The sulphurous geopolitics of the idealist Henry

(To Gino Lanzara)

The ascent, ennobled from eternity, on the grand staircase of political science, allows diplomatic comparisons only imaginable in life and more prudently whispered in the silence interrupted by whispers and coughs of the funeral chambers; To what extent they are scented with incense or soaked in sulfur is not known. When Richelieu died, Urban VIII, not surprisingly vicar of Christ on earth, said that, if there really was a God, the red eminence would have had much to discuss, otherwise the memory of a successful life would still have remained of him. If Pope Urban has guessed, of a Kissinger most similar to Doctor Strangelove, we can imagine 43 years of chat more than Duplessis who, in terms of sulphurous politics, was certainly no less. something similar to the ban imposed on Ravel and his hypnotic Bolero, banned on Sundays.

Kissinger passed away a few days ago and, while the echo of polarized comments, and as such of relative value, fades away, a secular third anniversary can be celebrated which cleans out the impurities from the dross of politics, cutting away impossible exemplary and faithfulness, good only for small obituaries.

Henry's story is like an appendix novel: a German Jew who fled to the USA in 1938 with his family and was enlisted in the Army which, destined for Germany, saw little ability in him. warlike, but which highlight intelligence and resourcefulness that will accompany him throughout his long life; upon returning to the States he entered Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude. It is not so abstruse to think that the only missing step to the rise to the presidential seat was that of German birth, which however, as in the comics transforms him into something more powerful, and brings him closer to Richelieu's cardinal aura, with a Bavarian undertone that has never abandoned him, and which has not precluded him from serving, directly and indirectly, 12 presidents of whom he was, in some cases, even more powerful, simultaneously covering the roles of secretary of state and national security advisor. For Kaplan, Kissinger is the greatest Bismarckian statesman of the XNUMXth century.

Scientifically, the cardinal sin is that of not being able to see the rational aspects in order to reach an objective evaluation. It has never been very prudent to discern everything in terms empaths, much less towards men in their time who were well aware of having exercised power, a power assimilated by Kissinger, paraphrasing Napoleon, to an aphrodisiac. Perhaps more than one President, contextualizing times and contingencies, would have done better not to underestimate the opinions of Henry dwelling on it for a moment longer, à la Duplessis, also because then, faced with the immediate geopolitical judgement, in more recent times we have not witnessed who knows what performances, especially between the Mediterranean and the Indo Pacific. The same contextualization therefore leads to understanding, not justifying, the policies pursued in Latin America, seen by the American establishment as a possible Soviet barrier in the backyard, a reprise of Kennedy's policy with Cuba.

Received as a head of state by Xi Jinping, Kissinger was ostracized by the homeland administration which, in its House of Cards, however, she had no scruples in going to collect opinions and impressions. Probably many have not understood Kissinger's reference to Metternich, to the art of manipulation, to his idea of ​​balance of power and non-interference in the internal affairs of others, according to the precepts of realpolitik, with a propensity towards an apparent irrationality and philosophy which, at the time of yet another permanent revolution, wanted to be the only useful tool for saving the universality of ideas from the objectivity of the moment; a skill that allowed him to emerge from the affair unscathed Watergate1.

The first image of Kissinger is therefore that of a realist, versed in the analysis of relationships and power relations between hegemons, and mercilessly subtle with expendable pawns. Despite everything, anyway in nuce, an aura of idealism remains in Kissinger's thought, borrowed from his degree thesis and aimed at that perpetual and impossible peace of the Kantian brand. It is no coincidence that N. Ferguson describes the Kissinger of the period 1923-1968 as a “Kantian idealist (rather than) Machiavellian realist”, while for J. Hanhimäki it was a “excellent tactician and an imperfect strategist”.

Ready to correct his mistakes when faced with the test of reality, a supporter of the creativity of politics in the face of the routine of bureaucracy, Kissinger belonged to the realist school of Morgenthau, but was inspired by Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Metternich, and succeeded in the few years of active politics with Nixon and Ford, to leave a mark; cynically, to react to American decline and disengage from a now lost theater, he started peace negotiations with Hanoi even though he was aware of abandoning his Southern allies to an atrocious fate and for this reason he received a disputed Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, despite the involvement of Cambodia, thus destined to the infernal circle of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge; in those moments while Kissinger had a vision adaptable to the context, Nixon possessed pragmatism.

