'An Element Of Guile'

IT MUST DRIVE HENRY KISSINGER CRAZY to be sitting on the sidelines while the post-cold-war world realigns itself An opportunity like this hasn't come along since the Congress of Vienna in 1814, when Austrian Prince Klemens von Metternich and his colleagues established a finely balanced European order that averted all-out war for a century. Now, at a comparable turning point in history, there is no latter-day Metternich to create a new international system. As Richard Nixon's chief foreign-policy aide, Kissinger tried to build a "structure of peace" by extricating the United States from Vietnam, opening relations with China and pursuing detente with the Soviet Union. But the effort bogged down in the Watergate scandal, and it wasn't until the sudden collapse of communism, nearly 15 years after Kissinger left office, that anyone could begin to design a "new world order." Kissinger, long an admirer of Metternich, never got a chance to play his role.

Writing about it is Kissinger's next-best option. His new book, "Diplomacy," is less a history of the statesman's craft than a celebration of great men who practiced it single-mindedly, from Cardinal Richelieu to President Reagan. Like Machiavelli before him, Kissinger has a keen appreciation for the hardheaded use of power, to the point of admiring some traits in leaders who were otherwise detestable. Richelieu, who made France preeminent in the early 17th century, never allowed morality, or even the dictates of his church, to get in the way of raison d'etat-coldblooded national interest. Generations of tyrants learned from his example. "Stalin was indeed a monster," Kissinger writes, "but in the conduct of international relations, he was the supreme realist-patient, shrewd, and implacable, the Richelieu of his period."

Kissinger takes an odd hit-or-miss approach to the history of diplomacy, saturating some subjects and skimming over others. He almost ignores the impact of political upheavals in the late 18th century; the French Revolution is only alluded to while the American Revolution isn't discussed at all. He mentions the Cuban missile crisis only in passing, while devoting reams of analysis to the Berlin crises of 1958-63. He defends, once again, his (and Nixon's) accomplishments in office, but offers only oblique rebuttals to critics of his Indochina policy, such as William Shawcross and Seymour Hersh. Kissinger does not directly answer their charges of duplicity, for example, but he observes. in another context, that there "is inevitably in every great leader an element of guile."

The former secretary of state describes U.S. foreign policy as a constant "push and pull" between ideals and national interests-with moralism prevailing more often than he would have liked. The tone for most of this century was set, he writes, by Woodrow Wilson, who wanted America to be "a beneficent global policeman." Eventually the policeman landed in an Asian quagmire. Nixon tried to put idealism aside and pursued national interests through balance-of-power tactics, playing China against the Soviet Union. But Kissinger writes that it was left to Ronald Reagan, a shallow man with a few good ideas and "an extraordinary intuitive rapport" with the American psyche, to unite might with right and finish off the Soviet Union.

As for the future, Kissinger argues that the new world order will look a lot like the order propounded by Metternich. "In the next century," he writes, "American leaders will have to articulate for their public a concept of the national interest and explain how that interest is served-in Europe and in Asia-by the maintenance of the balance of power." But Kissinger himself points out that balance-of-power politics succeeded in 19th-century Europe because "the Continental countries were knit together by a sense of shared values. There was not only a physical equilibrium, but a moral one." It will not be easy to make the turbulent and diverse world of the 21st century run like a Victorian gentlemen's club.

'An Element Of Guile' | News