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The Siege of Budapest by Krisztian Ungvary

Serbia Through the Ages by Alex Dragnich

Rogue Nation by Claude Prestowitz

Does America Need a Foreign Policy? by Henry Kissinger

A Balkan Odyssey by Lord David Owen

Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War by Robert L. Beisner


(From the August 2006 issue of Chronicles)

Review of Mullahs, Merchants and Militants: The Economic Collapse of the Arab World by Stephen Glain


Stephen Glain, a former Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, joins a long list of journalists, pundits and think-tank analysts who have endeavored, since the World Trade Center attacks, to help America understand the Arab world. In his first (and, so far, only) book, he argues that the relationship between economics and political stability in the region has been neglected for too long in Washington. He blames “the Beltway Biosphere,” which is too pro-Israeli in sentiment and too neoimperial in outlook to realize that the biggest problem facing the Middle East is not Islam or autocracy but the looming economic and political collapse that will breed yet more despair and terrorism.


This is an interesting thesis well worth developing into a book, but its complexity demands much methodological rigor and a wealth of reliable data. Glain’s book fails on both scores.


The author’s ideological assumptions are neoliberal-Marxist: “A direct line leads from low volume on the Palestinian Securities Exchange to a young boy throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers in Ramallah.” His repeated insistence that Muslim extremism cannot be explained in isolation from the issues of inequality and lack of opportunity reflects a mind-set hell-bent on placing economics, rather than culture and morals, at the top of the hierarchy of causes in human affairs.


That Glain’s knowledge of history is shallow is not surprising in a “mainstream” journalist, but his account of the early Islamic empire veers into farcical, as when he asserts that “there never was a fundamentalist Muslim empire” but that the early caliphs developed “a realm that was largely secular in spirit, tolerant and congenial to foreign ideas, cultures, and religions.” Muhammad allegedly saw that “his young faith would appeal only through conciliation” and his “capture of Mecca was followed by only a few executions.” Jews and Christians “were generally left alone in exchange for a small tax,” and, on the whole, “it was subtle diplomacy rather than the sword that established the Muslim empire.” We are told that the “appeal of Islam spread throughout the Middle East” and that it “promoted tolerance,” which “was perhaps the Islamic world’s greatest achievment.” This spirit of tolerance, the comparatively peaceful mingling of faiths and races, continued “until the end of the Ottoman rule in 1918.” It all changed when two European imperial powers, Britain and France, carved up the region in the aftermath of World War I.


This caricature of history is unworthy of detailed refutation, and, on such flawed foundations, no solid edifice can be built. To Glain’s unwitting credit, he does not attempt to develop a coherent argument about the nature of Arabia’s economic and social malaise but offers instead a collage of edited interviews with some two-dozen Arabs in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt. While these people are not representative of their communities, Wall Street Journal readers can relate to them. All share an enterpreneurial spirit and a self-professed sympathy for the West and its ways, while remaining sharply critical of Western, and especially American, policies in the region. Those sketches are interesting insofar as they illustrate the mind-set of a frustrated and yet potentially promising segment of the Arab body-politic, but they are no substitute for a unifying narrative. The reader receives the impression that Glain made use of his leftover notes by inserting them into an ill-fitting preconceived framework. The technique is familiar: For instance, it has, over the past decade, yielded a score of bad books about the Balkans.


The true causes of today’s squalor and corruption of the Arab world are primarily moral and cultural. After the brief period of flourishing that happened in spite of Islam (rather than because of it), the region’s history has been that of a long decline without a fall. Always reliant on the plunder of its neighbors and robbery of its non-Muslim subjects, Islam was unable to create new wealth once the conquerors had run out of steam and reduced the vanquished to utter penury. Pre-Islamic Egypt, like the pre-Bolshevik Ukraine, was the granary of Europe; now both must import food. Pre-Islamic Syria and Asia Minor suffered under Caliph Umar a fate similar to that of highly developed and prosperous East Germany and Czechoslovakia after 1945. In both cases the dominant ideology – Islam or communism – opposed the preconditions for successful economic development in principle as well as in practice.

Not even a prime location at the crossroads of the world could counter the slow poison of obscurantism. The nature of the problem has always been spiritual. Like all totalitarian ideologies, Islam has an inherent tendency to the closing of the mind. The spirit of critical inquiry essential to the growth of knowledge is completely alien to it. When, in the 19th century, the Muslim world realized that something was seriously wrong, its view of knowledge remained nevertheless that of a commodity to be imported and used. Western engineers, military officers, and doctors could train their Muslim students, but the latter never managed to give more than what was imparted to them.


The problem remains insoluble to this day: Glain’s Arab interlocutors want some of the fruits of Western culture – stock markets, efficient bureaucracies, reliable banks – but they cannot import the culture itself, even if they wished to do so. The developed world’s discipline, cohesion, ingenuity, and prosperity are rooted in the aspects of the Western psyche that cannot be easily transplanted. Instant gratification – inherent to the Muslim mind-set ever since Muhammad resorted to divine intervention in his lust for his daughter-in-law – is odious to the European and Oriental psyche alike; hence, Asian “tigers” prosper, whereas Arabs do not.


There are symphony orchestras in Singapore, Seoul, and Beijing, but none in Amman, Ramallah, or Beirut. If and when Stephen Glain grasps the significance of that fact, he may be ready to write a useful book book about the causes and cures for Arab economic, social, political, and cultural failures.




(From the April 2006 issue of Chronicles)




by Krisztian Ungvary

Foreword by John Lukacs

2005: New Haven, Yale University Press

512 pp., $35.00 ISBN 0-300-10468-5


The siege of Budapest in the winter of 1944-1945 was not as militarily significant as that of Stalingrad or as colossally wasteful of human life as that of Leningrad, but it was a human tragedy of the highest order. For the Germans and their (often reluctant) Hungarian allies, Hitler’s order to defend the capital of Hungary was a costly strategic mistake. For the Soviets it was an embarrassing obstacle on the way to Vienna. For 800,000 Hungarian civilians trapped in the city for over a hundred days, it was simply a nightmare.


Ungvary is an accomplished military historian who tells the story as it happened – histoire evenementielle at its best – relying on hundreds of eyewitness accounts and on many hitherto unknown German and Hungarian documentary sources. His relative neglect of the Soviet sources is the book’s only shortcoming.


The book is divided into seven chapters, and richly endowed with maps, tables, and photographs. John Lukacs’s Foreword sets the scene nicely, but to grasp the context of the story it should be read in conjunction with his Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture (1988).


Until very late in the war, Hungary was relatively untouched by it. Regent Miklos Horthy – an admiral without a navy in a kingdom without a king – was an anti-Versailles revisionist par excellence, but he was not a New Order fanatic. He allied Hungary with Hitler in order to recover as many lands of the Crown of St. Stephen lost in 1919 as he could, and the fruits in 1939-41 proved considerable. By 1944, however, the writing on the wall was clear: Germany was doomed. Horthy’s clumsy attempts to establish contact with the Allies and negotiate a separate peace prompted the Germans to replace him with a “government” of psychopaths and common criminals known as the Arrow Cross Party. With the exception of Ante Pavelic’s Ustasha regime in Zagreb, no other Quisling team in occupied Europe was as thoroughly degenerate as this “unlearned rubble” (in the words of Lukacs).


