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)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


"President Trump on Tuesday said he is pulling the United States out of the international nuclear deal with Iran, announcing that economic sanctions against Tehran will be reinstated and declaring that the 2015 pact was rooted in “fiction.” Trump’s decision, announced at the White House, makes good on a campaign pledge to undo an accord he has criticized as weak, poorly negotiated and “insane.” “The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen,” Trump said in remarks at the White House. “In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.” The move amounts to Trump’s most significant foreign policy decision to date. While he cast the U.S. action as essential for national security and a warning to Iran and any other nuclear aspirant that “the United States no longer makes empty threats,” it could also increase tensions with key U.S. allies that heavily lobbied the administration in recent weeks not to abandon the pact and see it as key to keeping peace in the region. They tried to convince Trump that his concerns about “flaws” in the accord could be addressed without violating its terms or ending it altogether".
Anne Gearan & Karen DeYoung, "Trump pulls United States out of Iran nuclear deal, calling the pact ‘an embarrassment’". The Washington Post. 8 May 2018, in
"Trump is a performance artist focused on the theatrics of his announcements rather than the substance of his policies. His bombast often appears less menacing in retrospect. Early in his tenure, he withdrew in a huff from the Paris climate accords and the Transpacific Partnership (TPP). Not one of the other 193 signatories followed his lead in leaving the Paris accords. And amid tit-for-tat trade pronouncements by Washington and Beijing, Trump is contemplating rejoining the TPP. Trump enjoys considerable discretion in re-imposing sanctions. So it is not inconceivable that the Iran agreement will limp on. Whatever one thinks of the Obama administration’s approach, the endgame was clear. The economic pressure against Tehran was slowly raised. Space was created for a tradeoff between U.S. sanctions and Iranian centrifuges. In contrast, Trump’s withdrawal announcement, though it was hardly a surprise, offered no Plan B. Neither did the president outline a clear objective. Is Trump seeking a new agreement with Iran? Is he seeking the complete eradication of the Iranian nuclear program? Or is he seeking regime change in Iran? One could plausibly imply from his remarks any, or all, of these results. Sanctions alone will achieve none of them".
Perry Cammack, "Now What?" Carnegie Middle East Center. 9 May 2018, in
There is on the face of it, and indeed elsewhere no, I repeat no rationale for American President Donald Trump's latest exercise in diplomatic pyrotechnics. The ending of the Iran / Persian nuclear agreement is sheer and unadulterated madness and insanity. The concessions that the Western powers obtained from Persia were the result of a long campaign of economic and diplomatic sanctions. There is absolutely no likelihood of a similar coalition of countries joining forces to pressure Persia into offering up more concessions. It is simply impossible. The entire method of Trumpian diplomacy (which au fond is the very negation of diplomacy), in announcing the decision has almost completely alienated America's closest allies in Europe. As the Financial Times noted: "The decision marks a bitter defeat for America’s European allies, who have spent months beseeching Mr Trump to stay in a deal" 1. As the always wise and cogent American defense expert Anthony Cordesman, recently stated, Trump's decision is flawed for any number of reasons:
"Provoking an avoidable near-term crisis over a nuclear threat that has largely been defused for at least several years will do nothing to unify support in dealing with these threats from counties like Britain, France, and Italy – or persuade them to build up their power projection capabilities. It will do nothing to unite America’s deeply divided Arab security partners – which now have virtually destroyed the Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain have openly split with Qatar, Oman increasingly stands aside, and a deeply divided Kuwait seeks to mediate. Jordan is under growing economic and refugee pressure and was never integrated into Gulf defense, and Iraq seems to be tilting towards Iran and not the Arab states and the U.S. Seeking regime change in Iran is not a meaningful option. Any such effort ignores the fact that the Iranian government quickly suppressed the most recent demonstrations which were far more limited than those during the "green" uprisings in 2009-2010. The idea also ignores the fact that Iran has steadily been improving its internal security capabilities. Overt U.S.-led threats to Iran seem far more likely to increase popular support for the regime and its hardline elements than catalyze any meaningful resistance" 2.
In short President Trump's decision is the ultimate example of a own-goal. Diplomatically, strategically and in every other sense. It has no logic or rationale. It is purely a self-defeating exercise.
1. Sam Fleming & Katrina Manson, "Donald Trump pulls US out of Iran nuclear deal: President’s decision to re-impose sanctions is defeat for European allies". The Financial Times. 8 May 2018, in
2. Anthony Cordesman, "Iran and the May 12th Deadline: Finding Winning Compromises". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 1st May 2018, in

