts. This is called motivated reasoning, in which our brain reasons our way to supporting what we want to be true. Knowing about the existence of motivated reasoning, however, can help us overcome it when it is at odds with evidence.


Take gun control. I always accepted the libertarian position of minimum regulation in the sale and use of firearms because I placed guns under the beneficial rubric of minimal restrictions on individuals. Then I read the science on guns and homicides, suicides and accidental shootings (summarized in my May column) and realized that the freedom for me to swing my arms ends at your nose. The libertarian belief in the rule of law and a potent police and military to protect our rights won't work if the citizens of a nation are better armed but have no training and few restraints. Although the data to convince me that we need some gun-control measures were there all along, I had ignored them because they didn't fit my creed. In several recent debates with economist John R. Lott, Jr., author of More Guns, Less Crime, I saw a reflection of my former self in the cherry picking and data mining of studies to suit ideological convictions. We all do it, and when the science is complicated, the confirmation bias (a type of motivated reasoning) that directs the mind to seek and find confirming facts and ignore disconfirming evidence kicks in.


My libertarianism also once clouded my analysis of climate change. I was a longtime skeptic, mainly because it seemed to me that liberals were exaggerating the case for global warming as a kind of secular millenarianism -- an environmental apocalypse requiring drastic government action to save us from doomsday through countless regulations that would handcuff the economy and restrain capitalism, which I hold to be the greatest enemy of poverty. Then I went to the primary scientific literature on climate and discovered that there is convergent evidence from multiple lines of inquiry that global warming is real and human-caused: temperatures increasing, glaciers melting, Arctic ice vanishing, Antarctic ice cap shrinking, sea-level rise corresponding with the amount of melting ice and thermal expansion, carbon dioxide touching the level of 400 parts per million (the highest in at least 800,000 years and the fastest increase ever), and the confirmed prediction that if anthropogenic global warming is real the stratosphere and upper troposphere should cool while the lower troposphere should warm, which is the case.


The clash between scientific facts and ideologies was on display at the 2013 FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas—the largest gathering of libertarians in the world -- where I participated in two debates, one on gun control and the other on climate change. I love FreedomFest because it supercharges my belief engine. But this year I was so discouraged by the rampant denial of science that I wanted to turn in my libertarian membership card. At the gun-control debate (as in my debates with Lott around the country), proposing even modest measures that would have almost no effect on freedom -- such as background checks -- brought on opprobrium as if I had burned a copy of the U.S. Constitution on stage. In the climate debate, when I showed that between 90 and 98 percent of climate scientists accept anthropogenic global warming, someone shouted, “LIAR!” and stormed out of the room.


Liberals and conservatives are motivated reasoners, too, of course, and not all libertarians deny science, but all of us are subject to the psychological forces at play when it comes to choosing between facts and beliefs when they do not mesh. In the long run, it is better to understand the way the world really is rather than how we would like it to be.


This article was originally published with the title When Science Doesn't Support Beliefs.



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0.     前言






1.     「現實主義」的意涵


1.1  解釋「現實主義」


「現實主義」這個「指號」(名詞、概念、術語、...)和任何其他「指號」一樣,對不同的人來說,有它不同的「所指」(意義、用法、言外之意、...)。這些「不同」來自各人的立場、利益、價值觀、人生觀、 ...等等。












1.2  「利益」面面觀




a.     「局部利益」相對於「整體利益」

b.     「短期利益」相對於「長期利益」

c.     「個人利益」相對於「公共利益」。




2.     「現實主義」有兩種
















* Chotiner, I. 2013, The Trial of Robert D. Kaplan: The Atlantic's absurd defense of Henry Kissinger (為季辛吉辯護的荒謬)http://city.udn.com/2976/4945371?tpno=0&cate_no=0

* Heilbrunn, J. 2012, Will Romney Discover His Inner Nixon?,羅米尼未來外交政策:新保守主義或現實主義http://city.udn.com/2976/4863475

