Monday, November 20, 2006


It was Henry Kissinger, as much as anyone else, who orchestrated the policy of Vietnamization that lead to American withdrawal from a failed war a few decades ago. His recent assessment of the current war in Iraq as unwinnable shows him in pretty good form as a policy analyst, but he still has frighteningly little to offer in the way of solutions.

There’s no withdrawal or anything like a ‘decent interval’ here. In fact, his position sounds oddly like Bush’s staying the course. The problem, as he assesses it, is that a speedy withdrawal (at the behest of an emboldened Democratic Congress) would likely produce a rise in violence and perhaps a spread of violence to neighbouring countries.

What to do then? Hold meetings. Kissinger proposes a conference of regional and world leaders to work out some sort of solution. On the one hand, he’s probably right that this is the only way forward. It’s hard to say what’s scarier about this.

For one thing, the vagueness of it is startling for an analyst so incisive. It’s generally nicer to have solutions rather than possible ways to find them. Conferences are nice, but putting American, Syrian and Iranian diplomats in a room together can only go so well, and throwing in a few Swiss and Norwegians is only likely to help so much.

Furthermore, Kissinger cuts against his own usual instincts. The situation is desperate enough to have turned the greatest foreign policy realist in recent American political history into an ad-hoc liberal internationalist. This is nice, but it’s pretty scary too.

The admission here, really, is that there are only bad options, only differing ways for things to get worse. It’s bad that the Iraqi people have to pay for Western mistakes, but worse that it could so easily do so much damage to the region, and to international relations generally if the Americans can’t find some new place for themselves in the global order.

Henry Kissinger doesn't seem to have much more than the rest of us to offer on this. One can like him or hate him, but it’s damned alarming to see someone that bright at a genuine loss.

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