As the Red Army crossed Hungary’s eastern borders in October 1944, the fall of Budapest seemed imminent. It would have happened had Stalin, on October 28, allowed Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, the commander of the Second Ukrainian Front, five days’ preparation before commencing the attack. Stalin’s stubborn refusal to do so – “I expressly order you to begin the offensive against Budapest tomorrow!” – doomed the city. Underpowered and undersupplied, Malinovsky’s troops were able to reach the outskirts of Budapest but were unable to take it. By the first week of November, the commander of the German Army Group South, Gen. Hans Friessner, was able to establish a viable defense parameter.


By the end of December, Budapest was completely surrounded and about to experience six weeks of unspeakable privations. Ungvary tells the story dryly, which makes its awfulness all the starker. Thousands of Hungarian soldiers went into hiding, unwilling to die for no good reason. Thousands of others fought on grimly, equally fearful of the distrustful Germans and of the Soviet “liberators.” The Arrow Cross squads were more interested in rounding up and murdering Jews on the Danube quays than in defending the city. House-to-house fighting reduced much of Pest to rubble, with starving civilians often caught in cross-fire in the dank and dimly lit cellars. Pest fell on January 18, 1945, by which time the massive Soviet push to the Oder and to Berlin was in full swing. The Germans blew up the bridges on the Danube and defended Buda, the Castle Hill, until February 12. A desperate breakout attempt by the defenders ended in failure and carnage.    


Stalin’s blunder in insisting on an immediate attack at the end of October was coupled by Hitler’s blunder in ordering Budapest to be defended at any cost. Granting the war was already lost, in tactical terms it would have been far more useful for the German high command to have had the more than 100,000 troops trapped in Budapest at its disposal for the defense of the southeastern border of the Reich. Even at that late stage of the war, Hitler had not learned the lesson of Stalingrad: that leaving encircled garrisons deep behind the enemy lines to fight to the last bullet is exactly what the enemy would like him to do. Karl Pfeffer-Wildenbruch, the German commander, compounded Hitler’s mistake by postponing the breakout attempt until it was doomed to fail.


As Ungvary points out, Budapest withstood the siege longer that any other city defended by the Germans, yet the effort was pointless. The German troops’ morale remained unparalleled up to the very end – not because the average Landser was fiercely loyal to the National Socialist regime but because he perceived the war as a total one that left him with no personal choice in the matter. The Hungarian soldier, by contrast, did not perceive the war as an existential issue: “In 500 years of history Hungary had lost every war, so the Hungarians were more familiar than the Germans with defeat and its consequences.”


Indeed: six decades later Hungary remains confined to her Trianon borders, but as a consequence of that defeat, she is more stable and coherent than she would otherwise have been. Budapest is back on the map of Europe as a vibrant metropolis. The scars of 1944-45, coupled with those of 1956, are no longer in evidence. Krisztian Ungvary’s book will preserve for posterity the record of an epic yet futile struggle that will soon fade from living memory.




Harcourt Brace & Company, New York - San Diego – London, 389pp, $25

(From the September 1996 issue of Chronicles)


               The title gives the game away: David Owen, a failed British politician who was for three crucial years (1992-95) Europe's chief negotiator on the former Yugoslavia, seeks to cast himself as a Homerian hero.  After four hundred pages of tedious and at times clumsy prose - including every little detail of his busy travel schedule - Owen's attempt fails.

               Far from being heroic, or even significant, Owen's Balkan assignment was purely technical - to help impose an inherently unjust settlement, in the making of which he had not played any part. The pillar of this settlement was "Europe's" recognition of administrative boundaries between Yugoslavia's former constituent republics as fully fledged international frontiers.  The chief architects of this blueprint were the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and his then foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher. For geostrategic reasons of their own, they successfully bullied the other eleven members of the European Community into the premature recognition of the secessionist republics at Maastricht in December 1991.

               Owen's predecessor as Europe's chief Yugoslav mediator was Lord Carrington, an old Tory cynic who soon realised that there was precious little to choose between the three warring factions in the Balkans. Crown Prince Alexander and I paid several visits to this paternalistic grandee at his splendid office at Sotheby's, in St James's, to listen to his juicy off-the-cuff remarks on "that awful Balkan mess".  His views on messrs Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic were scathing in the extreme, but Peter Carrington equally despised the strident tone of pseudomoralists on both sides of the Atlantic, who sought to construe "Bosnia" as a test of Western resolve in the epic struggle of the good ("multiethnic," blue-eyed Muslims) versus the bad (mass-raping, sliwowitz-swilling Serb ethnic cleansers).

               To Lord Carrington the advocates of unitary Bosnia ruled from Sarajevo were living "in a realm of fantasy."  By August 1992, shortly before Owen took over, Carrington was clear that the optimal post-Yugoslav solution would involve a Serb-Croat swap, with a solid state for the Muslims in the middle. He understood that no "Bosnia" was viable on Yugoslavia's ruins.But he also knew that there were people in Bonn and Washington with rather different ideas, and was deeply uneasy about the fundamentals of Europe's policy on Yugoslavia. "The Germans got away with it because the other eleven were supine," was his verdict on Genscher's fist banging at Maastricht.

               Carrington's increasing reluctance to subscribe to the Manichean view of the conflict - which cast the Serbs in the role of perpetual villains - finally made his continued role untenable. And so, in mid-summer of 1992 the search was on for a successor.  It was agreed that this would be another Briton, but someone whose views were more to the Germans' liking. In effect, this was yet another Anglo-French retreat disguised as a compromise in the course of the Yugoslav war.

               This is the backdrop prudently omitted from David Owen's account. What Owen also chose not to tell his readers is that the job of Co-Chairman of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia was given to him in August 1992 by the ruling Conservatives as a consolation prize, when the Governorship of Hong Kong (previously promised to Owen in return for supporting the Tories against his former comrades in Labour and Lib-Dems) was preempted by Chris Patten. Although in British domestic politics the then 53-year-old Owen was distinctly passe - a fading "nearlyman" - he was owed a political debt by Prime Minister John Major.

               Such debts are defaulted if the debtor can get away with it, but Owen still carried the negative weight, his considerable capacity for mischief. Carrington's departure provided an opportunity for easy repayment.

               In order to earn his spurs Owen first had to prove his solid anti-Serb credentials. And so, his memoir opens at the end of July 1992, when he was duly infuriated by a story in the Guardian about a Serb-run "concentration camp" in northern Bosnia, and wrote to Major demanding that the Serbs be bombed. The fact that the story eventually proved to be largely bogus - another detail known to Owen but omitted from the book - illustrates the enormous role which a committed, leftish-liberal press played in the formation of policy in the Yugoslav crisis. As Nora Beloff remarked in her review of Owen (in The Times Literary Supplement last November), "the story might have been very different if the Guardian man had happened to be on the west bank of the Drina river during the same period, the summer of 1992. There, in the towns and villages where the Muslims were a majority, it was the Serbs who were being driven out and, in many cases, slaughtered." 

