Tuesday, June 14, 2005

# Posted 2:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KISSINGER -- THE DELUSIONS OF A REALIST: Once again, old Henry has persuaded the WaPo to publish one of his rambling essays about why America should befriend those nice folks running the government in Beijing. If you're looking for new ideas instead of shopworn cliches, don't bother with Kissinger's prose. But if you want to see all of the flaws of realism as an ideology presented in the space of single op-ed, this essay can't be beat.

I think the place to start is with this delightful paragraph:
Military imperialism is not the Chinese style. Clausewitz, the leading Western strategic theoretician, addresses the preparation and conduct of a central battle. Sun Tzu, his Chinese counterpart, focuses on the psychological weakening of the adversary. China seeks its objectives by careful study, patience and the accumulation of nuances -- only rarely does China risk a winner-take-all showdown.
I wonder how many folks in Tibet would agree that "military imperialism is not the Chinese style". Then again, it isn't exactly fair to judge the current government in Beijing by what its predecessor did more than fifty years ago.

But if Kissinger is trying to argue that China has changed, what's with all of this hokum about Sun Tzu, who lived more than two thousand years ago? In contrast, Mao Zedong said much more recently that "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Yet the realistic Kissinger covenienty ignores the influence of Mao on the Party and the republic that he created.

Now here's some more realistic analysis from Kissinger:
It is unwise to substitute China for the Soviet Union in our thinking and to apply to it the policy of military containment of the Cold War...The Russian empire was governed by force; the Chinese empire by cultural conformity with substantial force in the background.
Someone (maybe someone from Tibet) should've told that guy standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square that China is governed by "substantial force" only "in the background". Apparently, Mr. Kissinger seems to have forgotten that China is still a dictatorship. In fact the word 'dictatorship' doesn't appear in his op-ed. Nor does 'democracy'. Nor does 'human rights'.

As a committed realist, Kissinger desperately wants to believe that American foreign policy can be made without reference to the deeply-rooted ideals of democracy and human rights. And he's right; it can. From 1969 until 1976, the United States displayed almost no concern for democracy or human rights. Coincidentally, Kissinger served as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State from 1969 until 1976. (And the first president Kissinger worked for didn't even seem to be too concerned about subverting democracy within the United States.)

In addition to being an ethical concern, democracy and human rights have a lot to do with national security. As Robert Kagan pointed out in his recent column about China, there is only one clear-cut case of a rising power in the international system making it to the top without fighting a war against the hegemon it displaced. That rising power was the United States. That hegemon was Britain. Rightly, Kagan observes that
The fact that both powers shared a common liberal, democratic ideology, and thus roughly consonant ideas of international order, greatly lessened the risk of accommodation from the British point of view.
So, then, do China and the United States have "consonant ideas of international order"? Kissinger does quite a good job of evading this question. He never seems to tells us what it is that China wants or why some very smart people consider China to be quite threatening. Kissinger does insist, however, that
China, in its own interest, is seeking cooperation with the United States for many reasons, including the need to close the gap between its own developed and developing regions; the imperative of adjusting its political institutions to the accelerating economic and technological revolutions; and the potentially catastrophic impact of a Cold War with the United States on the continued raising of the standard of living, on which the legitimacy of the government depends.
He almost makes it sound as if Jimmy Carter were the president of China. I have to admit, it would be nice if Beijing's concern for social inequality led it to pursue a more peaceful foreign policy. Yet in practice, Beijing seems to be doing exactly the opposite. In order to divert attention from probelms at home, it creates problems abroad. Of course, Kissinger conveniently avoids mentioning how the Chinese government recently whipped up an anti-Japanese furor for no good reason at all.

Now let's get to the point. Assuming that Kissinger's analysis were correct, what kind of policy toward China should America have. Here's Kissinger's advice:
America needs to understand that a hectoring tone evokes in China memories of imperialist condescension and that it is not appropriate in dealing with a country that has managed 4,000 years of uninterrupted self-government.
I thought that realists were supposed to be tough. I thought that realists placed an emphasis on power. Instead, Kissinger wants us to believe that foreign policy is about multicultural self-esteem.

So then, if I disagree with Kissinger (and even dare to mock the Great Henry), what do I think we should do about China? Well, first of all, like Robert Kagan, I think China is the one that's going to decide what kind of relationship we have with it. We should speak out on behalf of democracy and human rights but never pretend that our expressions of interest can change the course of Chinese politics.

Then what? Be prepared, I suppose. Strengthen our alliance with Japan and other allies in the Pacific. And, if at all possible, avoid indulging ourselves in the willful naivete of the realists.
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