THE PLANK DECEMBER 22, 2009
It is bad enough that Newsweek and Slate decided to run a long joint interview of Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton. It is even worse that Jon Meacham, the interviewer, asks questions like, "What has surprised you most since becoming secretary of state?" or "How important is the relationship between the secretary and the president?" There is also, of course, Clinton's and Kissinger's warm rapport ("Well, Henry's the expert on theory and doctrine," "I fundamentally agree," "Mm-hmm," " I would add to what Henry said."). But most maddening of all is that Kissinger is allowed to say things like the following without being challenged:
Kissinger: I would say the special experience of American wartime policy in the last 40 years, from Vietnam on, is that the war itself became controversial in the country and that the most important thing we need in the current situation is, whatever disagreements there may be on tactics, that the legitimacy of the war itself does not become a subject of controversy. We have to start with the assumption, obviously, that whatever administration is conducting a war wants to end it.
Kissinger: Nobody has more at stake than the administration in office. But if you look at the debates we had on Vietnam, Iraq, and so forth, ending the war became defined as the withdrawal of forces and as the primary if not the exclusive exit strategy. But in fact the best exit strategy is victory. Another is diplomacy. Another is the war just dying out. But if you identify exit with withdrawal of American forces, you neglect the political objective. In such circumstances you trap yourself in a position in which the administration in office gets assaulted for insufficient dedication to ending the war, [and] it has to do things that can be against its better judgment. We often found ourselves there.[Italics Mine]
Kissinger's first comment, about the "assumption" we must "start with," would be more powerful if he had not led an administration which spent an entire term showing zero interest in ending a calamitous war. Equally disgusting is the passive language that he uses in the second paragraph. Nixon and Kissinger did not "trap" themselves into being insufficiently dedicated to end the war; instead, they trapped themselves into getting "assaulted" for being insufficiently dedicated to end the war. And then, Kissinger admits that things were done against the administration's better judgment (bombing Cambodia? using illegal tactics against the war's domestic opponents?). According to Kissinger, however, "it had to do" these things! No one is really responsible. Ick.