Kissinger on morality, democracy, intervention and foreign policy.

Seeing we’re covering realism this coming week, who better to post about than the Dean of American realists, Henry A. Kissinger?  In this March 31 Washington Post op-ed, he weighs in on what he sees as changing American policy in the Middle East.  He argues that Washington is stepping back from basing its military presence in the Middle East policy on national security rationale, and  “is reengaging in several other states in the region (albeit uncertainly) in the name of humanitarian intervention.” For Kissinger, the key question is “will democratic reconstruction replace national interest as the lodestar of Middle East policy?” Should it?  Hmmm… I wonder how an avowed realist would answer that one.  (Sorry, no chocolate fish for getting this one right.)


3 comments on “Kissinger on morality, democracy, intervention and foreign policy.

  1. ryankf says:

    The realist would say keep the humanitarian issue in the social arena where it belongs and that the political agenda needs to be addressed separately.
    Whether or not democratic reconstruction should replace the quest for security and power at the state level is precisely a question the two dominant theories of IR we’ve been reading about struggle with. If the U.S. or any state is making decisions based on humanitarian concerns they are not acting from a realist perspective, at least in that instance.
    If I take at face value that Kissinger is always coming from one of the myriad realist perspectives I assume he would consider it a mistake for the state to take any action that doesn’t jockey it into a better position relative to the material power of the states with which it is dealing. The question I would have for him is would it ever be appropriate to take a defensive realist approach vs. an offensive one, and if so why then could one not consider the option that creating democratic states is akin to growing one’s ‘group’. Even from the realist perspective that has it’s benefits.

  2. clintonwatson says:

    I don’t fully understand why Kissinger sets up a tension between democratic reconstruction and national interest. Isn’t democratic reconstruction, or perhaps more accurately democratic construction given a lack of democratic history, in the national interest of the U.S.? If one assumes that democracy spurs development and opens up more markets, then encouragement and support of democratic government is in U.S. national interest. I guess I am coming from a liberalist perspective, whereas Kissinger is solely concerned with power and energy security as the “Dean of American realists”. He would argue that any state, irrespective of its regime type, will be preoccupied with power. Therefore who cares about democratic reconstruction which is a domestic factor?! I imagine, however, that he may be concerned with whether the U.S. can manipulate the political system/decisions of a country should it adopt democratic governance. But is it really true that realists deny any relationship between democracy, development and trade? Or is it just that hard-core realists see these issues as outside their framework? One of the readings suggests that realists have very different views and that realism is actually quite an eclectic bunch of notions/ideas.

    So-called humanitarian interventions by the U.S., which are often only piece-meal projects of several million dollars thus pittance in comparison to the military spend, can help build support for the U.S. among citizens and ensure a smooth passage for commerce and other interests of the U.S. These interventions, small as they may be, can serve in the national interest and can also support what Kissinger says are the three core security objectives of the U.S. in the region: preventing any power in the region from emerging as a hegemon; ensuring the free flow of energy resources; and attempting to broker a durable peace between Israel and its neighbors.

    In any case, it seems to me that there hasn’t been a big shift in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The U.S. still has three aircraft carriers in or near the Strait of Hormuz which are looking out for the national interests of the U.S. This should appease Kissinger.

  3. frassminggi says:

    I think the survival of US policy in the Middle East located in trusting. I still believe that the primary responsibility for protecting its own people from mass atrocities crimes lies with the state itself. State have responsibility to protect his people not to kill them. I don’t know why since 9/11, US become extremely paranoid and have become losing his good feeling with others. US must realize that Middle East doesn’t need democracy. They need freedom and decent life. All of the Arabs have known that US installed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and many other dictators in the Arab country. Every Arabs know that US protecting and nurturing Israel as nuclear tiny state in the Middle East. So, whether is democracy and socialism is not important for them. They have been oppressed for such a long time and they now want to liberate themselves.

    In the realist perspective, I think the situation in Middle East as the heart of the world conflict is still largely attribute share of balance of power. Arab have long dispute with Israel but also they have “calm” tension with Iran. Iran is not Arab but he could be considered hegemony in “Jazirah Arabiya”. Saudi doesn’t like Iran very much because it threatens his existence with Syiah sect in the east border with Bahrain. Saudi is more warm to Israel rather than with Iran. We all know that. US, Britain, Russia, and France have a national interest in Middle East beside oil and geo-strategic of Suez Canal. How do they co-exist and share interest in Middle East?

    I don’t think they believe democratic institution will replace national interest. They all concern with the Israeli existence because they all have interest in Jerusalem waiting for the messiah. They watching closely event which unfold in Jerusalem because if suddenly power transition come to Israel they must have realign with it. Believe it or not, this messianic thinking is long been perceived by “great powers”, especially President Bush’s crusade intention. (

    As so-called “Islamic rising” swept across Middle East by the so-called “Islamic party” is threatening the very existence of the state of Israel. The potential of the annihilation of the state of Israel by this fanatics according Israel is very high. And to prevent that being happen, Israel will take a pre-emptive strike as US did in Afghanistan (2001) and Irak (2003). This kind of unilateral action is for the purpose of preventing threats and assuring security. What we know in 2012, these all not true. There is no nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare technologies in Iraq and what they doing in Afghanistan simply intervention by removing Afghanistan’s legal government of Taliban from power. 11 years since then, the condition is not getting better, Taliban is yet defeated, and US try to escape from his responsibility by inviting foreign countries to reconstruct Afghanistan which is been ruined by his action.

    In the end, situation is getting complex and need deeper political analysis rather than whether democratic reconstruction replace national interest as the lodestar in US foreign policy in the Middle East. I think we must start to think the relation between nuclear capability of Pakistan and Iran in relations with prospect of pre-emptive strike by Israel to achieve his security.

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