Michael Smith. Originally published in the HIR February 1980 Issue.
In White House Years, asserts Henry Kissinger, "I have attempted to write a book which will stand historical scrutiny." The meaning and the making of history have fascinated Kissinger since his days as a Harvard undergraduate; and part of what makes him so interesting a figure is that the division of his career into scholar and statesman provides a rare opportunity to compare his early writings with his later performance - to match his theory against his practice. In 1476 pages, Kissinger presents a massive and detailed chronicle of his practice as National Security Adviser to President Richard Nixon. The book, he writes in his foreword, "is history seen through my eyes - a portrayal of what I saw and thought and did..." As befits a memoir, it is an avowedly personal account; but because of Kissinger's unique position, it is an account that claims to present an accurate rendering of history.
But what is history for Kissinger? For the answer to this question one has to go back to his ambitious undergraduate thesis at Harvard, "The Meaning of History: Reflections on Spengler, Toynbee and Kant." In the thesis, Kissinger broodingly considers the hoary problem of freedom versus necessity in order to uncover a philosophy of history. By way of exegesis and criticism of Spengler and Toynbee, Kissinger finds in an idiosyncratic reading of Kantian metaphysics the key to the problem.
It is a measure of the fascination Kissinger inspires that the Cambridge University Press has published a book which analyzes an unpublished undergraduate thesis. Peter Dickson, in Kissinger and the Meaning of History, respectfully evaluates the thesis and attempts to draw conclusions about Kissinger's statecraft from it. Dickson's basic argument, very briefly, is that Kissinger's thesis rests on a misreading of Kantian metaphysics and ethics, but that nonetheless Kant and the philosophy of history which Kissinger derived from him remain vital to Kissinger's policies. Dickson tries further to show that Kissinger is personally symbolic of the historical problem of the relativity of value systems and the statesman's role in mediating – or unleashing – an inevitable clash between them. He asserts, rather grandiosely, that "Kissinger represents the culmination of the fundamental crisis besetting not only German philosophy since Kant, but Western civilization as a whole" (p. 147).
This is a large role even for Kissinger to fill, and I'm not sure that he does. Certainly there is little in Kissinger's self-portrait that supports this picture of a contemplative Kissinger poised at a philosophical Rubicon.
In my view, the importance of the thesis lies ip three key ideas: in Kissinger's notion of freedom, in his celebration of personality in history, and in his internalization of ethics. Freedom for Kissinger is noumenal: "it must result from an inward state that imposes its patterns on phenomena" (p. 259). It follows from an "inward recognition of limits," a "recognition of necessity which enables him to transcend the determined inevitability of his environment" (p. 325). Once we have experienced this inward freedom, the young Kissinger writes, "we can transcend necessity only by imparting our individuality to the inexorable unfolding of events." (p. 285). "The meaning of history may appear as the emanation of man's moral personality" (p. 259). Thus, for Kissinger history becomes the realm on which one imposes his personality in order to transcend necessity and impart meaning. The moral content of one's actions cannot, however, be judged by external criteria: "ethics must always reside in an inward state, in a personal recognition of limits" (p. 335). Kissinger argues that the teleology undermines the personal responsibility to act; but, more than this, he argues that moral judgment can derive only from one's "inward sanction."
For present purposes, it is important to emphasize the highly subjective nature of Kissinger's view of history and morality. Freedom, for Kissinger, consists of an intense inner experience which imparts a profound sense of limits. Only through such an experience can one create and apprehend the meaning of history, transcend the external limitation of necessity, and finally, judge the moral content of one's actions. The extraordinary hubris of this conception goes far, in my view, to explain Kissinger's unshakeable moral certainty and his virtual identification of history with his personal project. Kissinger's famous egotism seems to rest on a philosophical foundation.
Recitation without Explanation
If this personal view characterizes Kissinger's idea of history in the abstract, what sort of attempt at writing actual history does White House Years represent? One's first reaction is to be overwhelmed by the sheer length of the book: considerably longer than War and Peace, and with a far less inspiring plot. If the minute details of the opening to China, the summit at Moscow, and all the secret journeys are your cup of tea, this volume will offer you plenty to drink. Be warned, however, that there is little to lighten the reader's burden along the way. The jokes, when they do come, are elaborate, arch, and rather too calculatedly self-deprecating, and the gallery of portraits – which, in fairness, many have found deft and insightful – seemed to me only rarely to rise above Time-like cliches. Still, Kissinger's prose, in his earlier works Germanic and leaden, is in this volume clear. And his recurrent stories at the expense of Haldeman and "his White House advance men" are amusing.