* Iber, P. 2013, Empires of liberty, (自由主義:帝國主義高高掛的羊頭) http://city.udn.com/2976/4953527?tpno=0&cate_no=52524

* Kaplan, R. D. 2013, In Defense of Henry Kissinger, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/05/the-statesman/309283/

* Keller, B. 2012, Diplomats and Dissidents, (政治理想主義與政治現實主義)http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/14/opinion/keller-diplomats-and-dissidents.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 * Levine, J. 2013, The Crisis of Realism, (現實主義需要新理論)http://city.udn.com/2976/4945371?tpno=0&cate_no=0

* Merry, R. W. 2013, The Morality of Kissinger's Realism, (季辛吉現實主義代表的道德)http://city.udn.com/2976/4945371?tpno=0&cate_no=0

* 胡卜凱2013a,現實主義和道德 http://city.udn.com/2976/4945371?tpno=0&cate_no=0

* 胡卜凱2013b,自由主義和羊頭 http://city.udn.com/2976/4953527?tpno=0&cate_no=52524

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為季辛吉辯護的荒謬 - I. Chotiner


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The Trial of Robert D. Kaplan: The Atlantic's absurd defense of Henry Kissinger


Isaac Chotiner, 04/27/13


Great times call for great men. The cold war era provided Henry Kissinger. We have Robert Kaplan. Where Kissinger was content to oversee the bombing of Cambodia, the pointless extension of the Vietnam War, and the undermining of elected governments, Kaplan has set his sets higher: he wants to justify all these actions, and even celebrate them. In the current issue of The Atlantic, he gives this dirty task his best shot, and inadvertently proves that he is the most overrated pundit writing on foreign affairs.


The first thing to understand about both Kaplan and his hero is that they are obsessed with appearing as tough and no-nonsense. Their admitted amorality isn’t merely a philosophy, but rather a style. While others whimper about human rights and wrongs, they focus on the big picture: the national interest, strategic thinking, the “balance of power.” Thus Kaplan starts his piece with a defense of Castlereagh and Palmerston, the nineteenth century British statesman who in “difficult, uncertain times” managed to maintain the “status quo.” The beauty of such an outlook is that nearly everything becomes defensible. Other may shirk from the rough job of upholding the balance of power, but they do not.  As Kaplan phrases it, summing up his thesis:


The rare individuals who have recognized the necessity of violating such morality, acted accordingly, and taken responsibility for their actions are among the most necessary leaders for their countries, even as they have caused great unease among generations of well-meaning intellectuals who, free of the burden of real-world bureaucratic responsibility, make choices in the abstract and treat morality as an inflexible absolute.


The most glaring problem with this argument, however, is its inherent logical flaw. If the balance of power is worth preserving, then presumably it is preserving for a reason. If the cold war should have been fought with vigor and without sentimentality, as Kaplan believes, then presumably the United States should have tried to defeat the Soviet Union for a reason. Everyone is, at bottom, some sort of moralist.


Kaplan falls into this error, and others, in his discussion of Chile. He explains the situation there in 1973 as follows:


Nixon and Kissinger encouraged a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, during which thousands of innocent people were killed. Their cold moral logic was that a right-wing regime of any kind would ultimately be better for Chile and for Latin America than a leftist regime of any kind -- and would also be in the best interests of the United States. They were right -- though at a perhaps intolerable cost.


Notice Kaplan trying to have this every possible way. They were right -- i.e. the policy was justified -- although the costs were “perhaps” intolerable, meaning that the policy was not justified. Kaplan goes on to celebrate Pinochet’s rule, but then adds, pathetically, “Still, no amount of economic and social gain justifies almost two decades of systematic torture perpetrated against tens of thousands of victims in more than 1,000 detention centers.” So which is it? Moreover, why does Kaplan pretend to care about torture and death? What are a few Latin American victims set beside the national interest, and the dangers of the Evil Empire?


