Saturday 7 September 2013

The bizarre world of Henry Kissinger

“Nothing was ever promised me that was not given; nothing ever threatened me that was not inflicted."  So said the great art critic John Ruskin about his own dysfunctional upbringing.  There are people who think diplomacy must be conducted.  Among them is Henry Kissinger.

More about him in a minute.  But I find myself increasingly irritated with the true believers on both sides of the Syria debate.

I particularly find the smug pronouncements, usually on the left, that – because Winston Churchill used chemical weapons against the Soviets in 1919, or because the Americans held back from punishing Iraq for gassing the Iranians in the 1980s – then nothing should be done to prevent the people of Syria suffering in the same way.

The fact that an attack might be ineffective – that is an argument against military action in support of human values. The fact that it would kill and maim innocents or ratchet up global tensions – those are arguments against. The fact that, pathetically, nothing was done a generation ago is no argument at all.

But I must admit, the hypocrisy of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger really takes the biscuit.

There he is urging Congress to back Obama’s call to punish the Syrian government for using chemical weapons, when he himself presided over the most indiscriminate bombing of civilians in human history, including chemical weapons like napalm, and a million people in Indochina died as a result.

This is not an argument against action in Syria, if it is likely to be effective and not divide the world – but it is a staggering example of such human hypocrisy that some other action seems to me to be required: some kind of truth and reconciliation committee perhaps for those who have used chemical weapons in the past, or supplied them to others – a recognition by our side that we are not sinless.

To be fair to Kissinger, this isn't his argument.  He says that, once a president sets out a red line, and it is crossed, then action must be taken.  Consistency above all things, like Ruskin's parents.

In fact, that was the argument for bombing the very soul out of Laos and Cambodia a generation ago.

I'm not sure consistency, important as it is, is the most important argument.  People who say that America's dignity will be damaged when they do the wrong thing, or the dangerous thing, just to avoid inconsistency - I think live in a strange world of puritanical parenting.  It isn't human and it isn't right.

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