More seriously, the bulk of the book betrays a basic fault: it lacks a coherent, organizing thread which would have enabled Kissinger to separate essence from detail, or to distinguish a mere recitation of events from a cogent explanation of their meaning. To be sure, there are favorite themes - the "geopolitical perspective," the horrors of bureaucracy, the irresponsibility of his domestic critics - but they are simply repeated, until they become a virtual litany. And there are countless ad hoc (and often ad hominem) arguments designed to show that Kissinger was right about almost everything; but these do not add up to a convincing synthesis.
To some extent this absence of synthesis is willful: clearly Kissinger was capable of writing a book of greater discrimination. Some reviewers have suggested that the book is akin to the campaign autobiography, with Kissinger running to become Secretary of State once again. Certainly the book was designed to be a financial success, and all those dazzling details of switched airplanes and seedy safehouses will doubtless score with many members of the Book-of-the-Month Club (assuming that they persevere long enough). Unquestionably, Kissinger is writing for a mass public, and he does, in his loving descriptions of the trappings of office, appeal to the morbid fascination about the powerful which is present in some degree in the majority of us who will never see the inside of Air Force One.
Because Kissinger wishes not only to deal with past critics of his policies, but also to set the terms of the future debate about them, the absence of a coherent organizing principle – beyond the incantation of geopolitical equilibrium – proves to be more than a failure of the book. It points to a fundamental failure of the policy. For despite Kissinger's personal creativity and undoubted skill as a tactical negotiator, his much vaunted geopolitical design turns out, upon examination, to be little more than a new set of the same clothes for the "new" Emperor Nixon. In practice Kissingerian geopolitics revealed a world view remarkably similar in its essence to that of the supposedly discarded doctrine of containment. And it is far from clear that the new version was any better than the old one.
For all of its defects (and there were many) the old containment had at least the virtue of operating within a domestic consensus, a consensus which the war in Vietnam shattered. Kissinger and Nixon tried to substitute secrecy and spectacle for moralistic consensus, to replace the tactics of John Foster Dulles and Dean Rusk with those of Bismarck. It is hardly surprising that they failed, and in failing intensified – even before Watergate – the corrosive domestic divisions Nixon had pledged to heal. (Remember the little girl with the "Bring Us Together" sign?) Kissinger's geopolitical obsession, his grafting of realpolitik onto containment, bear a large responsibility for this failure. Awash in bureaucratic battles, tactical coups, endless delicate negotiations, and ex cathedra pronouncements, White House Years has in it little to persuade one otherwise.
Containment: New and Improved
Kissinger argues that his policy, based on a geopolitical conception of our fundamental national interests, was designed to correct the defects of containment (primarily a sentimental moralism and diplomatic inflexibility) and, moreover, "to lay the foundation for a long-range American foreign policy even while liquidating our Indochina involvement" (p. 65). He recognizes that at the time he and Nixon took office the war had completely destroyed the domestic consensus around containment; but, significantly, he seems to blame its evaporation on the "collapse" of the "internationalist Establishment before the onslaught of its children who questioned all its values" (p. 65). Thus the task of the new administration was to prevent a return to "sulking isolation" (p. 65) by means of an ambitious scheme whose goal was to assure a lasting equilibrium.
What were the precise components of this scheme? And how did Kissinger try to implement it? The key goal is "global equilibrium." "Such an equilibrium," Kissinger claims, "could assure stability among the major powers, and even eventual cooperation, in the Seventies and Eighties" (p. 192). Kissinger is never quite explicit on the precise character of this equilibrium, but it is clear that what he has in mind is stability, the maintenance of America's privileged position in the world. "Like it or not, we were assuming the historical responsibility for preserving the balance of power," and we would need to learn that the "management of the balance of power is a permanent undertaking, not an exertion that has a foreseeable end... Management of the balance requires perseverance, subtlety, not a little courage and above all understanding of its requirements" (p. 115).
