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What McCain and Obama Forget about Kissinger

kissingerpalin092908.jpgHenry Kissinger is beginning to remind me of one of those perennial Latin American dictators – like Argentina’s Juan Peron returning from exile for an ill-fated third term, the former secretary of state seems to keep coming back, again and again, to cast his difficult legacy and influence over the U.S. foreign policy establishment. This year’s presidential election is no exception. Kissinger has been involved in the McCain campaign on an unprecedented level, offering an official endorsement and assuming a role on his team of foreign policy advisers. Then during VP candidate Sarah Palin’s on-the-job foreign policy training in New York last week, a good deal of emphasis from the media focused on her meeting with Kissinger – like a young jedi visiting the master yoda – to suggest that whatever shortcomings Palin may have in this area, she can always defer to the wisdom of this foreign policy overlord. Of course she later flubbed the details of what she learned from Kissinger during the CBS interview, but that’s beside the point. But perhaps most astonishing was the bitter argument over Kissinger’s position of talks without preconditions with rogue leaders between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama during Friday’s debate. It seems that both candidates have committed a colossal error in kowtowing to Kissinger, argues Christopher Hitchens, and even further, neither appear to understand his approach or remember what he was just recently saying about Russia.

The exchange at the debate was rather pointed and contentious:

OBAMA: Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who’s one of his advisers, who, along with five recent secretaries of state, just said that we should meet with Iran — guess what — without precondition. This is one of your own advisers. (…)MCCAIN: I’m not going to set the White House visitors schedule before I’m president of the United States. I don’t even have a seal yet.Look, Dr. Kissinger did not say that he would approve of face-to- face meetings between the president of the United States and the president — and Ahmadinejad. He did not say that. (…)OBAMA: Look, I mean, Senator McCain keeps on using this example that suddenly the president would just meet with somebody without doing any preparation, without having low-level talks. Nobody’s been talking about that, and Senator McCain knows it. This is a mischaracterization of my position.When we talk about preconditions — and Henry Kissinger did say we should have contacts without preconditions — the idea is that we do not expect to solve every problem before we initiate talks. (…)MCCAIN: By the way, my friend, Dr. Kissinger, who’s been my friend for 35 years, would be interested to hear this conversation and Senator Obama’s depiction of his — of his positions on the issue. I’ve known him for 35 years.OBAMA: We will take a look.MCCAIN: And I guarantee you he would not — he would not say that presidential top level.OBAMA: Nobody’s talking about that.

Predictably, Hitchens’s column from the weekend blasted both candidates for leaning so heavily on Kissinger’s brand of foreign policy intelligence, but writes that despite their 35-year friendship, it was Obama who actually cites Kissinger correctly – taking the lead from the Katie Couric interview to trap McCain into a contradiction.Hitchens goes on to note exactly why someone like Kissinger would favor open negotiations with Iran, Russia, and any other authoritarian government without preconditions: “Finally, of course, there is Kissinger’s habitual fondness for any form of dictatorship. To have been the friend of Pinochet, Videla, and Suharto, while almost simultaneously fawning on Brezhnev and especially on Mao, is to have been a secretary of state who was soft on fascism—and soft on communism, too! Unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad and Assad? Why not? They are the sort of people with whom he (and Kissinger Associates, the firm that introduces despots to corporations) prefers to do business.“So what do you think Dr. Kissinger’s position would be on dealing with the siloviki faction of the Kremlin?Yes, it is true that the Palin-CBS gaffe and the Obama rhetorical trap were related to Kissinger’s opinions specifically on negotiations with Iran, it would be helpful if either candidate could show an awareness of exactly what Henry Kissinger had been doing and saying with regard to Russia in the months leading up to the war in Georgia. Through a series of speeches, op/ed articles, and television appearances, the dark lord of realpolitik was openly conditioning the environment for a softer approach from Washington to Russia, emphasizing the the strategic convergence and the mutual interests of both governments. He was also urging Washington to sign on with Russia’s alternative missile shield proposal instead of going to Poland – a pet project that McCain is especially fond of. Oftentimes his stumping for this cause appeared excessive, leading some to believe his consultancy were being paid by the Kremlin.For example, this pre-invasion interview from Kissinger on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS demonstrates how much things have changed…Anybody else think some blowback on Kissinger’s Russia approach could be coming? Probably not, if all they can talk about in the United States is Sarah Palin’s satirical bedroom view of Russia.