Kaplan’s discussion of Vietnam is equally confusing. Yes, it’s true that the Nixon campaign helped sabotage the Paris Peace Talks in 1968, and yes, it’s also true that the eventual terms of the American retreat were nearly identical to what was discussed in that election year. But Kaplan, as an admirer of the Domino Theory, treats the whole question as a matter of America’s image. Arguing that it would have been difficult to pull out troops in 1969, he writes, “And that’s leaving aside the diplomatic and strategic fallout beyond Southeast Asia that America’s sudden and complete betrayal of a longtime ally would have generated.” In other words, thank God we stuck around for another half-decade. Imagine the consequences if we had left right away? But wait:


Let’s consider how Carter’s morality stacks up against Kissinger’s in the case of Ethiopia, which, like Angola, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan, was among the dominoes that became increasingly unstable and then fell in the months and years following Saigon’s collapse, partly disproving another myth of the Vietnam antiwar protest movement -- that the domino theory was wrong.


Translation: everything that Kaplan warned against happened anyway! Put aside the assertion that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the rise of the Sandinistas, and chaos in Africa were all the result of America leaving Vietnam, and merely ask:


what exactly did the Nixon-Kissinger policy -- which led to tens of thousands of American deaths and more Southeast Asian deaths than we can even count -- accomplish?


Kaplan is better equipped to discuss the bombing of Cambodia. Here he can merely celebrate immoral policy, and do so without gaping logical holes. He goes on to laud Kissinger’s oh-so-clever China policy by stating that with the Nixon embrace of China (and the ensuing Chinese economic reforms), “personal freedom effloresced.” Effloresced! Thank God the people of China live with such glorious freedom. Kissinger’s opinion on the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by the way, was as follows:


This is not the place to examine the events that led to the tragedy at Tiananmen Square; each side has different perceptions depending on the various, often conflicting, origins of their participation in the crisis ... The occupation of the main square of a country's capital, even when completely peaceful, is also a tactic to demonstrate the impotence of the government, to weaken it, and to tempt it into rash acts, putting it at a disadvantage.”


By the end of Kaplan’s piece, he is in full-on apologetics mode. He mentions that Kissinger denied that Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union was “an American concern.” He doesn’t add what Kissinger also said:


And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.


Maybe. This is ugly stuff, but men of great will -- from Kissinger to Kaplan -- cannot be dissuaded from the business of hard-nosed statecraft.



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我們可以參照上一篇文章和自由主義:帝國主義高高掛的羊頭(Iber, P., Empires of liberty)來了解國際政治的實務與為這些巧取豪奪行為的擦脂抹粉





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季辛吉現實主義代表的道德 – R. W. Merry


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The Morality of Kissinger's Realism 


Robert W. Merry, The National Interest, 04/25/13


Robert D. Kaplan’s provocative profile of Henry Kissinger, out today in The Atlantic, says a great deal about the man -- some of it quite antagonistic toward much received wisdom about the former presidential national-security adviser and secretary of state. But the piece, "The Statesman: In Defense of Henry Kissinger," also says a great deal about Kaplan himself.


What it says about Kaplan is that he has few peers these days in the historical forcefulness and analytical clarity of his writings on geopolitics and the meaning of strategic realism. What it says about Kissinger, in summary, is that, notwithstanding the often vicious attacks on him over the decades as a man whose love of power politics blinded him to any proper regard for morality in affairs of state, he was in fact the greatest statesman of his age. He operated in the mold of Britain’s great nineteenth-century foreign secretaries, Castlereagh and Palmerston, whose strategic realism fostered Britain’s rise on the world stage as well as much good that Britain was able to accomplish as a result of that rise.


Kaplan reminds us that, just as Kissinger has been hated in his time by those given to moralistic views on foreign policy, so were Castlereagh and Palmerston in their own times by the same kinds of intellectuals. Writes Kaplan: "Like Castlereagh, Palmerston had only one immutable principle in foreign policy: British self-interest, synonymous with the preservation of the worldwide balance of power." Both men sought to maintain the global status quo in the interest of stability even as they desired a better world.