This understanding, which serves as Kissinger's definition of geopolitics (see page 914), is possessed only by creative statesmen, i.e. Kissinger himself, Nixon (for most of the time), Chou En-Lai, Charles De Gaulle. A bureaucracy – governed by rigid procedures, jealous of its prerogatives, which moves "by almost imperceptible steps toward a goal it may itself only dimly perceive" (p. 350) – is by definition incapable of this understanding, this "sense of nuance and proportion" (p. 39). Kissinger devoted long passages to recounting his skirmishes with the "bureaucratic steamroller," with area experts who objected to geopolitical considerations as "gratuitous" (p. 350) and especially, with Nixon's hapless secretary of state, William P. Rogers.
Managing the balance of power may be a calling reserved to an artful elite of statesmen who have the "ability to perceive the, essential among a mass of apparent facts, and an intuition as to which of many equally plausible hypotheses about the future is" likely to prove true" (p. 39). But surely there is some cost in having to enlist, in the name of creativity, the aid of the Russians and Chinese at several different points in order to outwit one's own State Department. And surely it is a mistake to trust only those ambassadors (Kenneth Rush of West Germany and Joseph Farland of Pakistan) willing to circumvent the rules of their own agency. Even creative centralism can lead to problems.
"Linkage" was one of thee main tactics Kissinger employed to guard the equilibrium. (Resolute use of force, as we shall see, was another.) He writes that it is "synonomous with an overall strategic and geopolitical view. To ignore the interconnection of events was to undermine the coherence of all policy" (p. 129).
Sometimes the linkage is made direct and specific, as in the 1971 India-Pakistan war during which Kissinger threatened the Soviets in order to get them to restrain the Indians; at other times the linkage exists "by virtue of reality" when events inevitably have consequences "beyond the issue or region immediately concerned" (p. 129). Examples here are the "opening" to China or, less happily, the election of Salvador Allende, which was supposed to have dire global consequences.
The chief object of linkage, of course, was the Soviet Union, and Kissinger's ambivalent attitude toward our chief antagonist reveals many of the flaws of the whole design. On the one hand, there is an almost wistful appreciation of Soviet domestic advantages:
The Soviet leadership is burdened by no self- doubt or liberal guilt. It has no effective domestic opposition questioning the moralitý of its actions. The result is a foreign policy free to fill every vacuum, to exploit every opportunity, to act out the implications of its doctrine. Policy is constrained principally by calculations of objective conditions, (p. 117)
The passage seems to exude envy: no Congress, no liberals, no bother about morality. On the other hand, Kissinger stresses the importance of the "durable impulses of nationalism and ideology that lie behind Soviet policy" (p. 118). He regards the continuing debate about Soviet intentions as beside the point: their policy is "essentially one of ruthless opportunism." "To foreclose Soviet opportunities," Kissinger concludes, "is thus the essence of the West's responsibilities. It is up to us to define the limits of Soviet aims" (p. 1 19).
To fulfill our responsibilities, "we would pursue a carrot and stick approach, ready to impose penalties for adventurism, willing to expand relations in the context of responsible behavior" (p. 128). This would be a continuing task, but the Soviets "can adjust to steady firmness" (p. 125). Over time, the "latent weaknesses" of the Soviet system – political instability, an inefficient economic system, suppressed nationalities – will make themselves felt. "Co-existence on the basis of a balance of forces should therefore be within our grasp – provided the nature of the challenge is understood," i.e. that we understand that even a tamer Soviet Union will still need to be carefully watched (p. 120).
Is there not something very familiar about all this? Is Kissinger's vision really that different from George Kennan's original statement of containment in 1947: "the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy"? Is Kissinger's plan to moderate Soviet behavior ultimately distinguishable from Kennan's hope for the "break-up or gradual mellowing of Soviet power" except in its operational details?
To be sure, Kissinger broadens "counter-force" to include his Skinnerian conception of linkage; he purges containment of its moralism in favor of a "realistic" determination of interests; and he shows far greater flexibility than Dean Acheson did in his negotiations with the Russians and, of course, in the opening to China. But in essence the policy remains the same, and is open to many of the same criticisms columnist Walter Lippmann made of containment in 1947: that, contra Kissinger, the Soviets take the initiative and we respond; that the policy places unreasonable demands on our constitutional order; that seeing all the world in the terms of a two- (or three-) power equilibrium is a vast oversimplification; and that, as Lippmann wrote, all too often "we must stake our own security and the peace of the world upon satellites, puppets, clients, agents about whom we can know very little." Kissinger's (unintentionally) harrowing account (ch. 21) of our risking war with the Soviet Union for the sake of Pakistan (in turn, for the sake of our nascent relationship with China) confirms the wisdom of Ljppmann's judgment. The "geopolitical perspective" is frequently too empyrean for anybody's.