               Knowing that German acquiescence was the key to his appointment, Owen was careful not to question Bonn's Diktat on Yugoslavia imposed at Maastricht. On the contrary, he explicitly indicated to the Germans that he was not going to make any trouble.  In what is probably the most revealing passage in his book (p. 27) he recalls a meeting with the German foreign minister, Kinkel, a few days after being given Carrington's job:

[ ... ] I decided then and there that I would not spend time on public finger-pointing about German support for premature recognition of Croatia and Bosnia or the rights and wrongs of EC policy hitherto. My task was to keep the twelve member states together, and the best way to do that was to look forward. I adopted a somewhat similar attitude in public towards the causes of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. It was enough to deal with present outrages and future peace.

               This is a remarkable admission. By deciding ("there and then") to treat recognition as an irreversible fait accompli, Owen had abdicated any possibility of acting as a mediator in the Yugoslav conflict. Perceiving his role as that of the upholder of European unity - which was but a misnomer for an unseemly Gleichschaltung on terms imposed by Germany - he assumed the mantle of a combatant. By becoming a mere accomplice in the fight to force over two million Serbs west of the Drina river into submission, Owen accepted a role which was not only subordinate, but also squalid.

               What makes Owen's complicity unforgivable is his awareness that what he was doing was wrong. He acknowledges (p. 8) that the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia suffered genocide at the hands of the Croats in 1941-45, and that their suffering went unacknowledged in Tito's Yugoslavia, yet throughout his Balkan tenure he does not take this political fact of life into consideration. Even more significantly, Owen concedes that Tito's internal boundaries were arbitrary, and that their redrawing should have been countenanced at the time of Yugoslavia's disintegration:

      It is true that there could not have been a total accommodation of Serb demands; but to rule out any discussion or opportunity for compromise in order to head off war was an extraordinary decision. My view has always been that to have stuck unyieldingly to the internal boundaries of the six republics within the former Yugoslavia [ ... ] as being the boundaries for independent states, was a folly far greater than that of premature recognition itself.     (p. 33)

               Owen's greatest failure, as a diplomat and as a man, was to brush aside his own objections to the blueprint imposed on him. He never explains the somersault, and this is the most disturbing aspect of his book. Suppressing one's own critical and moral judgment in favour of an earthly objective - be it "European unity" or one's personal vanity - is the hallmark of a bureaucrat, or of a war criminal. So was he a lickspittle or a Nero? We do not know.

               Owen is a bit of both; his obedience was bureaucratic, his disregard for justice was criminal. But having made his choice, Owen devoted his considerable energy to devising and imposing not a "fair," but a blatantly anti-Serb settlement. The much heralded Vance-Owen Plan was the result. Its key objective was to give the Muslims their chief war aim - a single, centralised Bosnian state (p. 62) - and to reduce Serb ancestral lands to a patchwork of semi-autonomous Nagorno-Karabachs. In Owen's own words, "we could not accept a state within a state and therefore had to avoid as far as we could a geographical continuity of Serb provinces." (p. 67)

               The boundaries of those provinces were jointly drawn by Owen, Tudjman and Izetbegovic in Zagreb (p. 82), and then brazenly presented to the Serbs (and the rest of us) as a proposal by himself and Vance, the two international mediators!

               Owen's conversion remains unexplained: having made the opposite case with some eloquence, he treats Tito's borders as inviolable, and their corollary, an unitary Bosnian state and a Greater Croatia encompassing the Krajina, as axiomatic. But his mind is predictably "rational" in that it demands that others accept his axioms. Referring to a different tragedy (India) and a different time (1947), a shrewd analyst aptly captured this frame of mind:

It was as if the wolf, when presenting his argument to the lamb for eating it was assuming that he was speaking only to a fellow-wolf, his equal, and at the same time taking it for granted that if the lamb was not persuaded it must be a very unreasonable animal. (Nirad Chadhury, Thy Hand, Great Anarch: India 1921-1952, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1987, p. 321)

               Since most Serbs were (unsurprisingly) loath to subscribe to Owen's freshly-adopted opinions, they had to be irrational, or plain dishonest. He treated them as both. In either case, they were to be denied a place in the New Europe unless they yielded, and relentlessly punished until they did. They merited air strikes which should be "as surgical as in the desert flatness of Iraq." (p. 13) Towns with a pre-war Muslim plurality, such as Foca, Visegrad, or Prijedor, are "Muslim towns" to Owen (p. 213), while overwhelmingly Serbian towns and districts are always labeled "Serb-held."

               By the same token, their enemies could get away with anything. The Serbs were to be punished if they violated the "safe areas," but the Muslims were not expected to demilitarise them. (p. 66) The Krajina Serbs were to be lectured by an "adamant" David Owen that they were in Croatia (p. 70), but a little later we find Owen giving comfort to Albanian separatists in Kosovo. Although "they are ready to wait until they can join up with Albania" and "we could never interest the Albanians in any solution based on autonomy" (p. 76), Owen is not exerting any pressure, let alone reminding them that Kosovo was in Serbia after all. On the contrary, he has "no wish" meet any local Serbs on his arrival in Pristina. (p. 60)

               Once he gets into track, Owen is unrestrained, even brazen, in his application of double standards. Karadzic's or Mladic's nationalism is despicable, but not Tudjman's. This Holocaust revisionist and ethnic cleanser of half a million Serbs is, to Owen, "the genuine choice of his people to be their leader." (p. 74) Owen was perfectly aware that Tudjman had regular Croatian troops in Bosnia, and quietly condoned his intention to violate all agreements in order to destroy the Krajina Serbs. Accordingly, "there was therefore no feeling between us of resentment at being let down when he did attack across agreed ceasefire lines."

               Alija Izetbegovic is treated with similar charity. We are not told what Owen knows, that he had ordered various bomb-stunts against his own people (eg. the “bread- line massacre” of May ‘92, or the Markale market massacre of February ‘94) in order to gain Western sympathy and support. Even when his Muslim militiamen prove to be “capable of killing in cold blood UN troops in blue berets” (p. 44), Owen is careful to blame “someone in political authority, though not necessarily Izetbegovic”. The Muslim leader’s loyalty “to multiethnic Bosnia” is taken at face value (p. 38), and Owen selects a  benign, bland quote to illustrate the tone of Izetbegovic’s magnum opus, his Islamic Declaration.

               Owen does not give us the true Izetbegovic, however, the one who proudly proclaims that ‘there can be no peace or coexistence between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic societies and political institutions,’ and who warns his fellow Muslims that ‘the Islamic movement should and must start taking power as soon as it is morally and numerically strong enough not only to overthrow the existing non-Islamic power structure, but also to build a great Islamic federation spreading from Morocco to Indonesia, from tropical Africa to Central Asia.' (A. Izetbegovic, Islamska deklaracija, Sarajevo: "Bosna", 1990)

               David Owen boasts that his job "was to think the unthinkable and to challenge conventional attitudes." (p. 72) His ability to make the claim with a straight face is truly unsettling. Rebecca West was right to warn that "one can believe little of what people say of each other, but even less of what they say about themselves." Owen's sole complexity seems to be his grimness; "Dr Death" - his nickname from the old, Labour days - rings eerily true to form. When he is duplicitous - which he is often - one senses that the Welsh Puritan in him secretly longs to be unmasked. When he is his most arrogant, he is also, curiously, his most pitiful.

