Monday, August 27, 2018


"John McCain was born to fight. He did so in the skies and fields of war, in Vietnam, and in politics, soaring to become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2008. His death at the age of 81 robs America of one of its most distinctive public servants of the last half century. In both his chosen careers, McCain fought against authority and conventional wisdom, acquiring the reputation of being the quintessential maverick. Although in many respects a rock-ribbed conservative, he always had his own agenda, regardless of party affiliation. Even when fellow Republicans occupied the White House, he had few compunctions in challenging them. He was raised a navy brat. Born on August 29, 1936, in the US-occupied Panama Canal Zone, he was the son and grandson of US Navy admirals, moving wherever his father was stationed. He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1958 after a turbulent midshipman’s existence, accumulating so many disciplinary demerits that he qualified for the dubious “century club”. As a navy pilot, he found himself in Vietnam. He survived a terrible fire in 1967 on the USS Forrestal after an onboard missile exploded, killing more than 120 US seamen. In an early indication of his independent thinking, he told a reporter he had befriended, R W Apple, then covering the war for the New York Times: “Now I’ve seen what the bombs and napalm did to the people on our ship, I’m not so sure I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam.” Soon afterwards McCain was shot down over North Vietnam and spent five and a half years in the prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton”. He was repeatedly tortured, to the point that his sandy hair turned snow white, but refused the offer of early release to stay with his fellow prisoners of war. After peace was agreed he returned to the US a hero, broken in body but not spirit. Once mended he resumed his navy career at home but it became apparent he would not become the third admiral in his family. One stint, as a liaison to the US Congress, proved useful, however. When he married his second wife, Cindy Lou Hensley, in 1980, his best man and groomsman were two senators, William Cohen and Gary Hart. The couple moved to Arizona, where politics soon beckoned. McCain ran for the House of Representatives in 1982 and, when attacked in a debate as a carpet-bagging newcomer to the state, he came up with a killing response: “When I think about it now, the place I lived longest was Hanoi.” He won easily and moved up to the Senate four years later. The maverick reputation took hold in his House years. He voted against the Ronald Reagan administration on two controversial issues: to establish a permanent US Marine presence in Lebanon and to override a presidential veto of anti-apartheid legislation. His Senate career was nearly derailed by being caught up in the savings-and-loans scandals of the late 1980s. One suspect bank to go bankrupt was Lincoln Savings and Loan, led by Charles Keating, an Arizonan financier and old friend. Five senators, including McCain, were alleged to have tried to intercede with federal regulators investigating Lincoln. He was reprimanded by the Senate ethics committee but still won re-election in 1992…. McCain broke with President Bush frequently, first over his 2001 tax cuts, which McCain opposed because they were not accompanied by corresponding reductions in spending. Though he supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he was the pre-eminent congressional critic of the conduct of the military occupation, saying he had no confidence in President Bush’s then secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld. McCain’s case was that Rumsfeld insisted on deploying too few troops. He was vindicated with the eventual adoption early in 2007 of the troop “surge”, which at least had the effect of reducing American and Iraqi casualties. Never one to mince his words, the senator regularly cast aspersions on Donald Trump’s fitness for the highest office in the land…He let the White House know that Mr Trump would not be welcome at his funeral, which was planned, appropriately, for the National Cathedral in Washington".
Courtney Weaver, "John McCain, US war hero and politician, dies aged 81". The Financial Times. 26 August 2018, in
>HORATIO: "I saw him once. He was a goodly king". HAMLET: "He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again".
Shakespeare, Hamlet. Act 1, Scene 2.
The late Senator John McCain was to my mind without any doubt a heroic figure. Someone like Maréchal Ney: the bravest of the brave. In retrospect it was and is a tragedy of the first order that he never was elected President. Especially, in year 2000. Which is not to say that I agreed with everything that Senator McCain did or said. Simply that as a man, as a political figure, he was by far the best person by both family background and life story to ascend to the highest office in the land. It is a mark of the current decadence of American politics and indeed the American polity, that to-day the office of the Presidency is held by someone who is in almost every way and or fashion possible the exact opposite of Senator McCain. Indeed, I fear that the mots of Shakespeare in Hamlet are very apt in this instance: that we "shall not look upon his like again".

Friday, August 03, 2018


"Lord Carrington, who has died at the age of 99, was Margaret Thatcher's first foreign secretary, renowned for the Rhodesia settlement of 1979 and for Britain’s response to the invasion of the Falkland Islands three years later. Rhodesia was the Thatcher government’s greatest diplomatic triumph, the Falklands invasion its worst overseas disaster. Together they form a fitting testament to the vicissitudes of Carrington’s 40 years at the heart of Conservative politics. A hereditary peer whose entire political career was spent in the House of Lords, he was the first foreign secretary for 75 years never to have been an elected MP. His ascent was due to the relationship he established with a succession of Tory leaders, particularly with Edward Heath, yet he was among the few who proved able to transfer their loyalty effortlessly to Thatcher. Born on June 6 1919, Peter Carrington succeeded his father to the peerage at the age of 19. The title was one of William Pitt the Younger’s mercantile creations but the family had become conventional landowners.... Carrington followed the well-trodden aristocratic path from Eton to Sandhurst, serving with distinction in north-west Europe in the last months of the second world war. An articulate voice in the postwar Country Landowners’ Association, he was an obvious choice for junior ministerial office in the Lords when the Tories won power in 1951. Three years as high commissioner in Australia (1956-59) exhibited for the first time in a senior post the characteristic mix of patrician charm, bluff common sense and cool decisiveness that endeared him to successive Tory leaders. In 1959 Harold Macmillan brought Carrington back to London as first lord of the Admiralty; he entered the cabinet as leader of the House of Lords under Alec Douglas-Home in 1963. As leader of the opposition in the Lords throughout the Wilson and Callaghan governments, he used his numerical predominance in the upper house with tact, skilfully exploiting the peers’ residual powers to make mischief with Labour legislation. Carrington’s appointment by Heath as defence secretary in 1970 brought him to the political front rank. He later also served as party chairman".