Castlereagh was vilified for helping craft a post-Napoleonic peace that restored the Bourbon dynasty in France and preserved the Continent’s aristocratic order. But this approach, writes Kaplan, was necessary to establish a lasting European peace and foster Britain’s emergence as the dominant world power. Palmerston manifested a complete inconsistency in terms of morality in foreign policy while manifesting a complete consistency in supporting Britain’s internationalist aims. "He supported any tribal chieftain who extended British India’s sphere of influence northwest into Afghanistan, toward Russia, and opposed any who extended Russia’s sphere of influence southeast, toward India -- even as he cooperated with Russia in Persia."


This kind of tactical improvisation in the interest of strategic stability is difficult for many to understand or appreciate. But it served Britain well in the nineteenth century, and it served America well in the years of Kissinger’s prominence. "Like Palmerston," writes Kaplan, "Henry Kissinger believes that in difficult, uncertain times -- times like the 1960s and ‘70s in America, when the nation’s vulnerabilities appeared to outweigh its opportunities -- the preservation of the status quo should constitute the highest morality." Subsequent political leaders might later find opportunities to foster a more liberal order, but in the meantime the "trick is to maintain one’s power undiminished until that moment." That’s what Kissinger sought to accomplish during his years serving Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.


Kaplan acknowledges that it is often searing for some to face the reality that affairs of state sometimes don’t lend themselves to the application of Judeo-Christian morality. But those who act on the necessity of violating such moral precepts and then take responsibility for their actions "are among the most necessary leaders for their countries, even as they have caused great unease among generations of well-meaning intellectuals who, free of the burden of real-world bureaucratic responsibility, make choices in the abstract and treat morality as an inflexible absolute." Thus, in the case of Kissinger, to be uncomfortable with him may be natural. "But to condemn him outright verges on sanctimony, if not delusion."


Indeed, adds Kaplan, you can make a case that Kissinger’s actions and geopolitical sensibilities were quite moral -- "provided, of course, that you accept the Cold War assumptions of the age in which he operated."


Here’s where Kaplan gets particularly interesting, as he punctures much post–Cold War analysis put forth by liberal intellectuals, particularly the idea that the West’s victory was inevitable, and hence the tough U.S. response to the Soviet threat was in many ways unnecessary. No, says Kaplan, the Soviet threat was real, particularly in Europe. Eastern Europe had been reduced to "a vast, dimly lit prison yard" that would have expanded westward but for the military divisions and nuclear weapons of America. It was those military resources, in the hands of U.S. leaders willing to plan for Armageddon, which kept the peace.


And beyond Europe, "revolutionary nihilists" sought to make more Cubas in Latin America; Chinese Communists were killing some 20 million of their own citizens; Soviet plans were afoot to spread Communism into Africa; and the North Vietnamese, called by Kaplan "as ruthless a group of people as the 20th century produced," murdered up to tens of thousands of their own citizens "before the first American troops arrived in Vietnam."


Indeed, the Vietnam expedition was initiated on the basis of moral precepts and a sense of idealism in behalf of liberating peoples from the brutal Communist fate. And Kissinger emerged, Kaplan reminds us, just as it was becoming clear that America’s terrible entrapment there was destroying the country’s Establishment, an Establishment that Kissinger fervently had wished to join. "His fate was to step into the vortex of foreign policy just as the Establishment was breaking up over how to extricate the country from a war that the Establishment itself had helped lead the country into."


This, Kissinger found himself caught between the increasingly isolationist and moralistic Democrats, who agitated for an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, and a contingent of Republican conservatives who wanted an aggressive war policy accompanied by ongoing bellicosity toward China and the Soviet Union. "Both positions," writes Kaplan, "were fantasies that only those out of power could indulge."