               Far from being "unconventional," David Owen is the paragon of the ageing, neurotic yuppie. His inner void is papered over by thousands of hours of long-haul flights, dinner parties, and press conferences. He is addicted to bands of assistants, piles of meaningless memos, make-do conferences and fifteen-hour working days... In the end, left alone with himself, we sense that he is as vacuous as our decade, and just as sad. His exercise in self-aggrandizement is doomed, and we sense that he knows it.

               Owen's greatest claim to "unconventionality" is his alleged discovery that Milosevic had never been the "Serbian nationalist leader" of a thousand Western editorials, but a cynical apparatchik who had never identified with the nationalist agenda. But by promoting an intra-Serb split Owen did not accomplish anything that Milosevic had not been ready and willing to do anyway. The Serbs of Bosnia and Croatia, unwilling to submit to Tudjman and Izetbegovic but unable to resist without help from Serbia itself, were doomed to defeat once Milosevic decided that they could pose a threat to his undisputed authority.    

               David Owen has failed in the Balkans. He and I would probably disagree on the nature of his failure, but that is a part of his tragedy: this need not have been so. Had he genuinely dared to "think the unthinkable" and to "challenge conventional attitudes," Owen would have been remembered as - at worst - a controversial, troublesome Brit; but at best (and just maybe) as a genuine hero in Goethe's eternal war against 'Dummheit'.

               Owen’s unheroic refusal to do so had further reduced the possibility of a genuine debate about the Balkans in the West, and in "Europe" in particular. It helped promote a bogus consensus, and it facilitated the temporary triumph of a narrow-minded, vindictive Mitteleuropa over genuine European understanding. Denying the validity of any Serb claim thus became the corollary of excluding eastern Orthodox nations, and above all Russia, from the New Europe.

               The fruits of David Owen's labours belong - for now - to the Clinton Administration (who have stabbed him in the back by torpedoing his beloved “Vance-Owen Peace Plan”) and to the Germans (who despise him). The final price may well prove to be prohibitively high, not only for the "wrong" type of Slavs, but for what remains of  the ability of the Western civilisation to remain cool and detached in the face of interventionist hysteria and the manufacture of enemies.



“A Pure American Type of a Rather Rare Species”

by Srdja Trifkovic (Chronicles, May 2007)

Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War by Robert L. Beisner

New York: Oxford University Press; 800 pp., $35.00

Dean Gooderham Acheson was born in Middletown, Connecticut, on April 11, 1893, into a stable world of which Europe was the center and where America was poised to attain hemispheric dominance. That world’s certainties were shattered in the trenches of Northern France, but the shock was less profound among America’s northeastern aristocracy—to which Acheson belonged by birth and temperament— than among its European counterparts.

America was spared melancholy selfdoubt for another half-century, and young Acheson’s disposition reflected its absence. Tall and striking in appearance, elegant in dress and polished in manner, he exuded the quiet self-confidence that used to come naturally to the alumni of Groton, Yale, and Harvard Law School. By the early 1920’s, Acheson was a wellplaced young lawyer, blessed with “the knowledge that one has been tested and that the gods have looked favorably.” A decade later, suitably married and with three children, Acheson was on partnership track in a leading Washington law firm. He could have completed a solid but undramatic life, ending it as a Supreme Court justice or president of an Ivy League school.

Robert Beisner’s major biography is short on the reasons Acheson chose public service over law—the first two thirds of Acheson’s life are covered in a mere dozen pages—and exhaustive on the service itself. This imbalance is the book’s only real flaw. Too early, the author presents us with the mature man in his prime, pursuing a career in appointed officialdom, taking positions on issues, making allies and enemies. What made the man tick is barely hinted at. A summer spent building railroads in northern Canada when Acheson was 19 gets a brief paragraph; a trip to Japan after his graduation from Yale, not even a full line. As a student, he has a political argument with his father and is banished from home for a year, but we do not learn what their disagreement was about. More significantly, Beisner attributes Acheson’s early and enduring commitment to the Democratic Party to five factors—his father’s paternalistic sympathy for “the common man,” the influence of his mentor Felix Frankfurter, his friendship with Louis Brandeis, his firm’s connections, and his opposition to protectionism—but these are merely listed, and their relative weight is not assessed.

Acheson’s first foray into government came in 1933 with a brief stint as undersecretary and acting secretary of the treasury. It ended in a noisy dispute with President Franklin D. Roosevelt over the price of gold and currency policy. Acheson’s objections were justified, and, although he acted as a man of principle, he did so rashly, causing public embarrassment for FDR. Acheson then returned to his old firm, now as a partner, but soon grew disenchanted with the corporate regimen. Having tasted, however briefly, the “rare meat” of political power (as Frankfurter observed), he found it “painful to return to the hardtack of the law.” He despised Roosevelt ever after, but the episode taught him the necessity of helping presidents protect their prestige—a lesson that he was not to forget while serving Roosevelt’s successor as secretary of state.

The story of that service evokes the old theme of a plodding master and his effortlessly superior servant, but Harry Truman was no Bertie Wooster. He was respectful of Acheson’s worldly eloquence yet unawed by it, telling him, “You know, twenty guys would make a better Secretary of State than you, but I don’t know them. I know you.” Acheson was no Jeeves, either. He knew that avoiding condescension to the Missourian autodidact was essential to his chosen career. He would nev
er seek elective office, yet he enjoyed the “rare meat” too much to risk a repetition of 1933. To gain and keep Truman’s full confidence was the only way to savor the dish. That demanded tactful patience and occasional brown-nosing (e.g., rushing to meet Truman at Union Station on his return from Missouri in November 1948), and neither came naturally to Acheson. His ability to cultivate his relationship with the President, a key theme that Beisner develops in detail, resulted in Acheson’s “success at helping change Truman from a man at sea in diplomacy to a confident leader who knew his secretary of state to be loyal, able, and valued abroad.”

Another result was Acheson’s ability to influence U.S. foreign policy more profoundly than any other secretary of state in the past century, Henry Kissinger included. In his almost four years as undersecretary, and another four years as secretary, of state (1945-53), Acheson effectively copresided over America’s transformation into a superpower with global commitments. He helped develop an array of complex policies, entities, and instruments supporting those commitments, starting with the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan and culminating in the creation of NATO, the rearmament of Germany, and the decision to intervene in Korea.

Six decades later, it is tempting to blame Acheson for having been a key architect of today’s American Empire, a malevolent creation that has morphed into a threat to this country’s identity and a disruptive menace abroad. The man deserves to be judged in the context of the dilemmas and challenges of his own time, concerning which we must ask: Was the Soviet Union, in the late 1940’s, an aggressive, expansionist power bent on global domination? Moreover, was George Kennan’s assessment of Moscow’s intentions in the Long Telegram of 1946 the correct one? Starting with William Appleman Williams’
Tragedy of American Diplomacy, the answer prevalent in the American academy has been in the negative, or at least ambivalent. The revisionists have held that America had always been prone to empire building and reflexively anticommunist, while Stalin—intimidated by the crude signal sent by Hiroshima and Nagasaki—was acting defensively, and in line with Russia’s traditional geopolitical concerns.

The revisionists’ failure to grasp the role of the Soviet leaders’ worldview in the origins and subsequent conduct of the Cold War is on par with the refusal of many contemporary Western analysts to come to terms with the problem of Islam. In both cases, these aggressive actions and hostile impulses may, in part, have been induced by the need for security, or in reaction to American power, arrogance, and specific policies. The root problem, however, is a global ideology that blends religion and politics, whose impetus to expand and dominate abides irrespective of the actions of others, making it impervious to appeasement.