Andrew, Lord Adonis. "Peter Carrington, former UK foreign secretary, 1919-2018". The Financial Times. 10 July 2018, in
"Lord Carrington, who has just died, may well have been longer in public life than any non-royal person ever. He took his seat in the House of Lords in 1946 (having already won the MC at Nijmegen in 1944), and never really retired until ill health confined him 70 years later. Hereditary privilege, I suppose, put him in; but what kept him there, giving him office under six prime ministers, as well as making him high commissioner to Australia, secretary-general of Nato etc. The obvious answer would be that, as someone who could not be elected, he was like the eunuch in the seraglio. Certainly prime ministers were disposed to trust him, in part because they knew he couldn’t have their job. Certainly, too, he had a strong sense of public service. But this does not explain his rather unaristocratic tenacity and ambition or his undoubted ability....The Peter Carrington view of the world included a defeatism about the possibilities of civilization which when allowed to run a country--as it did to some extent under Macmillian and Heath--had a quiet bad effect. He tended to confuse democracy with populism, and so to dislike both. He was so accustomed to national decline that he almost welcomed it. His effect on the conduct of the country's business abroad--brisk yet easy, conciliatory yet tough, quick-witted, commonsensical, worldly wise--was benign and yet irreplaceable".
Charles Moore, "The Spectator's Notes". The Spectator. 14 July 2018, p. 9.
”Peter [Lord Carrington] has originality, frankness and gaiety. He’s not like other Foreign Secretaries I have known. He is very natural. He has no pomposity whatever and no political bias or prejudice. He is certainly not right wing. He seems to hold his [Tory] party in about the same degree of contempt as RAB [Richard Austen Butler – former Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Secretary of State]. He has the capacity of charming people he doesn’t like. His face falls like Niagara Falls, whenever he wishes to express doubt. He is always ready with a joke. He has time and energy for unimportant people such as drivers, detectives, secretaries…He is of course in a wonderful position at the moment with no constituency – except the whole country. He is acknowledged in the UK at the present time and elsewhere as a colossal success at the job....He also knows enough about the past to be able to give a good analysis of a different problem, for instance of why the popular parallel between 1940 and to-day is inapposite despite Helmut Schmidt’s insistence that it is.”
Nicholas Henderson. Mandarin: The diaries of Nicholas Henderson, 1969-1982. (2000), p. 340. Entry for 9 May 1980.
Peter, the Sixth Baron Carrington bestrode the stage of British high politics and international diplomacy from the mid-1950s to the late early 1990s. Lord Carrington’s style of politics, of diplomacy indeed of humor is not the type that we can imagine seeing again in our lifetimes. It would be accurate to say of Lord Carrington the same mots that Harold Macmillian said of Lord Home in October 1963: "he is an example of the old governing class at its best”. Of course as Charles Moore aptly points out, Carrington was not a colossus akin to say Mrs. Thatcher, Sir Winston Churchill or Lord Salisbury. But he did not have to be any of these things. He merely had to be the ultimate ‘safe pair of hands’. Someone by virtue of his upbringing, education, early life experiences (ten-years as an officer in a guards regiment, six of them during the Second World War), and character was trusted by such different people as Churchill, Eden, Macmillian, Home, Heath and Thatcher. Indeed it is impossible to not be nostalgic about Lord Carrington in the age of Trump. Our Trumpian cauchemar making one all too aware of the fact that individuals of Lord Carrington’s worth and character do not for the most part choose to enter the public arena any longer. And given the degradation of the public mind and the mauvais ton style of politics that has emerged in both the USA and the UK, that is hardly surprising. Au fond one can only remember that not too many years ago, politics was a game played by or for gentlemen. Or those who wished to be seen as a gentleman (A/K/A Edward Heath being a prime example). To-day of course the mere idea that someone is a ‘gentleman’, un chevalier sans pur et sans reproche, is to forever bar one from public office and indeed from public service. To the cost of all us who see that we are ruled by vulgarians of no background and no backbone.