But beyond these similarities to a view Kissinger says he rejected, his Bismarckian containment exhibited enormous problems in operation. In addition, despite some strained attempts to show that it provided some foreordained plan – several chapters (e.g. 10, 15, 20) end with assertions like "our design was beginning to fall into place" – Kissinger's long account portrays ' a policy responding to events, not shaping them. His skill at post hoc rationale ought not to obscure this.
The Perils of Linkage
Kissinger himself provides some of the evidence of the problems with linkage. First, the Soviets proved harder to train than Kissinger had imagined. Their negotiating style, Kissinger writes, concerning Soviet Ambassador Andrie Gromyko, was to begin " tabula rasa ; it started as if it had no history, and it established no claim or obligation for the future" (p. 791). Gromyko, at least, was one bear who remained untamed by Kissinger.
Moreover, manipulating rewards and punishments a la Bismarck is extremely difficult if one is not operating in Bismarck's autocratic political system. In recounting his moves to punish Soviet "adventurism" in India during the 1971 war with Pakistan, Kissinger describes his irritation with Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans, then conducting economic negotiations with the Soviets, for resisting Nixon's order for their slow down. This "linked" punishment was supposed to help fortify our negotiating position. Stans, Kissinger complains, "reflected the passionate view of many businessmen that profits should not be sacrificed to politics" and was "reluctant to jeopardize [the negotiation] for arcane diplomatic maneuvers thousands of miles away" (p. 901). The general lesson from this – that the inertia of wider contacts may inhibit sudden changes in policy – seems to escape Kissinger.
A more significant failure of linkage is Kissinger's tacit admission that the Soviets, for most of his first term, were either unable or unwilling to help us negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. He exults at the failure of the Soviets to cancel the May 1972 summit in the wake of our mining of Haiphong Harbor, but is curiously silent about its implications for linkage. The summit succeeded because we did not insist on linking progress in Vietnam to the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty and a general detente - as Kissinger had said we would. The Soviets merely ignored our new moves against Hanoi.
Beyond these failures lies the basic emptiness of Kissinger's conception of equilibrium and linkage. If everything is connected, by what criteria does one assess the impact of new developments? Because of his fixation on bipolar equilibrium, Kissinger's reflex is to fall back on the old standard of Soviet actions. If they support India, we must support Pakistan, especially because China is also supporting Pakistan. And our goal in the Middle East must be to expel Soviet influence - even if this meant working to achieve "bureaucratic stalemate" (p. 379) in one's own government and ignored unmistakable signs of a third Arab-Israeli war.
Even the opening to China, which Kissinger treats as an epic historical achievement of heroic proportions, essentially marked the end of a twenty-year charade. It was a bold revision of a previously entrenched policy for which Kissinger and Nixon deserve full credit; but, the flexibility of triangular diplomacy notwithstanding, it did not usher in a new era of peace and equilibrium.
This is not to argue that linkage and equilibrium have no value at all, but rather that Kissinger's elevation of simple facts of diplomacy – events that are connected, negotiaters should try to exploit their connection, stability is desirable – into Grand Maxims of Creative Statecraft is fatuous. The whole design is little more than a redescription of balance-of-power diplomacy grafted onto the tired doctrine of containment. It did not solve the old problems, and added some formidable ones of its own. My point here is not to debunk Kissinger's claim to an original conceptual framework (thought it is false), but to contest his assertions that the "new" design provided a superior blueprint for American foreign policy.
The Vietnam War
The long debacle in Vietnam serves as the best test of Kissinger's case. It was a war he inherited, and a war which Nixon had vowed to end. Kissinger and Nixon might have drawn a lesson from the domestic trauma which toppled President Lyndon Johnson, and concocted a face-saving scheme for our withdrawal. In healing the divisions at home, they could then have turned to new priorities abroad. (In his final showdown with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, Kissinger told him that "for four years we have mortgaged our entire foreign policy to the defense of one country." (p. 1386). It would have been entirely consistent with a geopolitical view of the world to conclude that American interests were not being served by fighting, and losing, a prolonged war for limited ends in a peripheral area – especially when the continuation of that war entailed bitter domestic polarization and a wholesale attack on our entire foreign policy. Other "realists," like Morgenthau and Kennan, urged that we cut our losses and leave. I have no doubt that Bismarck himself would have settled on whatever terms he could get. Certainly the costs to Indochina and to our own constitutional order could hardly have been greater than they were.