The material that has been made available from the Soviet archives since 1991 proves that Kennan was presciently correct in his assessment, and that the New Left revisionists are wrong. Now we know that Stalin’s paranoid personality, his acceptance of violence as a legitimate means of pursuing “progress,” and his absolute control at home made the Cold War inevitable regardless of American actions. Even had he been motivated by a rational quest to ensure “security” for his expanded domain, he would not have stopped short of seeking absolute security, just as a jihadist cannot stop short of turning every last square inch of the
Dar al Harb into the Dar al Islam.

Acheson’s evolution into a Cold Warrior did not occur overnight; Beisner dates it with finality to the second half of 1947. The paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy that occurred after 1945 had demanded a new conceptual framework and an abiding commitment—not to the creation of a global empire but to the limited goal of coping with the malignant adversary in the Kremlin. America’s response, Acheson concluded, demanded the creation of “situations of strength” along the Soviet periphery—above all, in Western Europe—to deter aggression and to create the preconditions necessary for negotiations. He and Kennan subsequently disagreed on the right mix of strength and diplomacy (Kennan came to resent the “militarization” of his own views), but not on the essence of the threat itself.

Acheson’s Eurocentric instincts and his unconcealed disdain for what is now known as the Third World (he memorably described Africa as “dark and delirious”) had served him well in setting his priorities. Beisner convincingly argues that Acheson was justified in resisting enormous pressure from the China lobby to continue supporting Chiang even when his cause started looking hopeless. An escalating entanglement on the Mainland would have drained American resources at a critical time for Europe, and Acheson sensed that Stalin would have liked nothing better. A communist China, even one that included Formosa, would be a nuisance; a communist Europe, however, would have been a catastrophe. Acheson’s abiding lack of interest in, and dislike of, Asia (the very thought of India gave him “the creeps”) may have contributed to the biggest blunder of his career (
pace Beisner). By casually omitting South Korea from the U.S. defense perimeter in a Press Club speech in January 1950, he sent the wrong signal to Kim Il Sung and his mentors—as dangerously wrong as that conveyed by Amb. April Glaspie to Saddam Hussein in June 1990, when she told the Iraqi dictator that “we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”

Acheson later stubbornly insisted that nothing he said had “fooled the Russians one bit.” Nevertheless, his lingering unease about the episode may have stiffened his resolve when the attack from the North came six months later. “Both Truman and Acheson went to war in 1950 to defend U.S. prestige,” writes Beisner, “a vital source of strength in conducting foreign policy.” Their resolve helped stabilize the Cold War divide. From June 1950 to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the communists inspired and funded countless insurgencies and “national liberation movements” all over the world—Malaya, Cuba, Congo, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Nicaragua—but no outright military onslaughts across the divide.

Acheson’s latent snobbery was the root cause of his other major blunder: his misguided support for Alger Hiss. This damaged his reputation and undermined the State Department’s credibility at a difficult time. His grandiloquent line to the press from January 1950, “I do not intend to turn my back on Mr. Hiss,” would haunt him until the end of his life. “I knocked myself out,” he admitted to a reporter in 1969. “[A]n element of pride entered into this.”

That same “element” was on display at a closed session of the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 30, 1950. His old enemy, Sen. Kenneth Wherry (RNE), wagged his finger across the narrow table at him, whereupon Acheson rose to his feet and told him not to shake his “dirty finger in my face”:

Wherry “bellowed that he would,
and he did.” When Acheson started a roundhouse swing at the Nebraskan, [former Princeton guard and State Department legal advisor Adrian] Fisher saved his skin, wrapping Acheson in his arms, pulling him down, and saying, “Take it easy, Boss; take it easy.” . . . On his way out, Acheson told a reporter he was “going home for a stiff drink.”

The urge to give it to someone “right on the jaw” used to add color and spice to politics in Washington when it was still a sleepy Southern town. It is lacking in today’s imperial capital, dominated as it is by think-tank ideologues, spin masters, pollsters, and sensitivity-trained speechwriters.

Srdja Trifkovic is Chronicles’ foreign affairs editor.



From Human Events, October 30, 2006: Review of Robert Spencer’s The Truth about Muhammad

At least since Georgi Plekhanov’s influential essay “The Role of the Individual in History” (1898), the proponents of the Great Man model—initiated in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and famously elaborated by Carlyle—have been on the defensive. For some decades now, the Western academe has been dominated by the upholders of the primacy of the relationships and conflicts between social forces in determining the course of history. Most chairs that count are held by Emeriti who see history as a linear struggle between social classes and their key fractions. Over the past generation the “proletarian” has been replaced by "RaceGenderSexuality" and the “capitalist” by the non-self-hating straight white male, but the dogma that history is determined by social forces has survived the fall of the Wall.

Robert Spencer’s “The Truth About Muhammad” (Regnery) was not written in order to disprove the gnostic notion that history has a comprehensible pattern, a determinate logic and a finite number of possible resolutions or outcomes. But that is, indirectly, what the book achieves. This brief and readable summary of the life and times of the prophet of Islam, derived from eminently orthodox Muslim sources, reveals the centrality of Muhammad not only to Islam-as-religion but also to Islam as a totalitarian ideology, Islam as a geopolitical project, and Islam as a normative moral and legal system devoid of any “natural” foundation.

If we look at the ancient world in the half-millennium after Rome passed her zenith under Trajan and Hadrian, we can discern no “objective” reason why the Arabs should have been more successful than any number of other nomadic warriors—the Cimmerians, or Scythians, or Huns, or Parthians—in making not only spectacular but also enduring conquests, conquests that were not ephemeral but capable of producing imperial edifices and breeding imperial ambitions of breathtaking audacity. They were all crude nomads in search of water and pasture and plunder. They all shared the low labor requirements of pastoralism, leaving most men instantly available for war. Various attempts at a socio-economic explanation of the Arab phenomenon have been made, notably by the late Geoffrey de Ste Croix, but they were but ex post facto rationalizations that undoubtedly would have been applied with equal force to the Thousand-Year Hun Empire had it happened.

It did not, but the Arab one did, and Muhammad— “victorious through terror” —made all the difference. His kinsmen and tribesmen were prone to war by custom and nature, accustomed to living by pillage and the exploitation of settled populations. Theirs was an “expansionism denuded of any concrete objective, brutal, and born of a necessity in its past” (Ibn Warraq), but Muhammad provided a powerful ideological justification for those wars—a justification that was religious in form, global in scope and totalitarian in nature. In the space of a decade, the “warner in the face of a terrific punishment” morphed into a vengeful warlord, slayer of prisoners, murderer of political opponents and exterminator of Jews (chapters 6-9), his every move duly condoned by “revelations” from on high. From Muhammad’s second year in Medina on, Islam combined the dualism of a universal religion and a universal state, and jihad became its instrument for carrying out the faith’s ultimate objective by turning all people into believers. As Spencer explains, Muhammad postulated the fundamental illegitimacy of the existence of non-Islam, and mandates permanent “rejection of the Other” —to use a fashionable term—by every bona fide Muslim as a divine obligation. To a Muslim, Jihad does not necessarily mean permanent fighting, but it does mean a permanent state of war.