The peace agreement with the North effectively becomes a sort of fiction, given that Hanoi took over the South just two years after the end of the conflict; it is also true that Kissinger and Nixon received the Vietnamese legacy from Johnson, knowing full well from the beginning that it would be up to them to manage the US withdrawal, a Stars and Stripes story that repeats itself cyclically.

In fact, the Kissingerian strategy dissolves when Congress cuts off aid to Saigon; among the votes that of a senator destined in retaliation to manage another withdrawal, Joseph Biden. Realistically, Vietnam's sacrifice was necessary to allow the opening to China, a move that distanced Beijing from Moscow's orbit and laid the geopolitical foundations necessary for the subsequent Soviet debacle.

The fate is different for Taipei, given that the policy of Clintonian engagement with Beijing has contributed to determining its seething political legacy, far from being dormant. The decision to start the dialogue between Israel and Egypt is significant which, under the aegis of Carter, led to Camp David, the reopening of Suez and the American hegemonic affirmation in the Middle East, a presence that is more than ever dangling like a kite between Palestine, Tel Aviv and Riyadh. Upon closer inspection, history repeats itself; 50 years ago Egypt and Syria surprised Israel like Hamas so much so as to induce Kissinger and Nixon on the one hand to ensure the necessary military support while at the same time pressuring Tel Aviv not to abuse military leverage to avoid further involvement, eliminating any diplomatic possibility next one. 

Already in his doctoral thesis2 Kissinger introduced the concept of legitimacy equally distributed by force, a principle linked to an international order accepted by all hegemons, where the primacy of foreign policy over diplomacy gives dignity to the assumption that, as long as the decision-makers intend to accept the order international, this becomes legitimate, with a simultaneous setting aside of morality, as long as all the protagonists who have sufficient strength to count are included in the international order; some historians have hypothesized that amorality and strategic genius have been overestimated, just as his desire to appear like a Metternich gifted to a country so much younger and more idealistic and not accustomed to the law of power politics is perhaps only anecdotal; a country in which to integrate to pursue his interests. In fact, the asperities of the current order lie above all in the variations in the principles of legitimation of political structures.

In short, Henry he is an Americanized European, the champion of a realism that often went against the current opinions of champions such as Morgenthau, Mearsheimer, Kennan; the interpreter, in the breach, of a moment in which it was necessary for someone to give shape to American international politics. Moreover, according to the Secretary of State, to be successful, US foreign policy would have to merge realism with American ideals which reject reason of state as a principle of foreign policy and which see legalism above geopolitics. His brilliant cynicism meant that Henry himself represented the junction point between ethics and the state of necessity of international relations, in need of knowledge of the historical context without which diplomacy cannot obtain results, a purely American vulnerability.

If Kissinger, inspired by the Congress of Vienna, was looking for a collective system capable of preserving peace, he did not bother to explain how to get there; only thanks to the identification of a point of balance is it possible to achieve an order based on norms and resources, an order shattered by the lack of consensus on the international order.

For Kissinger, when the balance of power remains unattainable, the balance of threat remains unique, also because balance of power becomes an oxymoron, given that powers balance themselves with war; what is missing is a credible form of leadership, a topic explored in depth in one of his texts, where he mentions six eminent political figures of the XNUMXth century3, capable of rising, shaping them, above historical contingencies, capable of appreciating the past and imagining the future. In them Kissinger sees himself, a man from the lower classes dedicated to humanistic study, seen really lacking, where geopolitics catalyzes knowledge and connects subjects to reach an organic vision of the whole; an academic rewarded by a meritocratic system based on national values ​​now blurred by fashion and oblivion.