Friday, June 29, 2018


"China’s President Xi Jinping told visiting US defence secretary Jim Mattis that China would not yield “one inch” of the South China Sea, rebuffing Washington’s efforts to engage Beijing on the issue. Mr Mattis was visiting the Chinese capital for three days as part of a tour of Asia. On Thursday he flew to Seoul and reassured South Korean leaders that there would be no change in US forces stationed on the Korean peninsula following moves towards peace with Pyongyang. One of his primary aims in China was to deliver what he called a “medium tough” message to Beijing, warning against what Washington sees as Beijing’s militarisation of several artificial islands it has dredged in the South China Sea. Mr Xi, however, poured cold water on his efforts, restating Beijing’s long-held position that Chinese territorial waters include most of the South China Sea. Beijing claims roughly 90 per cent of the sea via what is known as the nine-dash line — an assertion that was shot down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016. China has ignored the ruling. “We cannot lose even one inch of the territory left behind by our ancestors,” said the Chinese leader, according to state media, referring to Taiwan as well as the South China Sea. “What is other people’s, we do not want at all.” In May, China reportedly installed long-range anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles on three of its artificial islands in the South China Sea. Beijing justified its moves by suggesting that US naval manoeuvres in the sea contributed to militarisation of the area".
Charles Clover, "China rejects US concerns over South China Sea militarisation". The Financial Times. 29 June 2018, in
"Chinese analysts generally attribute shifts in the Trump administration’s foreign policy to US decline. Many Chinese observers assume that the combined forces of globalisation and China’s rise are undermining US predominance, generating a new wave of anxiety within the United States. Due to these underlying assumptions, they often view the Trump administration’s threats against China as the ineffectual flailing of a declining power rather than a genuine warning sign that the US will take action that damages Chinese interests. To be sure, there is also broad recognition in China that Washington increasingly views Beijing through a competitive lens, creating new uncertainties in the Sino-American relationship. However, Chinese analysts are largely optimistic about the future of the relationship, assuming that US national interests will eventually drive the Trump administration towards a more cooperative stance on China. Chinese scholars are even more optimistic at the multilateral level, with many viewing the Trump administration’s actions as facilitating China’s rise as a global power, at the expense of the US".
Melanie Hart & Blaine Johnson, "The Trump Opportunity: Chinese Perceptions of the US Administrations". European Council on Foreign Relations. 20 June 2018, in
It is self-evident that the Peoples Republic regime in Peking view a United States under President Donald Trump as a 'declining power', which will inevitably give way to a rising China. There are similar perceptions afoot in Putin's Russia. With the occasional Trumpian efforts at showing American 'strength' more than cancelled out by the incoherence and indeed almost irrationality of other actions which demonstrate that the American Administration is almost completely beyond being able to construct any type of strategy. Much less a 'grand strategy'. Indeed, one has the impression that the American President, our modern-day Kaiser William II, creates policy on the hoof, without a thought about what other nations will think, but cares only about the headlines the very next day. In short one can readily say 'goodbye' to anything resembling American diplomacy in the George Kennan or Henry Kissinger sense. Indeed one almost positively remembers with the nostalgia the days of Bud McFarlane, Admiral Poindexter and Anthony Lake. With those (like myself) who hoped that John Bolton would be able to exercise some control on the mercurial American President vastly disappointed. I am afraid that there will be many more disappointments to come in the days ahead.

Friday, June 22, 2018


"The surreal meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday was perhaps best summed up by the performance of former basketball star Dennis Rodman. Wearing his “Make America Great Again” red baseball cap, dark sunglasses and a shirt emblazoned with his marijuana cryptocurrency sponsor, Mr Rodman broke down in tears on CNN as he declared June 12 a great day for the whole world. Mr Trump’s rambling press conference at the conclusion of the summit only enhanced the aura of reality television spectacle. In more than an hour of banter with a room full of reporters, the US president revealed a list of American concessions that went well beyond anything Mr Kim could have imagined. Along with a promise to end joint military exercises with South Korea, Mr Trump said he expected a formal peace treaty between the two countries would be signed soon and indicated his strong desire to eventually remove around 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea (it does not appear to have been consulted before Mr Trump decided to unilaterally end the joint exercises). In that context, the short joint statement signed by the two men can only be interpreted as a victory for the North Korean dictator. Apart from bland commitments on both sides to establish new relations and work towards peace, the document committed Pyongyang to merely “work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.... Mr Trump chose to ignore the fact that Mr Kim’s regime interprets that phrase as the removal of America’s nuclear umbrella from South Korea in exchange for denuclearisation in the north. In outlining the concessions he had extracted from Mr Kim, the US president complained he had not had enough time at this summit to agree a more comprehensive “de-nuke” agreement. If Mr Trump changes his mind and attempts to ramp up sanctions again it is now very unlikely China would be willing to enforce them. Beijing has watched this summit from the sidelines but will celebrate Mr Trump’s talk of troop drawdowns and cancelling US military exercises, which he called “very expensive” and “very provocative”. One of China’s most treasured goals is the eventual removal of US troops from its neighbourhood. At one point in his press conference, Mr Trump provided some insight into his mindset when he asked everyone to “think of it from a real estate perspective”. He advised Mr Kim to imagine the potential of his “beautiful beaches” if he were to stop using them for artillery exercises and built condos on them instead....".
Jamil Anderlini, "Kim Jong Un outmanoeuvres Donald Trump in Singapore" The Financial Times. 12 June 2018, in
"To see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all of the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee".
Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh, The Tablet, 5 May 1951.
Nothing, I declare nothing draws to mind Evely Waugh's great put-down of Steven Spender more than the performance of the American President in Singapore earlier this month. To say as the Financial Times correspondent does that the North Korean Dictator Mr. Kim ran rings around the American President, would be kindness. The fact of the matter is that the American President appears to have had no idea what he was doing or saying in these negotiations and the end-results fully display this fact. Statements such as:
We will be stopping the war games [with South Korea] which will save us a tremendous amount of money. It is very provocative 1.”
Display fully and easily the essential idiocy of allowing the American President, au fond an ignorant braggart, bounder, montebank, charlatan and rotter, to 'negotiate' anything. Much less a topic as complex and as intricate as the North Korean nuclear issue. The Trump Presidency is an almost daily exercise in masochism for anyone who has the interests of the West, of Christian Civilization at heart. It gives every evidence of being a perpetual nightmare. On an ongoing and daily basis. From the denunciation of the Persian nuclear accord (which is infinitely better than any accord that will ever come out of North Korea), to the apoplexy inducing Presidential idiocy at the G-7 Summit. Being a Burkean Conservative, it is my fundamental hope and desire that 'President Trump' will be soon impeached and forced from office, with jail being clear prospect for this transparent fraudster. The only possible good aspect of the Trump Presidency in that instant would be that his example will put paid to anyone ever again from such a 'background' ever wishing to become President of this or any other country.
1. For this quotation, see: "In quotes: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un". In the Financial Times, 12 June 2018 in

Friday, June 01, 2018


"Italy’s new government was sworn in on Friday, ending the country’s longest postwar political crisis but pushing the eurozone’s third-largest economy into an era of potentially greater conflict with the EU. Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s president, presided over a ceremony at the Quirinal Palace in Rome on Friday that allows Giuseppe Conte, the new prime minister, to take office along with the rest of the 18-member cabinet. Mr Conte was the compromise candidate chosen by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League after the two parties agreed to strike a deal to govern together after the March general election. Mr Conte is replacing Paolo Gentiloni, the outgoing prime minister, who presided over the final stretch of a five-year period in which centre-left administrations ran the country. On Thursday night Mr Mattarella gave his green light to Mr Conte’s government by approving the ministers picked by Five Star and the League. Matteo Salvini, the League leader, will be interior minister, and Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader, will be labour and economic development minister. “We are ready to launch the government of change and improve the quality of life of all Italians,” Mr Di Maio said. Giovanni Tria, a professor of political economy, will be finance minister, while Enzo Moavero, a former EU official, will be foreign minister".
James Politi, "Five Star and League take power in Italy". The Financial Times. 1 June 2018, in
"Europe is set to enter a new period of political uncertainty after two populist parties in Italy, the Five Star Movement and the League, agreed to form a new government together. After a week of uncertainty that has sppoked markets, Italy, the eurozone’s third and the world’s eighth-largest economy, finds itself run by two populist parties that have in the past expressed deep scepticism of Italy’s membership of the eurozone, as well as opposing EU policies on migration. Italy is a country where the two major EU crises of previous years cross paths. Italy has suffered both from long-standing economic malaise, made more acute in the years of the eurozone crisis, and a mounting migration crisis in the Mediterranean. In both cases, Five Star and the League have fostered the perception of many Italians that the EU not only failed to help but outright harmed Italy by imposing upon it punishing economic reforms and leaving it without help to manage the influx of refugees on its shores. Ideally, this would concentrate the attention of EU elites on the effort to overhaul Europe’s economic governance and management of its external frontier, with an eye to developing more sustainable and equitable policies. Italy is indeed the final frontier of the decade-long governance crisis of the EU: a founding EU member, its fourth-largest country and traditionally a pro-European society, Italy faces very real policy challenges that are seen by its electorate as closely intertwined with its membership of the EU and the eurozone. And yet the populist coalition in Rome has seemed to elicit a different kind of reaction. Political commentators across Europe were quick to frame the Five Star–League partnership as one more episode in the long march of populism in Western democracies. After the defeat of Marine Le Pen in French presidential elections last year gave way to talk that the populist wave might have ebbed, Italy’s potential new government vindicated those who argue populism, illiberalism and even authoritarianism continue to be Europe’s main problem today. Yet the obsessive focus in much of the political, policy and journalistic debate on populism’s challenge to liberal democracy misses an even more important aspect to the story: that in most cases the rise of populism feeds off very real policy failures and very legitimate popular reactions to them. This is particularly true in a context of continental integration that seems to be increasingly unbalanced between a relatively prosperous and sheltered core of northern and western European states and an increasingly powerless periphery bearing the costs of adaptation to economic hardship and the migration crisis".