Even the cornerstone statement, “there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet,” goes beyond a declaration of monotheism and implies the radical division of the world into two camps. Antagonism toward non-Muslim religions, societies and cultures is certainly not the trait shared by all Muslims, but it is an attitude mandated by Muhammad to all true Muslims and prevalent among most to this day. Thanks to its founder, Islam has emerged as a quasi-religious ideology of cultural and political imperialism that absolutizes the conflict with other than itself, and knows no natural limits to itself.

Muhammad’s actions and words presented by Spencer are frankly shocking by the standards of our time, and punishable by its laws that range from genocide, crimes against humanity and murder to enslavement, rape and child molestation. But even in the context of 7th-Century Arabia, Muhammad’s deeds were often considered repugnant. He had to resort to “revelations” as a means of justifying his actions and suppressing the prevalent moral code of his own society. Attacking caravans in the holy month, taking up arms against one’s kinsmen, slaughtering prisoners, reserving a lion’s share of the booty, murdering people without provocation, violating treaties and indulging one’s sensual passions were also at odds with the moral standards of his Arab contemporaries. Only the ultimate authority could sanction it, and Allah duly obliged him. As an Edwardian author put it in the blunt language allowed in his time, the problem with Muhammad is not that he was a Bedouin, but that he was a morally degenerate Bedouin.

Evidence of His Followers

The title of Spencer’s book is inevitably a misnomer: Its author is well aware that “the truth” about Muhammad is more than we really know about the historical man, and “traditions” are not history. The “truth” that matters to us all, however, and the reason this book is important, is not what verifiably came to pass between 570 and 632 AD in Western Arabia, but what one-fifth of humanity believes to have happened. Ernest Renan’s famous assertion that Islam was “born in the full light of history” (p. 20) is incorrect: “The full light” is but the reflected glimmer of medieval Muslim scholars, men who were believers and, therefore, of necessity, apologists. But the construct completed some two centuries after Muhammad’s death is held by all true Muslims to be not only true but universally and eternally valid as a perfect model of virtue for all time.

As Spencer points out, on its own admission, Islam stands or falls with the person of Muhammad, a deeply flawed man by the standards of his own society, as well as those of the Old and New Testaments, both of which he acknowledged as divine revelation, and even by the new law, of which he claimed to be the divinely appointed medium and custodian. Fourteen centuries later, the problem of Islam, and the problem of the rest of the world with Islam, is not the remarkable career of Muhammad per se, undoubtedly a “great man” in terms of his impact on human history. It is the religion’s claim that the words and acts of its prophet provide the universally valid standard of morality as such, for all time and all men.

Our judgment on Muhammad rests on evidence of his followers and faithful admirers, and those who go into paroxysms of rage over Pope Benedict’s lectures or Danish cartoons can scarcely complain if, even on such evidence, the verdict of the civilized world goes against their prophet. That verdict, once it is passed—and thanks to the courageous people such as Robert Spencer it will be passed—will make the gentle mockery of Muhammad in those cartoons appear as inappropriate tomorrow as it would be inappropriate today to lampoon Hitler for his out-of-wedlock liaison with Fräulein Braun or for his inability to control flatulence.



(From the January 2006 issue of Chronicles)

Serbia Through the Ages by Alex Dragnich

Boulder, Colorado: East European Monographs. September 2004. $ 35. ISBN: 0-88033-541-6



Alex Dragnich’s attempt to compress a multifaceted millenium of Serbian history into 160 pages is bold, and could be considered audacious in a lesser man. So much has to be left out, and what is included has to be treated with such economy and such precision, that many a professional would cringe at the task.


Professor Dragnich takcles it with panache and self-assurance that he can well afford.  The reputation of this nonagenarian doyen of South Slavic studies in America is so solid, and his grasp of all the essentials so firm, that his book is beyond objections applicable to a run-of-the-mill academic monograph.


My main objection regards the book’s editors, concerning a title that promises more than the work itself can deliver. A better one would have been “A Brief History of Modern Serbia, 1804-2004.” The author’s treatment of some four fifths of Serbia’s recorded history, including the glory that was Serbia under the medieval Nemanjic dynasty, is compressed into a mere 18 pages (Chapters One and Two). That should have provided an expanded introduction to what really interests the author: the way in which a pre-modern peasant society managed to throw off the Ottoman yoke, establish a viable state structure, and limit their own rulers in such a way as to result eventually in a parlimentary democracy – and all that within a single century (1804-1903).


Dragnich’s objective is to recount the story of a people for educated generalists, but his context is provided by the recent past, confirming the extent to which all history is contemporary history. After 15 years of relentless demonization by the North American and Western European elite class, “Serbia” has ceased to be a mere country, and “the Serbs” are no more just a small Balkan nation. It has become hard to mention the battle of Kosovo, or the attentat at Sarajevo, and keep those names separate from a host of associations induced by the likes of Clinton, Albright, Holbrooke, Amanpour, Sontag, and Wolfowitz.


Indeed, cringing at the mention of “the Serb” is now a litmus test of a postmodern Westerner’s institutional clubability, on the order of his acceptance of the greatness of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the desirability of “gay marriage,” and the sanctity of “dr.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Dragnich senses this and readily admits that his purpose is twofold: to provide a better understanding of Yugoslavia’s breakup, and to offer a more objective evaluation of the events surrounding it.


In that endeavor, the author does not succeed, not because his Balkan facts or his interpretations of Yugoslav realities are wrong, but because he underestimates the mendacity of the beast known as the “international community.” Its controllers do not lack information or understanding; they lack common decency and the sense of moral distinction. Washington did not seek “to promote a peaceful settlement in Kosovo” and then got sidetracked, it actually wanted war. The horrors that the Clintonites and their European abettors have unleashed on the Serbs – among which the collective demonization and the demand for “denazification” exceed even those 78 days of bombing in 1999 – go far beyond any single element of rationally defined policy.


Six years short of his 100th birthday, Alex Dragnich remains an optimist, however. He still believes that, “had the policy makers and the media been better informed about Balkan and particularly Serbian history, conclusions and actions may have been very different.” He hopes that his fair-minded and reasonable account of Serbia’s modern history “will prevent future mistakes and, very importantly, lead to some reassessment of recent policies and media coverage.” That hope, unfortunately, is futile. Foreign meedling in the Balkans has a long history and an awful record, but many meddlers had known the score well before they proceeded to use that knowledge in pursuit of a “solution” that was mad, or bad, or both.


Austria-Hungary’s viceroy of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Benjamin Kallay, invented and promoted a “Bosniak” identity – a ruse perpetrated by Paddy Ashdown and his ilk today – and, to that end, he banned his own History of the Serbian Nation from his Bosnian fiefdom. That book, written while Kallay was the Habsburg envoy in Belgrade (1868-75), was too objective about the Serbs and therefore subversive of his political agenda. It was freely available elsewhere in the Dual Empire, but try bringing a copy from Vienna or Budapest to Sarajevo, and Kallay’s gendarmes would put you in jail.


Half a century later, Churchill knew the truth about Tito’s intention to Bolshevize Yugoslavia after defeating his domestic enemies and assured his envoy to the Partisans’ headquarters, Brig. Fitzroy Maclean, that it was OK to continue pretending otherwise. “Do you intend to make Yugoslavia your permanent residence after the war?” he asked Maclean in 1944, when the latter expressed some unease about the communists’ true design.