Like many diplomats Henry didn't exactly lie, but he said others truth for his country, acting beyond usually conceived limits, but it is on the relationship between values, interests and use of force that realpolitik and idealism must be read in which he mixed the understanding of historical knowledge with practical knowledge, bringing eclectic originality and new perspectives to the fore within which to defend the autonomy of politics even in a state of anarchy4. Metternich's theory, shaped on the principle of balance between states, therefore always remains relevant, something different from the functionalist supranationality of the EU, under the illusion of being able to transition from an economic entity to a political entity restricted on the one hand by the US-China polarization, and by the other than regional multipolarity and the Global South.

The idea that Kissinger's politics favored the arrival on the scene of the neocons by going beyond realism and proposing an unprecedented exceptionalism capable of shaping reality in the contrast between to be and to be5 ; in short, an idealist in nuce and a realist sui generis who, after having witnessed the liberation of a German concentration camp, admits that he is unable to see the world except in shades of gray and where secular truth is relative.

Kissinger was a polarizing figure to be examined with his own cynicism, evaluating him on his merits, considering the fact that he failed to grasp the changing times.

Which politician more realistic than the king, Kissinger was convinced that the only engine capable of driving foreign policy was the national interest aimed at hegemony; a rational but limiting vision, where realism turns into cynicism, and where neither the international system has managed to stabilize nor the American positions to strengthen, so much so that one of the keys to understanding Jimmy Carter's presidential success lies in the American desire to regain ethics and morality after Watergate, despite having Henry contributed to opening the crack of détente in the Soviet camp according to a pragmatism that survived him and which advised Reagan not to exacerbate, beyond the rhetoric, tensions capable only of limiting Washington's political action.

At the end of the end, the intellectual legacy, the importance of history, the value of order, the legitimate one of the balance between hegemons not the revolutionary one, is worth more than the legacy of the statesman, an imbalance that suggested cordial entity, not competitions, thanks to which we hope to see a non-democratic China but still a junior partner of a country no longer capable of maintaining order on its own6; it is here that his geopolitical ability was manifested, in reconciling the academic knowledge of the historian with the experience of the man of power convinced of the value of law and commerce in place of war, considering the third point of view according to balances that fill the gaps that were created, which did not happen in Iraq.

Beyond the steelyard evaluation of successes and failures, there remains a projection of political thought that aims to balance isolationism and interference, in moments in which, as Lloyd Austin now reminds us, the world continues to look to a living and participating America, capable of reacting to the politics of Divide and conquer avoiding debacles like the Afghan one, where the cost of abdication always surpasses that of leadership.

Remaining in the geopolitical and induced longevity field, it is interesting read the head ofOffice of Net Assessment of the Pentagon, Andrew W. Marshall, otherwise known "Yoda", lover of independence from bureaucracy and power, capable only of corrupt the analysis, exclusive diagnostic tool. Not by chance Yoda he practiced relational assessments with the intention of comparing, identifying himself with, the balance of power, privileging history with a skeptical attitude and looking ahead, not considering anything as definitive but inducing and not deducing solutions. For him the analyst looks beyond the horizon because he deals with strategy. If we consider that in '72 Marshall entered the Pentagon on Kissinger's proposal to have holistic and truthful analyses, we understand the idea better Promptness the skeptical Henry, a geopolitician surrounded by the concrete and the present, not to be absolved, of course, but nevertheless to be understood.

1 Kissinger, Secretary of State and Keeper of the Seals since September 1973, managed Nixon's resignation, the rise of Gerald Ford and the Republican defeat in the November 1974 midterm elections.

2 Peace, Legitimacy, and the Equilibrium (A Study of the Statesmanship of Castlereagh and Metternich)

3Leadership. Six Studies in World Strategy Konrad Adenauer, Charles de Gaulle, Richard Nixon, Anwar Sadat, Lee Kuan Yew, Margaret Thatcher

4 It is the theme underlying his doctoral work published in '57, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-1822, to whom he dedicated his book in 2014, World Order.

5 Quoted by himself and by Nixon

6 Regarding Ukraine in 2022, the conviction of a Russian defeat has cooled, fearing a Sino-Russian alliance in an anti-American antagonistic key. In Diplomacy says: the United States can neither withdraw from the world nor dominate it.