Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Henry Kissinger Speaks

You might be surprised to hear that Henry Kissinger is still alive and thinking. But, indeed he is. And he recently gave an extensive interview to Business Insider (via Maggie’s Farm). It is well worth your attention, even though, I am well aware, some readers will become positively dyspeptic over his views on certain matters. 

On the matter of the woke revolution currently sweeping the intelligentsia, Kissinger says this, quite accurately:

In the present period, there is a systemic questioning of the historic values of America. There is a point of view to the effect that American society has been immoral from its very beginning. Advocates of this view maintain that the American internal challenge derives from the historic structure of American society and history. They believe America's institutions — the Senate, the Supreme Court, perhaps even the Constitution itself — have to be remade from the ground up. This is a revolutionary frame of mind which is being pursued very systematically and very effectively. It is not a view that is held by close to 50% of the population. But it is a view that is intensely held and is perhaps dominant in the academic and media community. It is therefore becoming extremely influential.

Interesting point-- a minority of citizens, as long as they wield power in the right places, can exercise an undue influence on the nation. 

But, the more important point concerns China. As Dr. K sees clearly, we have made China less a competitor or even an opponent, and more an enemy. The difference is not a matter of nuance. As China expands its influence in the Middle East, we ought, as noted before, reconsider whether we want China to be our enemy. I do understand that some people believe that China would have allied itself with Iran, for example, even if we had not declared at trade war and decided that we needed to destroy some of its major companies, but the light of reason tells us that countries do not function in a vacuum. They function in relation to the actions of others and to the qualities sustained in their relationships. 

Kissinger challenges a view of China that is increasingly becoming commonplace in America:

But it faces the situation now where public opinion has become convinced that China is not only a rapidly growing country, which is true, but also that China is an inherent enemy, and that therefore our main task is to confront it and to reduce its capacity to be a major country. But China has been a major country for thousands of years. And in different historical epochs. And so, the recovery of China should be not surprising, and its consequences are that America, for the first time in its history, is facing a country of potentially comparable capacities in economics, and with great historic skill in conducting international affairs. This was not the case with the Soviets. They were actually weaker than the United States in military capacities, and they had no economic position in the international field at all. So, with respect to the current crisis, there is almost a certain nostalgia for the issues of the Cold War.

In other words, China is becoming a world-class competitor; it is probably not that smart to treat it as another Cold War enemy.

What is the difference between Russia and China? Kissinger explains:

There is a big difference between the Chinese perception of history and the Russian perception. Russian leaders have historically been insecure, because they have spent their history defending themselves against potential enemies on all sides. They have therefore, since becoming strong, identified influence with physical domination. China has a more complex view. The Confucian view, which shapes Chinese thinking side by side with Chinese Marxism, implies that if China performs at the maximum level of its capacities, it will generate a majestic conduct which will produce respect in the rest of the world — making it agreeable, at some levels, to Chinese preferences. In the Empire period, foreign countries were graded by the degree of their proximity to Chinese cultural precepts. There existed a department for grading these countries, and it conducted foreign policy. China has historically and recently supported this attitude with military actions to remind adversaries that this is not just a philosophical debate. But if you actually study the Chinese military actions, since the period that the communists took over, they've all been for psychological effect. They were often very tough. And we must be prepared to oppose Chinese hegemony. But we, at the same time, should remain open to a policy of coexistence.

Coexistence does not preclude competition. It prevents competition from becoming open warfare. 

In dealing with China, different schools of thought have to be sorted out. There's a group who thinks the Chinese capacity for foreign policy must be confronted at all levels from economics to Chinese internal politics. It ascribes current Chinese policies to the current Chinese leadership and strives for bringing about a more accommodating group. I, on the other hand, believe that such an attitude generates a maximum of resistance. Of course, free societies must continue to conduct world affairs compatible with their principles and free of the threat of hegemony. But coexistence in the current world of technology is a necessity, because it is impossible to visualize a war between major countries who have significant AI technology that will not destroy cultural life as we know it. So that will be the debate in America and maybe in the world.

He is concerned about the belligerent attitude that the previous administration has taken. He is not alone:

I am not in favor of a crusade against China. But I am in favor of developing a common strategic understanding so that the situation will not be inflamed further by constant maneuvering for advantage.

Policy-wise, the salient difference lies between coexistence and a will to destroy the opponent. Many Americans are surely ready to go to war against China. If they are not, they should at least understand that their antagonistic rhetoric will inevitably lead precisely to that:

And, therefore, there is this propensity to crush the opponent. Now coexistence depends on neither side seeking to destroy the opponent while maintaining its values and objectives, and each side needs to place coexistence ahead of a quest for domination. This requires an understanding between the leaders of high-tech societies. We must learn from history. Europeans in particular know the consequences of wars that can neither be won nor ended.

So, there is something to be said of the wisdom that comes from age. Dr. K’s words should at least be taken seriously.

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