Angelos Chryssogelos, "The EU Must Realize That Populism Is a Symptom of Real Policy Failure". The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 31 May 2018, in /
The bien-pensant reaction to the triumph of the Five-Star and the Northern League and their now acquiring the keys of office in Italia are all too typical. Focus on the dangers to Democracy and liberal governance by Italia's new rulers and ignore the very real problems in Italia's economy which have not so magically conjured up the admittedly idiotic policy promises of the new Italian government. Which is not to gainsay the fact that Italia has suffered from one of the worst growth records since the formation of the Eurozone almost twenty-years ago. A hard fact that all the liberal-bourgeois-post-enlightenment-cosmopolitan nostrums will not gainsay or wish away. They are hard and solid and true facts. The real scandal is that many countries were allowed into the Eurozone (Greece, Portugal, Italia, Cyprus and to a degree Spain), who should not be in the Eurozone. It is probably the case, that at this point in time, it would be more of a disaster for all concerned to allow any of these countries, especially Italia to leave the Eurozone. What however the Eurozone needs is something along the lines of a fiscal motor, which will alleviate the fiscal Brunningism that the Southern European countries have been undergoing since 2009. President Macron of France has put forth some reforms that would move things in the right direction. Only time will tell if Germany will sign-on to these reforms. Currently, the signs are not good. Something that Populists in both Italia and elsewhere should jump for joy for.

Friday, May 25, 2018


"President Donald Trump has cancelled a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after a week when both sides fell back into the kind of rhetorical brinkmanship that had previously raised fears of military confrontation on the Korean peninsula. In a letter to Mr Kim on Thursday, Mr Trump said he would not travel to Singapore for a planned June 12 meeting because of the recent “tremendous anger and open hostility” that Pyongyang has aimed at Washington. “The Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place,” Mr Trump wrote. “You talk about nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” Mr Trump later acknowledged to reporters that the cancellation was a “setback”, adding the Pentagon had assured him the US military was “ready if necessary”. North Korea on Thursday night, through its official news agency KCNA, reacted by saying that the “decision to scrap US-North Korea summit is not in line with the world’s wishes.” Pyongyang had indicated it was “still willing to resolve issues with the United States whenever, however.” “Kim Jong Un has made utmost efforts to hold a summit with US President Donald Trump,” according to the report".
Demetri Sevastopulo​, Katrina Manson and Bryan Harris, "Trump calls off summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un". The Financial Times. 24 May 2018, in
When President Donald Trump canceled his June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he told him in a letter that the past few days of “tremendous anger and open hostility” had made it “inappropriate” for the two to meet and discuss denuclearization. “You talk about your nuclear capabilities,” Trump wrote, “but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” The language echoed a January tweet in which the president wrote, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” The two leaders seem to have made it clear that they are not ready to make the mutual accommodations necessary for diplomacy to succeed. In fact, beneath the surface, the current situation resembles the prelude to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which historical research continues to show was much more dangerous than anyone knew at the time. If the Trump-Kim summit stays canceled, and saber-rattling returns as the dominant mode of communication, the odds of military crisis will rise dramatically. And, as the Cuba experience shows, once begun, a military crisis involving nuclear weapons will almost inevitably bring lots of surprises—ones that could make the shocking twists and turns of the summit buildup look pedestrian by comparison.
George Perkovich, "What Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un Don't Know About Their Own Standoff". The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 25 May 2018, in
The collapse of the proposed American-North Korean summit, while not per se a tragic or dangerous event, can as George Perkovich and others have written head in that direction. There is of course no reason for matters to go down the road of a nuclear and or military confrontation. The United States has in actuality nothing, repeat nothing to gain by commencing hostilities with North Korea. That is something which almost every American military planner who has cared to analyze the problem of North Korea in the past twenty-five years has come to terms with. The best and indeed the only rational means of dealing with North Korea is to retain as much economic pressure as is possible, for as long as is possible to hopefully cause the regime to collapse from within. That and deterrence are the best means of dealing with the conundrum of North Korea. To believe that at this stage of the game, when the North Koreans have tens if not more nuclear devices and ICBM's which may have projection power of one to two thousand miles, that bluster and rhetorical threats will do anything positive is the very mid-summer of madness. Unfortunately, when we are dealing with the American President, Mr. Trump, the mot 'madness' in a Emperor William the II sense, almost immediately come to mind. And that is truly the worrying aspect of this crisis.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


The following is a book review of mine just published by the Institute of Historical Research's Reviews in History.
‘This is a biography of an intellectual, but it is more than just an intellectual biography because, in the evolution of Kissinger’s thought, the interplay of study and experience was singularly close. For that reason, I have come to see this volume as what is known in Germany as a bildungsroman – the story of an education that was both philosophical and sentimental. The story is subdivided into five books. The first takes Kissinger from his childhood in interwar Germany through forced emigration to the United States and back to Germany in a U.S. Army uniform. The second is about his early Harvard career, as an undergraduate, a doctoral student, and a junior professor, but it is also about his emergence as a public intellectual as a result of his work on nuclear strategy for the Council on Foreign Relations. The third describes his first experiences as an adviser, first to a candidate for the presidency – Nelson Rockefeller – and then to a President – John F. Kennedy. The fourth leads him down the twisted road to Vietnam and to realization that the war there could not be won by the United States. The fifth and final book details the events leading up to his wholly unexpected appointment as national security advisor by Nixon’ (pp. 31–2).
