America First, Carl von Clausewitz, CCP Virus, coronavirus, COVID 19, export bans, globalism, globalization, health security, Henry Kissinger, international organizations, liberal global order, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, realism, The Wall Street Journal, travel ban, Wuhan virus
As I’ve written previously on RealityChek, I’m a big Henry Kissinger fan. Not that I haven’t strongly, and even vehemently disagreed with the former Secretary of State and White House national security adviser on numerous issues. But I’ve considered his experience making foreign policy and studying its history to be orders of magnitude more impressive than anyone else on the national and worldwide diplomatic scenes for decades, and so believe that everything he writes deserves to be taken seriously.
And that’s why I found his recent Wall Street Journal article on the implications of the CCP Virus outbreak for U.S. foreign policy and global geopolitics so disappointing. For it differs little from the standard globalist drivel that’s been regurgitated lately about how the pandemic once again shows the need for more international cooperation and stronger international institutions because it’s one of those threats that “doesn’t respect borders.”
To be sure, Kissinger has always been quite the globalist himself in many ways, differing mainly with this foreign policy approach by insisting that American leaders can never forget the realities or power and other globally divisive forces responsible for how conflict has dominated world history. But the Journal essay is completely devoid of Kissinger’s characteristic efforts to integrate the kind of foreign policy “realism” with which, on the one hand, he’s been (simplistically) associated, and what genuine realists (and America Firsters like me) regard as the kumbaya-saturated means and ends of globalism on the other.
The author’s goal of transitioning to a global “post-coronavirus order” is quintessential Kissinger – who has long believed much more than other globalists that creating and preserving a substantial degree of international stability is essential to what all supporters of this school of thought have recognized as the imperative of preventing war between the great powers – especially in a nuclear age. (For a fuller explanation of the differences among these various foreign policy approaches, see this 2018 article of mine.)
But Kissinger’s essay is devoid of his characteristic attempts to integrate even his highly qualified brand of realism (let alone a more – in my opinion – hardheaded America First strategy) with the globalist insistence that major conflict is best prevented by addressing its supposedly underlying economic and social causes.
As a result, Kissinger emphasizes that “No country, not even the U.S., can in a purely national effort overcome the virus.” And that the current crisis “must ultimately be coupled with a global collaborative vision and program.” And that the “principles of the liberal world order” must be “safeguarded.” And that, in particular, nations must resist the temptation to revive the ambition of retreating behind walls because nowadays, prosperity depends on global trade and movement of people.
The problem, as I’ve pointed out in the article linked above, is that even a strategy focused on such global cooperation and other goals needs to understand that, because there remain great differences among countries on how best to achieve them, and in some important instances on the goals themselves, only power (in both military and economic forms) ultimately can guarantee any country that its preferred approaches and ambitions will prevail. And that even goes for working within international institutions. To paraphrase the great 19th century Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz, working with international organizations is nothing but the continuation of power politics with other means.
Nor is there any acknowledgement in Kissinger’s piece of the United States’ unique capacity for self-sufficiency in both producing heathcare-related goods and developing vaccines and cures for diseases, or for the unmistakable need greatly to strengthen this capacity given the literally dozens of export bans imposed on drugs and drug ingredients and medical devices and protective equipment by countries that do normally sell them overseas. And as for Kissinger’s reference to the importance of global travel, yes…but look at all the countries that have imposed restrictions on travel from China alone.
Kissinger ends his article by citing U.S. policy after World War II as an example of the kind of enlightened course Washington should pursue because of its clear success in “growing prosperity and [enhancing] human dignity.” But as that postwar era dawned, the United States was so globally predominant in terms of material power that it could afford to finance for decades most of the effort needed to achieve these goals without undercutting its own position. And of course more than half that postwar world wound up organizing itself in opposition. In other words, it seems that Kissinger has forgotten one of the main lessons learned by all truly great historians – that the past rarely repeats itself exactly, or even very close.