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


"The State Department has turned the page on Turkey for it no longer views Ankara as a reliable US partner. Many argue that Washington will abandon Syria’s Kurds in order to assuage Turkish anger. I doubt this. Washington expects more anti-US actions from Erdogan. Many in DC believe that Turkey’s rising Islamism, hardening dictatorship, and worsening anti-Israel rhetoric will only increase in the future. They do not hold out hope that Washington can reverse this trend. The US is increasingly falling back on support for Israel and Saudi Arabia. Trump has clearly set his course and reversed Obama’s effort to balance Iran and the KSA. Trump has thrown Washington’s future in the Middle East in with its traditional allies; it is moving to hurt Iran and Assad. It’s main instrument in gaining leverage in the region seems to be Northern Syria and the Syrian Democratic Forces. Washington is promoting Kurdish nationalism in Syria. Turkey had hoped that when the Islamic State organization was destroyed, Washington would withdraw from northern Syria. In this, Ankara has been disappointed. See my earlier article of Oct 2017: Will the U.S. Abandon the Kurds of Syria Once ISIS is Destroyed? By keeping Damascus weak and divided, the US hopes to deny Iran and Russia the fruits of their victory. Washington believes this pro-Kurdish policy will increase US leverage in the region and help roll back Iran. The Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, explained to the Senate on January 11, 2018 that US policy is designed to convince the Russians to see that a new constitution for Syria is written and that fair elections, overseen by the UN, are carried out such that Assad will lose. By denying the Damascus access to North Syria, the US says it is convinced it will achieve these stated ends. I am unaware of any analysts who believe this. It is completely unrealistic. Russia, even if it wished to, cannot force Assad to make such concessions. Most analysts brush off such State Department formulations as talking points designed to obscure more cynical objectives. Washington recognizes that its pro-Kurdish policy is forcing Turkey into Russia’s arms, but it seems willing to risk this loss. It is not at all clear what good Erdogan can achieve by invading Afrin. It will not hurt or weaken Washington’s relationship with the Kurds in Eastern Syria. Most likely, it will do the opposite. Those in Washington who see Turkey as an unreliable and misguided partner will only have their negative views of Turkey confirmed. The Kurds will be inflamed. The YPG and PKK will cooperate more closely to mobilize the Kurds of Turkey. For this reason, I believe Erdogan will not invade. He is trying to bring attention to his unhappiness, fire up his base, and prepare for elections that are approaching. But I doubt that he plans to occupy Afrin. He may lob cannon fire into Afrin, as he has done these past few days, but I suspect his ire will end there. America’s current Syria policy is designed to roll back Iran. This is short sighted. The PYD, or Kurdish leadership in North Syria, is a weak reed upon which to build US policy. Neither Assad nor Iran will make concessions to the US or Syria’s opposition in Geneva because of America’s support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, the military force that now controls North Syria and which partnered with the US to defeat ISIS. (It has been named and armed by the US and is led by Kurdish forces who answer to the PYD.) The continuing presence of the United States in North Syria will provide only limited leverage over Damascus. By controlling half of Syria’s energy resources, the Euphrates dam at Tabqa, as well as much of Syria’s best agricultural land, the US will be able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced. Keeping Syria poor and unable to finance reconstruction suits short-term US objectives because it protects Israel and will serve as a drain on Iranian resources, on which Syria must rely as it struggles to reestablish state services and rebuild as the war winds down.... This US position serves no purpose other than to stop trade and prohibit a possible land route from Iran to Lebanon. Iran has supplied Hizballah by air for decades and will continue to do so. What the US does accomplish with this policy is to beggar Assad and keep Syria divided, weak and poor. This will not roll back Iran, but it will go a long way to turn Syria into a liability for both Iran and Russia rather than an asset. But the problem with such a policy is that it is entirely negative. It is designed to punish and impoverish; it provides not vision for a brighter future. The U.S. will rightly be seen as a dog in the manger".
Joshua Landis, "US Policy Toward the Levant, Kurds and Turkey." Syria Comment. 15 January 2018, in
Joshua Landis is one of the premier specialists on contemporary Syrian politics. Of that there is no doubt. And unlikely many he was correct in positing that the regime of Assad Fils, would not collapse, but would in fact win the Syria Civil War. With that being said, what does one make of his prognosis in re American policy in the Near and Middle East? While I for one am quite willing to credit that American policy has (at least for now) thrown aside Ankara as one of its major regional partners. Which given how erratic the current regime is in Ankara, is not altogether surprising or indeed can easily be gainsayed. Where I differ from Landis is that I am very much skeptical that the current American Administration has either the intelligence, wisdom or even manpower to (in the State Department that is) to carry-out a consistent policy in almost any region in the world other than North Korea. It is for example quite believable to describe the current American Administration as 'anti-Persian'. That per se does not change the fact aside from three-thousand American troops in Northern Syria and their air cover, the Americans have little by way of geopolitical chips to put into this power political poker game. And that if a and when things become rough, the Americans will hardily be able to keep up with the other players (Russia and Persia) in this sometimes dangerous game.