Henry Kissinger is once again in the middle of a policy debate, this time over Ukraine

Historians in the News
tags: Henry Kissinger

Jim Sleeper, a lecturer in political science at Yale and a former columnist for the New York Daily News, is the author of The Closest of Strangers and Liberal Racism.

Russia's encroachments on Ukraine have prompted some Americans to reenact, even yearn for, what New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier characterized as the Cold War’s “mottled tale of glory” through staging confrontations, at least rhetorically. Even a seasoned foreign policymaker such as the former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Pole by birth, wary of détente with Russia, “clarified” the Ukraine conflict this way in The Washington Post on March 3: “Much depends on how clearly the West conveys to the dictator in the Kremlin — a partially comical imitation of Mussolini and a more menacing reminder of Hitler — that NATO cannot be passive if war erupts in Europe […]” “This does not mean that the West, or the United States, should threaten war,” Brzezinski added diplomatically, proposing in his column that the West do precisely that.

Enter Henry Kissinger — 91 years old, 37 years out of public office as Richard Nixon’s and Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State from 1973–’77 (and, before that, Nixon’s National Security Advisor from 1969) — to calm the roiling waters. In a Washington Post column published two days after Brzezinski’s, Kissinger, the veteran practitioner and now valedictorian of the “realist” school in foreign affairs, warned Americans against indulging any inclination to attach missionary passion to force in order to solve crises abroad:

Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.

He rebuffed romantic visions of resistance to the Kremlin’s fascist clown:

For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one. […] Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.

Reminding the West’s would-be Cold Warriors that “Ukraine has been independent for only 23 years” since the 14th century and that “even such famed [Soviet-era] dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russian history,” Kissinger might as well have said that Ukraine matters more to Russia than Texas did to the United States, which seized it from Mexico with the help of “Anglo” separatists in 1846. “These are principles, not prescriptions,” he said of his proposals. “People familiar with the region will know that not all of them will be palatable to all parties. The test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction.” ...

Read entire article at Los Angeles Review of Books

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