In the same vein, more recent assurances that Izetbegovic was not an Islamist and that the KLA were not terrorists invariably came from people equally certain not to make Bosnia or Kosovo their permanent residence after making them safe for jihad. What they are doing is a crime, and a systematic distortion of history is an important tool of their trade.


Even if all history is, in some measure, contemporary history, it should never be dominated by the ideological preferences of the elite class as thoroughly as the South Slav history has been dominated in the Western world over the past two decades. Alex Dragnich’s Serbia Trhough the Ages makes a welcome contribution to the end of that dominance.





(From the December 2001 issue of Chronicles)

Does America Need a Foreign Policy? by Henry Kissinger

New York: Simon & Schuster; 352 pp., $ 30.00 


The latest book by the former Secretary of State illustrates the difficulty of separating a piece of writing from its creator (Alan Greenspan on macroeconomics, Bill Gates on information technology, Steven Spielberg on cinematography). Would a similar, slim volume attract national attention if it came from an assistant professor at a Midwestern college? Would it be considered “important,” a “tour de force,” even “profound” by so many reviewers? Would it be deemed worthy of a Chronicles review?


The answers are yes, no, and yes. There are many books on foreign policy around, few that recognize the forest rather than just a few individual trees. Kissinger's stature and debonair arrogance combining the roles of a one-man think-tank and a prophet are arresting, but even published under a lesser name, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? would have been noticed for its boldness and readability. Though Kissinger steps with gusto on many liberal toes, the dominant bien-pensants are obliged to be smilingly polite to him even when it hurts.


The reason this book deserves scrutiny from those of us who advocate a “realistic” foreign policy -- one based on American national interests, pragmatically defined -- is its deeply deceptive nature. In the opening chapter, Kissinger advances a set of guiding principles with which we can have little quarrel -- and proceeds to violate them with a host of concrete policy recommendations (most notably regarding missile defense and NATO) that are fundamentally irrational and manifestly determined by his ideological prejudices. His a priori assumptions are apparent also in his failure to tackle the implications of the ongoing migratory deluge of the West and of the looming demographic collapse of European nations and their overseas descendants in the coming century. More remarkably still, he is either unaware of or indifferent to the deep moral, and spiritual crisis of the Western world. The fact that a man of Kissinger's stature and influence does not deign to consider the possibility that we are at the edge of a cultural abyss is perhaps the most depressing feature of the book.


Kissinger opens by observing that the United States currently enjoys political, military, economic and cultural preeminence unrivaled by even the greatest empires of the past. Its behavior sometimes evokes charges of American hegemony, yet its policies reflect either rehashed maxims inherited from the Cold War or domestic ideological schisms. The left sees America as the ultimate arbiter of domestic evolution all over the world. In their view, foreign policy amounts to an extension of U.S. social policy on a global scale. For the right, the solution to the world’s ills is unabashed American hegemony. Kissinger rejects both “an attitude of missionary rectitude on one side and a sense that the accumulation of power is self-implementing on the other.” The real challenge, he says, is to merge the traditions of exceptionalism by which American democracy has defined itself and the circumstances in which they have to be implemented, taking into account the structural differences between four main international systems in the world today.



The first of those - Europe and the Western Hemisphere - is America’s oyster. Peace based on democracy and economic progress rules supreme. “States are democratic; economies are market-oriented; wars are inconceivable except at the periphery, where they may be triggered by ethnic conflicts.” On the other hand the great powers of Asia - larger in size and far more populous than the nations of 19th-century Europe - treat one another as strategic rivals. Wars involving India, China, Japan, Russia, Korea, or Indochina are not imminent, but they are not inconceivable, either. The conflicts in the Middle East, by contrast, are akin to those of 17th-century Europe: Their roots are not economic or strategic but ideological and religious. Finally, there is Africa, which, with its chaotic ethnic conflict, poverty, and disease, has no precedent in European history.


Such variety of systems demands subtlety that Kissinger does not find either in Congressional heavy-handedness or in “ubiquitous and clamorous media that are transforming foreign policy into a subdivision of public entertainment.” An additional reason for America’s difficulty with developing a coherent strategy he finds in the flaws of three inside-the-Beltway mindsets. Cold War aficionados favor hegemony for its own sake, Vietnam-era peaceniks suffer from that Clintonesque wooly-headedness that precludes coherent thinking, while yuppie technocrats believe that no national strategy is needed since the pursuit of economic self-interest and globalization will ultimately produce global peace and democracy. So long as the post-Cold War generation of national leaders is embarrassed to elaborate an unapologetic concept of enlightened national interest, Kissinger warns, it will achieve progressive paralysis, not moral elevation:


“Certainly, to be truly American, any concept of national interest must flow from the country’s democratic tradition and concern with the vitality of democracy around the world. But the United States must also translate its values into answers to some hard questions: What, for our survival, must we seek to prevent no matter how painful the means? What, to be true to ourselves, must we try to accomplish no matter how small the attainable international consensus, and, if necessary, entirely on our own? What wrongs is it essential that we right? What goals are simply beyond our capacity?”


In the tension between globalist-missionary impulses – the legacy of Woodrow Wilson - and hardheaded realism - “Jacksonianism,” he calls it - the author clearly tends to the latter. Wars or interventions, either to stop “atrocities” or to spread American values, are to be avoided. A realistic attachment to the national interest – the art of the diplomatically possible - has greater potential to realize moral purposes. Kissinger illustrates his point with the Balkans. In Kosovo the Clinton Administration had aggravated a bad situation in the name of “morality” and helped the Albanians’ irredentist objectives that extend beyond Serbia. In Bosnia the “moral” position - the one that would have minimized suffering – was to allow ethnic partition, rather than to force three communities to remain in a quasi-multiethnic polity that had no precedent in history and no connection to any fundamental American interests.


So far so good, and – to Chronicles readers at least – so conventional. Problems start with Chapter II, with NATO and missile defense. Kissinger is a dedicated NATO-Forever enthusiast and a firm proponent of the missile defense system. To him NATO “still remains as an insurance policy against a new Russian imperialism.” It must not lose its sense of purpose and dissolve “into a multilateral mishmash,” or else “both Germany and Russia would be tempted to view each other as their best foreign policy option.”


Such views are problematic by Kissinger’s own standards of America’s national interest. A hard-boiled realist should note that missile defense has prompted the ongoing improvement in Russo-Chinese relations. Ever fond of historical parallels, Kissinger should notice that the Russian-Chinese treaty of July 2001 is comparable to l’entente cordialle between Great Britain and France of a century ago. That arrangement was also not a formal alliance to start with, as the Germans consoled themselves at the time. Nevertheless, it did have a similar underlying logic, it created a pattern of relations that was to become fully apparent in August 1914.