Henry Kissinger is one of the most quoted, most written about and for a good number of years, was the most hated man in America and indeed the world (topped perhaps only by Richard Nixon), as the widely viewed architect of American foreign policy during the Nixon-Ford Presidencies (1969–77), responsible for (among other ‘state crimes’) the American bombing of Cambodia, the prolonging of the American war in Vietnam, and (allegedly) the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. For the likes of the one-time left-wing writer Christopher Hitchens these all formed part of a charge sheet titled ‘The trial of Henry Kissinger’ (1), a book which was quickly transformed into a popular film. Not surprisingly, Kissinger has been the subject of a numerous serious books dealing with both his private life before his years in power (Walter Isaacson’s treatment was until now the very best), and his official one (Jussi Hanhimaki’s still the best of the many available).(2) The news that the prolific polymath, British émigré historian Niall Ferguson, now at Harvard University, had been commissioned to write the official biography by Kissinger himself rose more than a few eyebrows. First, Ferguson had never written a conventional biography, nor even written extensively about the role of the individual in history. Second, Ferguson, especially in his more ‘serious’ historical treatments (I do not count herein those BBC-related books, which I frankly believe are a disservice to both the reader and to Ferguson’s own great talents as a historian), has never written extensively about American history. And in particular 20th-century American history. The book keeps to the chronology that Ferguson promises in his introduction. And while it is arguable that some of the material included in his text may not be either necessary, nor particularly important (such as the ten pages that Ferguson devotes to discussing the New York neighborhood of Washington Heights in which Kissinger and his family first resided in the United States), for the most part the narrative flows to where Ferguson wants to take his reader, with manifold insights into the what, where and whys of Kissinger’s career. How did the lowly research fellow at Harvard’s Political Science department, with a specialization in 19th-century diplomatic history become within the space of a few years, (in Ferguson’s words) ‘one of the foremost American experts on nuclear strategy’ (p. 331)? In Ferguson’s telling it was a simple matter of a despondent and discouraged Kissinger (Harvard had refused him tenure) writing a private memorandum on a subject on which he was not by any means an expert to Arthur Schlesinger, which Schlesinger’s private network of Democratic Party notables then gave full publicity to in the halls of power. And soon enough, within six months Kissinger had penned a series of articles on the subject of the possible uses of nuclear weapons in ‘limited wars’. Where to my mind Ferguson falls short in recounting Kissinger’s career as public intellectual, and policy advisor to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, as well as on a part-time basis to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson is in his inability or unwillingness to show how consensual Kissinger’s thinking was. Examples include his belief in the non-existent ‘missile gap’, as well as Kissinger’s advocacy for several years in the mid-to-late 1950s of the potential employment on a limited basis of tactical nuclear weapons. Ferguson is quite content to show that true experts in the field of nuclear strategy (like William Kaufmann, Bernard Brodie and Stefan Possony) regarded with some degree of contempt what Possony referred to as Kissinger’s ‘Academic Blimpism’ (p. 377). Similarly within the consensus mode of establishment thinking was Kissinger’s dismissal of George Kennan’s call in 1957 for mutual pullback by the Western powers and the Soviet Union from Central Europe. Ferguson’s recounting at length (at well over 100 pages one-seventh of the entire book), Kissinger’s frustrating relationship with the Kennedy Administration and in particular with his former superior at Harvard, McGeorge Bundy, is a tour de force of narrative exposition, analysis and insight. Without necessarily providing the reader with anything new by way of, say, the Berlin crisis of 1961–2 or the Cuban Missile crisis, Ferguson demonstrates in detail how Kissinger’s interaction with the Kennedy Administration chimed with the overall scope of American policy, showing this reader at any rate how deeply conflicted Kissinger was in wanting to exercise power without giving up his role as chief foreign policy advisor to Rockefeller. While the 100 plus pages devoted to Kissinger’s part-time advisory role in the Kennedy administration might strike some as unnecessary padding and or an exercise in minutiae, Ferguson tops it by devoting 250 pages of text to the Vietnam War, the origins of American involvement and Kissinger’s own role in the years prior to his appointment as National Security Advisor in January 1969. How does Ferguson carry it off? Aside from some questionable obiter dicta (such as the statement that the overthrow of the Diem Government in November 1963, committed the United States to the defense of South Vietnam), Ferguson is able to take the reader into the morass (in more sense than one) of the war in Indochina, and distill the resulting nightmare. As for Kissinger’s role, in the self-same morass, it is Ferguson’s view that Kissinger, while a public defender of American policy in the Johnson Administration, was in private: ‘a scathing critic’ (p. 583). Insofar as Ferguson makes this claim in the context that Kissinger was from the very beginning critical of American overt military involvement and an adherent of a negotiated solution, then indeed Kissinger could be said to not have been a backer of American policy in the Johnson years. However, the very same thing could be said of almost every civilian policymaker in the Johnson administration with the exceptions of Walt Rostow and President Johnson himself.