Complicating this position was the widespread perception in the West that the Cold War was an immutable fact of life, that the Communist regimes of Russia and China were locked in place in perpetuity, or close to it, and hence would have to be treated as legitimate states. That’s what Kissinger did, even as he sought simultaneously to coax China out of its angry isolation, to play it off against the Soviet Union and to negotiate nuclear-arms agreements with the Soviets. This complex policy matrix, however brilliantly conceived, placed Kissinger in a vise between liberals opposed to any tough American stance in the world and conservatives bent on American hegemony. But his balance-of-power ethos, says Kaplan, far from being either cynical or amoral, "evinced a timeless and enlightened principle of statesmanship." What’s more, it largely worked, as any dispassionate historical appraisal would show.


Kaplan is particularly astute in recognizing that the American withdrawal from Vietnam under Nixon and Kissinger was as rapid as realistically could be accomplished while preserving America’s standing in Asia and its ability to promulgate the difficult policy of remaking the geopolitical landscape of the region in ways to foster stability well into the future. Further, he suggests that Nixon’s controversial decisions to bomb Communist redoubts in Cambodia and initiate an incursion into that country to destroy enemy supply depots -- actions necessary to prevent his withdrawal from being destroyed by military calamity in the South -- were not primarily instrumental in the later Communist takeover of Cambodia, contrary to many latter-day interpretations. Kaplan points instead to the political opposition in the United States, which barred ongoing U.S. support for Cambodia’s anticommunist government.


"Future historians," writes Kaplan, in a frontal swipe at the liberal interpretation of those events, "will consider those actions [of congressional liberals] more instrumental in the 1975 Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia than Nixon’s bombing of sparsely populated regions of Cambodia six years earlier." He notes that Saigon’s fall also emerged after liberals in Congress "drastically cut aid to the South Vietnamese." That fall might have occurred even with ongoing U.S. aid, but it’s worth noting that the North Vietnam’s big 1972 offensive ran into a stout military barrier from the South when Saigon still enjoyed robust U.S. support. But South Vietnam’s fate was probably sealed with the utter collapse of Nixon’s political authority in the Watergate scandal, which destroyed his ability to control events.


Kaplan traces Kissinger’s actions also in the Middle East, Chile and the Horn of Africa -- all controversial and some of them carrying what was perhaps an intolerable cost in subsequent human rights abuses. And yet all contributed in one way or another to future diplomatic successes and to greater regional stability during that perilous Cold War era. A poignant example was Kissinger’s resolve to support the Ethiopian regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in order to prevent that brutal dictatorship from becoming a full-fledged Marxist entity under Soviet domination. President Jimmy Carter, whose moralistic foreign-policy sensibilities were antipodal to Kissinger’s, promptly cut off aid after he took office, with the result that hundreds of thousands of people died in collectivization and "villagization" schemes -- "to say nothing," writes Kaplan, "of the hundreds of thousands who died in famines that were as much a consequence of made-in-Moscow agricultural policies as they were of drought."


Kaplan adds: "The link between Carter’s decision not to play Kissingerian power politics in the Horn of Africa and the mass deaths that followed in Ethiopia is more direct than the link between Nixon’s incursion into a rural area of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge takeover six years later."


This is powerful stuff, a direct challenge to much of the thinking that passes for conventional wisdom these days, particularly on the left. Kaplan’s article is primarily about Kissinger and his place in history, which the writer believes will generate ever-greater respect with the march of time and the added perspective that time engenders. But it is also very much about fundamental foreign-policy principles -- how great nations such as the United States navigate through the shoals of an angry world. "Realism," writes Kaplan, "is about the ultimate moral ambition in foreign policy: the avoidance of war through a favorable balance of power." That was the Kissingerian perspective, seen through countless actions and decisions over eight tumultuous and ultimately successful years in American global policy making. Kaplan sums up: "Henry Kissinger’s classical realism -- as expressed in both his books and his statecraft -- is emotionally unsatisfying but analytically timeless."


Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His most recent book is Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians.



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