Today Henry Kissinger met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as part of his duties on a bilateral panel, essentially offering his approval and stamp of legitimacy for the new leader: “I have followed with great interest your becoming president and the plans you have put forward in some of your speeches. I wish you every success. It is important for Russia and important for the world.” The 85-year-old Kissinger, a proponent of old school realism in foreign relations, has taken a great interest in inserting himself into the Russia debate over the past year, lobbying for softer policy toward Moscow on behalf of, well, himself I suppose. He certainly is not having tea in Moscow in any official role with the U.S. government, but with his influential clients in his consulting practice, perhaps there isn’t quite so much difference. Being an international lawyer working in business, human rights, and rule of law work, I will insert here some obligatory links toward Kissinger’s controversies, but I will also admit that I am usually not bored when he talks about Russia, even if it does often remind me of the 1970s.
Though Kissinger is most often associated with Republican circles, he has a concrete difference of opinion with John McCain on Russia. Instead of keeping Washington beholden to values in foreign policy, Kissinger thinks they should play ball with anybody and everybody who doesn’t get in the way of loosely defined “interests.” In my opinion, I think Kissinger could learn a lot from the example of Angela Merkel, and I should hope that the next president of the United States does not adopt such a dated worldview.Take for example his recent interview with Fareed Zakaria on his new CNN show, GPS. Zakaria asks Kissinger to expand on his view that U.S. interests more “aligned” with those of Russia than most people think, and that the two countries could have a much deeper strategic cooperation. Kissinger argues that given Russia’s nuclear stockpiles and extremely long borders with Islam, China, and Europe, that they have to be an integral component of all of Washington’s negotiations in the region. He says “I believe with some patience and some understanding from both sides, that Russia should be a component of the international system, and I do not think that we should apply to Russia the principles of the Cold War unless they absolutely provoke which they haven’t done. (…) I do not think it is wise to isolate certain countries on the basis of political ideologies, unless they challenge basic fundamental American interests.“But his views are quite different on Iran, where his realist principles are lowered while values come back into play. He comments on the need for smarter engagement, and not engagement just for the sake of it: “I do not agree that talking with heads of government is the right way to start negotiations. I believe in negotiations that are carefully prepared based on a strategic assessment and that are willing to face the consequences of failure, rather than turning negotiations into a psychiatric exercise in which you are trying to ease the mind of your adversary.“In many respects, I strongly agree with Kissinger that Russia’s geographical position, energy supplies, and defense capabilities does create some natural synergies with the United States, and I do agree that the two countries should work more closely together. I have also repeatedly stated that Medvedev should be given a fair chance in order to help him build up internal credibility. However I cannot agree with Kissinger’s near complete abandon of values in foreign policy – I see that as inconsistent within the global system in which we now live, and a short-sighted strategy for immediate needs that will create disadvantageous situations and problems down the road. The next president of the United States should approach Moscow with a touch of the strategic expediency of Kissinger’s realism, but also with the values exemplified by Angela Merkel and the preparedness of how we approach Tehran.