Saturday, February 13, 2016

Response to Hillary's Hero

(See: Just Above Sunset: Hillary's Hero)

I haven't always had a problem with Henry Kissinger.

I remember the first time I became aware of him as a foreign policy expert, some time in mid-1968, reading an article by him in one of those thick foreign affairs journals that had no pictures. I knew he was some Harvard professor that I had never heard of, but he seemed to make such good sense. He seemed like the kind of intelligent guy who could get us out of Vietnam.

And then I learned he had somehow attached himself to presidential hopeful Nelson Rockefeller, which disappointed me as a Democrat -- not wanting all them smarts to go to waste, I wondered if it was too late for him to hook up instead with some Democrat, like Gene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy -- but the next thing I knew, Rockefeller was out of the race and Kissinger had glommed onto Nixon.

Flash forward to many years later, I remember being annoyed that Nixon was promising voters he had a "secret plan" to end that stupid war that I had begun to think would be endless, and sure enough, even after he was elected, his secret remained a secret. And finally, after having successfully delayed the war's end with quarrels over the shape of the peace-talks table in Paris, war wagers Henry Kissinger of the United States and Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam were prematurely awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I say "prematurely" because they won for negotiating a settlement that never took effect.

So what I primarily remember Kissinger for was being this brilliant man who was widely-respected for getting good things done, but who in fact, had allowed maybe a million or so Vietnamese and 50-thousand or so Americans to end up dead, by helping drag out the Vietnam War unnecessarily, seemingly to make it look like we didn't fight it in vain. The truth is, we did, and if he was so smart, he should have made sure that we hadn't.

But here's an even more damning picture of Kissinger's vaunted career, from an article by NYU history professor Greg Granin in The Nation, on February 5th:
Let’s consider some of Kissinger’s achievements during his tenure as Richard Nixon’s top foreign policy–maker. 
He (1) prolonged the Vietnam War for five pointless years; (2) illegally bombed Cambodia and Laos; (3) goaded Nixon to wiretap staffers and journalists; (4) bore responsibility for three genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, and Bangladesh; (5) urged Nixon to go after Daniel Ellsberg for having released the Pentagon Papers, which set off a chain of events that brought down the Nixon White House; (6) pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan; (7) began the US’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran; (8) accelerated needless civil wars in southern Africa that, in the name of supporting white supremacy, left millions dead; (9) supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America; and (10) ingratiated himself with the first-generation neocons, such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who would take American militarism to its next calamitous level. ... 
A full tally hasn’t been done, but a back-of-the-envelope count would attribute 3, maybe 4 million deaths to Kissinger’s actions, but that number probably undercounts his victims in southern Africa. 
Pull but one string from the current tangle of today’s multiple foreign policy crises, and odds are it will lead back to something Kissinger did between 1968 and 1977. Over-reliance on Saudi oil? That’s Kissinger. Blowback from the instrumental use of radical Islam to destabilize Soviet allies? Again, Kissinger. An unstable arms race in the Middle East? Check, Kissinger. Sunni-Shia rivalry? Yup, Kissinger. The impasse in Israel-Palestine? Kissinger. Radicalization of Iran?  “An act of folly” was how veteran diplomat George Ball described Kissinger’s relationship to the Shah. Militarization of the Persian Gulf?  Kissinger, Kissinger, Kissinger.
So wait! Shouldn't we all be noting the irony of a self-described "progressive Democrat who can get things done" who happens to be running for the Democratic nomination for president, so closely associating herself with the most prominent Republican diplomat in American history -- while, incidentally, Kissinger's name has probably not been mentioned once by all those innumerable Republican candidates in just so many of their debates?

Yes, but, you might ask, how did she get to this place?

One possible answer, although not the definitive one, is that Hillary Clinton started out in life as a Republican. Her parents were Conservative Republicans, and she herself, at one point, did volunteer for Barry Goldwater. This is not to say she still is a Conservative, but I'm willing to bet much of her that's-just-the-way-it-is pragmatism -- much more pragmatic than your average progressive Democrat, I would think -- can be traced back to her political beginnings.

Just as one could imagine Kissinger's "realpolitik" -- a political worldview he shared with Otto von Bismarck, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong -- was to the "idealist" views of those of us who opposed the Vietnam War, so was Hillary Clinton's own views to those of Barack Obama in 2008:
“Now, I could stand up here and say, ‘Let’s just get everybody together. Let’s get unified,'” Clinton said to laughter of the crowd. 
“The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,” she said dryly as the crowd erupted. 
“Maybe I’ve just lived a little long, but I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be,” Clinton continued. “You are not going to wave a magic wand to make special interests disappear.”
You've "just lived a little long", you say? You mean like Bernie Sanders?

Not that Hillary wasn't prescient about the Republican brick wall President Obama was headed for, but, first of all, she lost that election, and second of all, in winning it, Barack Obama revived hope among the hopeless in America, at least for just a little while.

And just for a few years under Obama, some good "idealistic" things happened -- near universal healthcare; a growing American economy that recovered without resorting to the crippling (Republican) austerity policies seen in the slump experienced in Europe; falling unemployment and a shrinking deficit; improved relations with Cuba; gays allowed to marry and serve in the military without being hounded out; talking with Iran, which led to a deal to shut down their nukes program; persuading Assad to surrender his chemical weapons, and getting Putin to help; and judicious participation in Syria, breaking us of the nasty habit of stumbling into every war that crops up -- all good things that wouldn't have taken place had a Republican without vision been in the White House during those years, and, one might presume, had Hillary beaten Obama to the Democratic nomination in 2008.

While I was pleased to see Obama include Hillary in his administration, I had hoped her time there might inform her of the power and significance of idealism and dreams, but I'm not seeing much, if any, of that today in her attacks on Bernie Sanders. Although maybe she learned nothing from Obama, it's also possible that her own predisposition toward realpolitik told her to just hang tough until come the day she gets a chance to do things her way, and at the same time, ironically, doing it under the pretense of adopting the Obama mantle.

So yeah, while there are days when I urge myself to forget about casting that protest vote for Bernie in a few weeks from now, I'm not quite ready to abandon my "idealism" yet and vote for Kissinger's pal, Hillary. While "reality" is cool, too much "realism" can put you on a slippery slope to outright evil, assuming you believe in that sort of thing. It's better to temper it with a healthy dash of unrealism:
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for? ~ Robert Browning.
That's a lesson I'm still hoping Hillary can learn.

Not likely? Okay, but a guy can dream, can't he?

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