Late Thursday night, Henry Kissinger gave an interview with Bloomberg TV, and the 13+ minute segment can be viewed via this link. Kissinger is reputed to be among US Presidential candidate John McCain’s advisers, and he remains an icon among “realist” analytical circles.
I’ll leave it to Helena Cobban or other sharp jwn readers to comment on the rest of his remarks. Kissinger, for example, sticks to the stale, if safe line that Israel cannot negotiate with Hamas until Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Helena has well articulated a different view here repeatedly.
I am more struck by Kissinger’s apparent “off the reservation” observations and counsel regarding US-Iran relations. His Iran remarks roughly come between minutes 3:30 and 7:30 of the recording. Here’s a quick summary of his points, with my comments:
1. Kissinger sets out his working question, about whether Iran is a “nation” or a “cause.” Presumably, we can deal with the former, but not so well with the latter. Kissinger (HAK) presumably finds Iran today to be more of a “nation,” one with which we can be fellow “realists.”
This is more than mere academic jargon. Neoconservative godfathers, from Bernard Lewis to Norman Podhoretz have been advancing the fallacious argument that Iran remains an irrational “cause.” To Podhoretz (and his source Amir Taheri), never mind what the Islamic Republic says or offers, Iran will be an incorrigible “existential” threat to Israel, even unto “martyrdom.” Kissinger, to his credit, sees other possibilities.
Funny thing, I first wrote about revolutionary Iran adapting to “reasons of state” back in early 1984 — in a grad. school seminar. So glad the Secretary is catching up.
By the way, what is America under Bush – a nation, or a cause?
2. Kissinger supports “direct negotiations” with Iran. Yet he also supports what Secretary Rice thus far has offered, “to meet with Iranians anywhere, anytime.” Kissinger claims that the problem hasn’t been the willingness to talk, but the content, the agenda about which we might talk.
What’s a neoconservative to make of this? On the one hand, Israel is not to talk to Hamas because it doesn’t formally recognize Israel’s right to exist. Yet the US can talk to Iran, never mind the incendiary remarks, shall we say, of its current President about Israel’s legitimacy. Ah, but in Kissingerian realpolitik logic, it “works:” states must talk to each other, but not, apparently, to each others’ internal rebel movements. George III, then and now, logic.
As for Secretary Rice’s offer to “talk,” this is a bit disingenuous, as Rice’s offers thus far come with the precondition that Iran give up uranium enrichment. In that sense, sure, there is a problem about the agenda, whether Iran’s uranium enrichment is to be part of the talks, or something Iran is being expected to give up, as a precondition.
3. In response to question about what person the US should send to talk to Iran, Kissinger remarkably says it’s “generally not a good idea” to start such talks at a high level.
Really? One wonders then just how the Nixon Administration’s famous opening to China was achieved? Was that some low level contact that pulled that off? Perhaps Kissinger is merely recognizing that neither Bush nor Rice are the least bit likely to meet with the Iranians this year, and granting them a (transparent) fig leaf.
Speaking of low level, underneath the radar activity, the US representative to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a Sada Cumber, is being quoted in Iranian sources saying that “the US is prepared to work with Iran…”
4. Other notable HAK quotes: “Regime change cannot be an objective of our foreign policy.” — at least not if we wish to solve regional problems… In contemplating “if” Iran would be willing to address our concerns, Kissinger suggests the US would have an “obligation” to respond.
This hints headlines to come. Never mind Rice’s lame claims to the contrary, Kissinger apparently is aware of the various “grand-bargain” offers from Iran.
As for eschewing “regime change,” did candidate McCain get the memo?
5. Intriguingly, Kissinger suggests that he has been part of “totally private” talks with unspecified Iranians. He claims that “approaches” have been put before these Iranians “which with a little flexibility on their part” would “surely” lead to negotiations.
I’m not sure what to make of this. Might Kissinger be part of the ongoing discrete “private” efforts with the Iranians? I doubt it, but who knows? One wonders too of a rat in the works here, as once could speculate that such a disclosure, that Kissinger himself is involved in private talks with Iran, might be a sure way to wreck them.