Instead, Kissinger embraced the primary and most misleading rationale for the war - that we were fighting to demonstrate the credibility of our resolve and commitments throughout the world. From this basic conviction that "humiliation" in Vietnam would have been "profoundly immoral and destructive of our efforts to build a new and ultimately more peaceful pattern of international relations" (p. 228) all else followed. On the issue of credibility, as Leslie Gelb has observed, Kissinger was "the last true believer."
Kissinger reveals in the book that he opposed Vietnamization because it undermined our ability to "retain flexibility" with Hanoi (p. 288). Throughout his long account of the decisions surrounding the policy toward, and the negotiations with, the North Vietnamese, he repeatedly complains that the inexorable troop withdrawals were depriving him of the leverage he needed to make Hanoi "sue for a respite, if not for peace" (p. 311). For all its purported subtlety and nuance, Kissinger's policy was essentially the same as strategist Herman Kahn's unsubtle strategy of "pressure-attrition-ouch." If
we kept up the pressure in a variety of (mainly military) ways, Hanoi would finally give in and negotiate an "honorable" peace with us.
The trouble with this strategy, as Kissinger uncomfortably recognized, is that if it didn't work when we had over 500,0o00 men in South Vietnam, it was unlikely to work when we were pulling out troops 50,000 at a time for domestic reasons. Thus were born the bombings of Cambodia and the later invasions of Cambodia and Laos. They were designed to demonstrate to Hanoi that we could and would keep up the pressure, that we could still respond to their military moves. And thus the paradox of widening the war ostensibly to end it.
One does not have to rely on William Shawcross's admirable account in Sideshow to expose the callousness, the moral and political insensitivity, of this policy. Kissinger's own description of the decision to undertake the secret bombing in 1969 is damning enough. The administration, still "savoring the honeymoon that follows the Inauguration of any president," as early as January 25 was seeking means to retaliate against North Vietnam in the event of an anticipated offensive. Renewed bombing of the North was ruled out: "None of us had any stomach for the domestic outburst we knew renewed bombing would provoke" (p. 239). Military moves in South Vietnam were also impossible. Military leaders suggested bombing North Vietnamese and Viet Cong "sanctuaries" within Cambodia. The secret raids were ordered in March. Even granting the military utility of such air strikes, it is important to remember that the impetus behind them was to "signal" Hanoi that we could still keep up the military pressure against them. Remember too that the bombing was kept secret, ostensibly to obviate the need for Cambodian Price Norodom Sihanouk to protest, but really, as Nixon admits in his memoirs, "to provoke as little public outcry as possible." The story of the 1970 invasions is essentially the same. Negotiations were going nowhere and Hanoi launched an offensive; to drive them to negotiate on our terms we needed to respond unambiguously with force.
Arguments about the military value of these assaults are beside the point. We undertook them to send Hanoi a message: come to reasonable terms or else. Kissinger is emphatic on this point: the escalations were necessary if we were to obtain an honorable peace. At every impasse he was quite cold-bloodedly prepared to use greater force to extract concessions from Hanoi. The bombings in December 1972 were the most extreme and gratuitous example of this willingness. Yet at the same time Kissinger rises in righteous moral indignation because the North Vietnamese "considered themselves in a life and death struggle; they did not treat negotiations as an enterprise separate from the struggle; they were a form of it" (p. 260). Hanoi, he thunders, was "interested in victory, not a cease-fire, and in political control, not a role in free elections" (p. 267).