(3) That being said, Ferguson does give the reader a close, analytical look at Kissinger’s various roles in Lyndon Baines Johnson’s war, from public cheerleader of the war effort in 1965–6, with several trips back and forth between South Vietnam and the USA, to unsuccessful secret negotiator with the North Vietnamese in Paris. A ‘negotiation’ which as Ferguson aptly puts it had more to do with Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ than with true diplomatic negotiations of any sort. In one of his few forays into historiographical controversy which is not directly related to his subject, Ferguson argues cogently and with great insight that the so-called ‘Marigold’ and ‘Pennsylvania’ negotiations were nothing more than a North Vietnamese exercise in ‘psychological warfare’ (p. 733). Finally, in the penultimate chapter, Ferguson takes the reader into why exactly President-elect Richard Nixon chose Dr. Henry Kissinger as his National Security Advisor, on the surface at any rate a singularly odd choice given the fact that Kissinger had chosen to ally himself not only in 1960 and 1964, but even in 1968, with Nixon’s prime opponent Nelson Rockefeller. Contrary to the long-running allegations that Kissinger helped to scuttle a potential breakthrough in the Paris peace negotiations during the 1968 election campaign and that this helped win the election for Nixon, Ferguson counters that: a) Nixon was not in fact reliant upon the sparse information that Kissinger was privy to as per the Paris negotiations; b) that Nixon did not win the election because of the failure of the negotiations. Ferguson explains that Nixon’s choice was mostly due to the quite coincidental fact that Kissinger was running a Harvard Study group on presidential transitions and presidential control of foreign policy, emphasizing that while presidential control of foreign policy could be readily assumed, this should be done via a revived National Security Council (seriously diminished in importance in the Kennedy & Johnson years), with a Special Assistant to supervise it. Ferguson is quite apt in stating that Kissinger had: ‘coauthored one of the most sophisticated job applications in American History’ (p. 850). What can one say then about Niall Ferguson’s voluminous, nay grandiose, first-of-two-volume official biography of ‘Super K’? Mainly that it is a superbly written book, one which shows a deep immersion into both the available (in the case of Kissinger’s own papers, only ‘available’ to Ferguson himself) primary sources as well as the mountainous secondary literature. He has, regardless of any minor errata that the book contains, written the definitive first half of Kissinger’s vita. Which is an especially impressive achievement considering that 20th-century American history is not by any means Ferguson’s natural terrain as a historian. So, with that being said what does Ferguson make of Kissinger and what does the reader make of Ferguson’s Kissinger? That Ferguson’s Kissinger is a man to be viewed to a certain extent positively and with none of the venom that the likes of Christopher Hitchens employs. That in many ways, Kissinger was a part and parcel of the ‘Greatest Generation’, the generation of men who were adolescents during the Great Depression, fought in the Second World War, and subsequently went off to university due to the GI bill and were the pilots in charge of the ship of state when it ran aground in that shoal called ‘Indochina’ in the 1960s and 1970s. In the case of Kissinger, he appears to have come through a particular set of life experiences: being a Jew in Nazi Germany; an intelligence soldier (not an officer), in the midst of the hard battles of the Western Front from mid-1944 to the spring of 1945; and a Jew again in a liberated Germany who witnessed at first hand the abysmal horrors of the concentration and death camps, though with virtually no psychological trauma or scars. Indeed, au fond, Kissinger gives the appearance, because no doubt it is true, that he is that species called the American ‘type-A’ immigrant, someone for who the usual emotional difficulties that immigrants suffer in America were merely phases and experiences to be gotten over and passed-through, not the stuff that one goes to an analyst to ‘discuss’ and then ponder and psychologically wrestle with. Especially illuminating (at least to this reader) is a letter that Kissinger pens to his father in May of 1945, in which he argues that American policy in Germany must consist of showing the Germans that the Americans were in Germany for positive reasons and not merely as mere victors over the vanquished. In contrast to the usual stereotype of Kissinger as a European émigré intellectual, a combination of Dr. Strangelove and Humbert Humbert, he was in fact an American to his fingertips in both his allegiances and his intellectual background. So much so that as he admitted to his ex-Harvard colleague (and my old Professor) MacGeorge Bundy, in the early 1960s, his German vocabulary:
‘is not good enough to speak extemporaneously on a complicated subject. Because my secondary and higher education was in English, all my thinking on international and military affairs has been in English also’ (p. 487).