By refusing to acknowledge that NATO and missile defense will perpetuate an open-ended and inherently adversarial relationship between Washingtonon and Moscow, Kissinger activates a predictable and possibly intended paradox. The containment of any possible future Russian threat - his key reason for NATO’s continued existence - distorts Russia’s post-communist evolution in favor of its traditional distrust of Western intentions. The realists who are now in charge in Moscow are not a priori “anti-Western” but they harbor no illusions either. Their strategic thinking now entails an unabashed reliance on nuclear weapons and their possible first use. This is detrimental to American security and cannot be offset by any conjectural benefit of maintaining an alliance that has outlived its usefulness. The only rational reason for a country to enter into an alliance is to enhance its security. By prolonging Russia’s status as America’s adversary NATO does the opposite. Even in its weakened state, with all its economic and demographic problems, Russia remains a nuclear power with thousands of nuclear warheads. If NATO is enlarged and America proceeds with its antimissile system, Russia will place more nuclear warheads on its ballistic missiles and American cities will remain on their list of targets. 


It almost defies belief that a “realist” such as Kissinger fails to consider dangers to America inherent in NATO expansion. The United States is extending its security guarantee to new clients right in Russia’s geopolitical backyard. It theoretically accepts the risk of an all-out war in defense of an area that had never been deemed vital to this country’s interests. It guarantees a host of disputed frontiers that were drawn often arbitrarily and bear little relation to ethnicity, geography, or history. It underwrites the freezing in time of a post-Soviet outcome that is neither inherently stable nor necessarily “just” or “democratic.” America submits itself to a calcifying organizational framework that will make eventual adjustments – if and when they occur – not only more potentially violent for the countries concerned, but also for the United States, which does not and should not have a vested interest in preserving an indefinite status quo in the region.


Washington and Jefferson would be horrified; even Kissinger’s beloved Metternich would frown because the policy is simply illogical. It means either that the United States is seriously ready to risk a thermonuclear war for the sake of, say, Poland’s border with Belarus, which is insane, or it is not serious, which is frivolous and risky. Has Kissinger overlooked the results previous Western security guarantees in the region – of Czechoslovakia’s carve-up in October 1938, or Poland’s destruction in September 1939 – which provide a warning that promises nonchalantly given today may turn into bounced checks or smoldering cities tomorrow? Does he not recall the lesson of Locarno, that security guarantees that are not based on the provider’s complete resolve to fight a fully blown war to fulfill them are worse than no guarantees at all?


Using Kissinger’s own theoretical framework of pragmatically defined American interest, it is possible to make a strong case for the abolition of NATO, withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Europe and a partnership with Russia. For starters this would give a boost to Russia’s democratic institutions that would make its aggressive comeback unlikely. In the longer term Russia needs help to become the West’s bulwark against the real threat to our common security, the new antemurale christiensitatis as we enter the century that is certain to see a renewed assault of militant Islam – to which Kissinger is curiously oblivious - on an enfeebled Europe. America needs Russia’s economic revival focused on its links with Europe, and a strategic understanding with Moscow based on the underlying common interest in keeping Islamic marauders at bay.


Kissinger also does not notice that NATO’s continued existence strengthens the unholy alliance of the very people he professes to despise, of all those one-world Wilsonians and neocon global interventionists who run the show in Washington. They have jointly invented a new mission for NATO: that of the self-appointed promoter of democracy and protector of human rights. Its area of operations is no longer limited; its “mandate” is entirely self-generated. Its war against Serbia in the spring of 1999 marked a decisive shift in its mutation from a defensive alliance into a supranational security force based on the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.” This remarkable process overseas has mirrored the longer and by now almost completed domestic evolution of the United States’ federal government into a Leviathan unbound by constitutional restraints. The reinvention of NATO as the permanent iron fist of the ideology of neoimperial interventionism proves yet again the old adage – once advanced by Henry Kissinger himself - that foreign policy is an extension of domestic politics. But as a man who affirms the legitimacy of the post-republican authority, he would probably disagree with this description of the nature of that extension.


Upon reading Kissinger’s latest book some Europeans may conclude that the latter-day, U.S.-led Drang nach Osten is a poisoned chalice that the Germans will only accept to their peril. They will be justified in suspecting that there is no better way to ensure American dominance in Europe in perpetuity than by preventing the long-overdue Russo-German rapprochement. Kissinger is frank about his desire to stop this from happening and should be commended for his openness. His wisdom in seeking to prevent this historic step is doubtful, however. The reestablishment of a German-Russian rapport is the last unfulfilled prerequisite for a long period of stable peace throughout the Old Continent. He wants to postpone it in favor of what is becoming – perhaps contrary to his wishes - a psychotic imperial utopia that is utterly divorced from the interests, political traditions, and natural inclinations of the American people.


Kissinger’s views on NATO, his unwillingness to acknowledge the validity of arguments that do not fit his paradigm, provide an example of ideological distortion legitimized by a value system immune to critical scrutiny. That Kissinger is probably unaware of the hierarchy of normative control that determines his own thinking does not mean he is off the hook. A “self-revising” analyst – a bold thinker unbound by institutional loyalties and personal ambition - would deliberately seek distinction between values and norms. Critically examining norms - in this case the continued utility of NATO as an institution - should not be mistaken for attacking the core values - American national interests - and thus proposing a new hierarchy of control.


Kissinger’s advocacy of a missile defense system is also ideological rather than critical. “With all respect for the views of allies and other important countries, the United States cannot condemn its population to permanent vulnerability,” says he a little pompously and proceeds to list arguments against missile defense, only to have them duly refuted. He does not mention the right ones, however, notably the view of intelligence professionals that the threat to America is biological rather than nuclear, and that the method of delivery will be a smuggled suitcase rather than a ballistic missile. More importantly he does not see, or does not say, that the missile defense “philosophy” assumes the desirability of the global hegemony as the basis of U.S. foreign policy. A missile defense system would only be compatible with a return to constitutional foreign policy. Short of a radical change in the U.S. foreign policy a working nuclear shield above America would be the equivalent of giving a sniper a bulletproof body suit.


Intellectually and technically Kissinger’s treatment of the “Politics of globalization” is the least satisfying part of the book. His treatment of it as a mere fact of modern life, not as one of its determinants, is pedestrian at times: “Globalization has diffused economic and technological power. Instantaneous communications make the decisions in one region hostage to those in other parts of the globe. Globalization has produced unprecedented prosperity, albeit not evenly.” He revisits some old ground, markets and international financial institutions, fortified suburbs and radicalized cities, and misses the impact of globalization on national identities and cultures. Quite the contrary, throughout his book Kissinger exudes what seems an unwarranted confidence that the behavior of nations will remain determined in the coming century by the continuity of their history and geography, thus implying that nations are here to stay as recognizable and more or less constant entities.


Kissinger ends his book by noting that great statesmen are distinguished not by their detailed knowledge but by “their instinctive grasp of historical currents, by an ability to discern amidst the myriad of impressions that impinge on consciousness those most likely to shape the future.” It goes without saying that he believes himself uniquely endowed with that grasp, but he is mistaken. Having spent most of his working life within the institutional and intellectual confines of the Washingtonian ideological paradigm Dr. Henry Kissinger is unable to escape the limits they impose on his ability to discern what needs to be done now and what is in store for us all tomorrow. We end up with a distortion of reality - impelled by habit or interest - that purports to explain to others what the author himself cannot understand. The world in the coming century will be a much darker and unhappier place than Kissinger imagines and his recommendations are woefully inadequate to prepare America for the coming ordeal, at home or abroad.


As for the title, Kissinger is right. America certainly needs a foreign policy, now perhaps more than ever; but for guidance go to Pat Buchanan’s “A Republic, not an Empire.”