Now obviously from the American point of view this was unfortunate; what is astonishing is that a self- proclaimed realist like Kissinger should find it unexpected and reprehensible. For in trying to win, Hanoi was simply applying Kissinger's own maxims - but against him. It is the height of hypocrisy for him to condemn such behavior in moral terms. Kissinger cannot speak both parts in the Melian dialogue
But there is a moral issue here which Kissinger utterly But there is a moral issue here which Kissinger utterly ignores. Kissinger's whole moral stance rests on an ethics of intentions. The individual's morality, according to his undergraduate thesis, derives from an "inward experience of freedom"; "ethics must .always reside in an inward state, in a personal recognition of limits." For Kissinger, what
counts morally is our intentions - and as everyone knows our intentions in Vietnam were pure. Our intentions in bombing and invading Cambodia were to hasten an "honorable" settlement – a moral end – so that too was
ultimately moral. It is on this smug reasoning that Kissinger can assert, "Cambodia was not a moral issue... what we faced was an essentially tactical choice..." (p. 515). And it is on this smug reasoning that Kissinger never once confronts the consequences of his policies in Cambodia, in Vietnam, in Bangladesh, in Chile, and in America itself.
The morality of statecraft must consider consequences, precisely because of the potentially wide gulf between intent and effect, and because it is ultimately impossible to accurately determine and assess intentions. Furthermore, when "good" intentions are embodied in a design which requires, in the name of credibility, engulfing a country in a full-scale war it had so far largely escaped, there is ample reason to question even the intentions. It is true, as Kissinger says, that statecraft sometimes involves a painful choice among evil alternatives; but good intentions do not absolve one from choosing the least evil among them. Moreover, the criteria for choice must include an assessment of the whole range of consequences – not just the speculative geopolitical ones. In Indochina, in Chile, and in Bangladesh, the enormous and concrete evils visited upon individual human beings far outweigh the murky geopolitical advantages which Kissinger claims for his policies.
Geopolitical equilibrium extracted a high cost at home, too; the falsified bombing reports, the lies to Congress and the people, the wiretappings of Kissinger's own staff, and the machinations of the plumbers – all these stem from the mania for secrecy and the quest for total, central control of the policy. Kissinger promises fuller consideration of the "issues raised by national security" (p. 253m) in his next volume, bbut there is littele here to r indicate tphat it will be eldifying.e o
In this volume, Kiissinger'ns technique with critics is rto quote a variety of them at once, summarize their arguments in an insulting and overstated way, and then to dismiss them all with heavy sarcasm and scorn. Critics are derided for their "head long retreat from responsibility" (p. 153), for fomenting "mass passion" (p. 511), and for* being "spokesmen of emotion" (p. 1198). Describing an abortive meeting with some of his former Harvard colleagues who had come to protest the Cambodian invasion (the meeting never took place because Kissinger refused to speak on the record), Kissinger castigates the professors for their "lack of compassion" and "overweening self-righteousness" (p. 515). The epithets apply more aptly to Kissinger himself: he demonstrates an incapacity to engage in reasoned debate on fundamental issues of principle. Enraged when his global policies are questioned, he responds by attacking the motive of the arguer, not by meeting the argument. He is profoundly unsympathetic to democratic accountability and decision-making.
The domestic dissent to his policy nevertheless serves an important function for Kissinger: he holds it in reserve as the diabolus ex machina which will explain the unraveling of his design. Already in this volume he blames the fiasco of his Vietnam settlement on Watergate (p. 1470). The difficulties of detente with the Soviet Union he assigns to the "erosion of Nixon's domestic base" (p. 1255). Thus, even the palpable failures of his policy are not Kissinger's fault. He resolutely disclaims any connection between that policy and the problems at home: this is one linkage that Kissinger will never admit.
Kissinger's argument here, like all the other arguments in the book on a wide range of subjects, deserves careful and skeptical scrutiny. Such scrutiny has already begun, for example, in Shawcross's book, which casts harsh light on the Cambodia policy, and in a recent essay by McGeorge Bundy, which effectively refutes Kissinger's Watergate excuse for the collapse of the Vietnam agreement ("Vietnam and Presidential Power," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1979-80). Other books – and no doubt a mountain of term papers – will follow. To his credit, Kissinger does provide the raw material that will allow an assessment of his record; but the accuracy of his presentation of that record must not be taken for granted.
To construct a coherent foreign policy in a democracy, perhaps especially in an imperfect democracy like our own, is undoubtedly a daunting task. The difficulties of the Carter administration remind us of this fact almost daily. The vital question for any administration is how to deal with this difficulty – how, if possible, to turn our democratic institutions and values into a source of strength in a complex and often hostile world. If there is one lesson to be drawn from Kissinger's vast account of his foreign policy, that lesson would point to the dangers of pursuing a lofty and vague equilibrium with an arrogant condescension to the people and ideas in whose name the policy is being made.