One point that should be made is that it was President Kennedy's dismissal of him as ‘ponderous and long-winded’, rather than as Ferguson paints it, Bundy's maneuvering, which prevented Kissinger from obtaining a permanent appointment in the Kennedy administration.(4) With this in mind it is not altogether surprising that Kissinger’s student career at Harvard would be under the wings of the eccentric, conservative, southerner William Y. Elliott rather than his fellow German-Jewish emigre Carl J. Friedrich. The Jamesian stance of a George Kennan about the United States, its domestic polity and its foibles in world affairs is conspicuous by its absence in Kissinger’s case.(5) Indeed, as per Ferguson, Kissinger gives the appearance of being a whole-hearted Cold Warrior, in a way that would have been inconceivable to Kennan. Similarly, contrary to John Lewis Gaddis statement that Kissinger was the natural heir to Kennan’s concept of containment, with its stress on the importance of concentrating on the important zones of England, Western Europe, North America and Japan, there is nothing in Ferguson’s opus to indicate anything of the sort.(6) Indeed, unlike say Hans J. Morgenthau, Kissinger does not (in Ferguson’s reading) appear to have given any deep thought to the fact that based upon any ‘realpolitik’ analysis, the entire American commitment to South Vietnam circa 1954 onwards was nonsensical in the extreme. Indeed, despite his private pessimism about the eventual success of the American military and political effort, it is quite apparent from Ferguson’s account that Kissinger was indeed a ‘true believer’ as it pertains to the nominal American ‘mission’ in support of the Government in Saigon, which highlights a point that Ferguson brings up constantly in his narrative: namely that contrary to most of the commentary on Kissinger, in fact Kissinger was not an adherent of realpolitik or machtpolitik. Following in the path of Peter Dickson, Ferguson makes a good argument that it was Kant and not Metternich or Bismarck who influenced his thinking on international relations. Evidence of this for Ferguson is found in Kissinger attacking the American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles for not ‘projecting the deeper things that we stand for’.(7) How plausible is Ferguson’s thesis of ‘Kissinger the Idealist’, and that the first half of Kissinger’s life was akin to the playing out of a ‘bildungsroman’? On the face of it, and regardless of the manifold evidence that Ferguson is able to bring forth, I find both concepts to be of questionable validity. There is little to differentiate Harvard Professor Kissinger circa the 1950s and 1960s from almost every other academic at the time who was eager (and in the case of Kissinger extremely anxious) to climb the road to power. Otherwise, how can one possibly explain the many instances of Kissinger stating one thing in public (like his support for the Johnson administration’s Vietnam policies) and another in private (his oft proclaimed skepticism of the self-same policies). In terms of the contents of Kissinger’s pre-1969 writings, John Bew has made a very strong case, that while Kissinger had little in common with typical academic adherents of realpolitik, it would be more accurate to describe him as having a ‘strong element of American exceptionalism’, incorporated into own peculiar version of realpolitik.(8) Additionally, Ferguson fails to discuss an important leitmotif throughout Kissinger’s academic and official career, which to my mind seriously undermines the concept of ‘Kissinger the Idealist’: a bizarre sort of hero-worship (if one wishes to characterize it as such) by Kissinger of such figures as Zhou En-Lai, Stalin and Mao, something which of course became much more transparent in his diplomacy diplomatic career in the 1970s, and indeed in his memoirs covering the same and his other writings afterwards. The requisite quotation (significantly not quoted in this enormous book) is as follows:
Whatever the qualities of the Soviet Leadership, its training is eminently political and conceptual. Reading Lenin or Mao or Stalin, one is struck by the emphasis on the relationship between political, military, psychological and economic factors, the insistence on finding a conceptual basis for political action and on the need for dominating a situation by flexible tactics and inflexible purpose. And the internal struggles in the Kremlin ensure that only the most iron-nerved reach the top. ... As a result; the contest between us and the Soviet system has had many of the attributes of any contest between a professional and an amateur’.(9)
One can only hope that this is a theme which Professor Ferguson will discuss at some length in the next volume of what is in many ways already a superb biography. Notes Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger. (New York, NY, 2001).Back to (1) Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: a Biography. (New York, NY, 2005); Jussi Hanhimaki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy. (New York, NY, 2004).Back to (2) For this point, see: David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War. (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 360–70, 448–65; Andrew Preston, The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC and Vietnam. (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 189–226; Gordon M. Goldstein, Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam. (New York, NY, 2008), pp. 202–16.Back to (3) On Kennedy's negative view of Kissinger, see: Lawrence Freedman, Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam. (New York, NY, 2000), p. 68.Back to (4) See: Walter Hickson, Cold War Iconoclast (New York, NY, 1988). David Allen Mayers, George Kennan and the Dilemmas of American Foreign Policy (New York, NY, 1988). Anders Stephanson, Kennan and the Art of Foreign Policy (New York, NY, 1989). In the latter (p. 215), there is a revealing quote in which it is noted that: ‘he [Kennan] toyed with the idea, the drastic alternative of exile, along the lines of Henry James and T. S. Eliot, to a more organic society’, comments which are conspicuously absent from Ferguson's text re Kissinger, of course. Kennan's own memoirs are full of similar sentiments.Back to (5) For Gaddis’ assertion see Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security During the Cold War (New York, NY, 2005), pp. 279–81 and passim. For an explanation of Kennan's concept of Containment, see Melvyn Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War. (New York, NY, 1992), pp. 175–181,355–60 and passim.Back to (6) For a typical example of this, see: ‘Kissinger’s dissertation, which gained him a Ph. D. in May 1954, was also a statement of the author’s worldview. He was, and would remain, a firm believer in realpolitik, in the primacy of geopolitics and the balance of power’. In Hanhimaki, op. cit., p. 7 and passim. For Peter Dickson’s study, see Peter W. Dickson, Kissinger and the Meaning of History. (New York, NY, 1978).Back to (7) John Bew, Realpolitik: A history (Oxford, 2016), pp. 262.Back to (8) See Henry A. Kissinger Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. (New York, NY, 1957), pp. 434–5. For equally illuminating examples of Kissinger's near sycophantic interaction with both Mao & Zhou, see William Burr, The Kissinger Transcripts: the top secret talks with Beijing and Moscow. (New York, NY, 1999), pp. 86–110 and passim.Back to (9)