January 13, 2007

A Learned, Fat Jew With an Accent

Marc Cooper, one of the more interesting lefties on the blogosphere, cut his political teeth translating for the Allende régime in Chile, upon his escape ending up neighboring Argentina in time to experience the horrid era of the generals.

In remembrance of the 30th anniversary of the coup that initiated this era, Marc has posted an account of his own brief but unpleasant encounter with the death squads of President General Videla in their green Ford Falcons. Marc's account is well-written and riveting. It ends, realistically, with Marc puking his guts out.

Marc's comboxes are inhabited by a band of lefties who like to fight the perpetual fights between different forms of left-wing purity--how supportive to be of the Democratic Party, guaranteed to be feckless and compromising or corrupt; or how much hope, mistrust, or disappointment to have in this or that foreign leader who spouts "progressive" or socialist rhetoric. Then there are a couple of conservative trolls who manage to evoke the intemperate side of the lefties.

The portly figure of Henry Kissinger was evoked this time. There is a predilection among some on the left to blame Kissinger (a perfect villain--a learned, fat Jew with an accent, half Peter Lorre and half Sydney Greenstreet) for the rise of the Latin American dictators of his era, notably Chile's Pinochet and the Argentine generals. The CIA, authorized to act by Henry, was behind it all, then, goes the refrain. Of course, the CIA is also incompetent insofar as it overestimated the power of the Soviet Union when it was about to implode, and managed not to notice that Saddam Hussein had junked his WMD programs well before the recent war.

Henry Kissinger, of course, was the preeminent advocate of realpolitik. Neither ideology nor human rights were his primary concern, but the balance of power. Hence, to minimize the effects of the loss of Vietnam, he courted China, notwithstanding Mao's bloody record. And to preserve "stability" in South America Kissinger was perfectly happy to reject the socialist Allende and to support General Pinochet.

The same people who denounce Kissinger of course reject the present war in Iraq, which was launched in the name of democratizing Iraq, and in the wilder dreams of its proponents, the entire Middle East.

There is a difficulty. If we are to avoid intervention even against a criminal like Saddam, the alternative is engage in diplomacy, a process that requires toleration of and dialogue with nasty régimes of right and left. We cannot limit ourselves to communion with saints, because these are hard to come by in the anarchy that is international affairs. (Neither can we lay claim to sainthood, pace the meme of American exceptionalism).

It was Jimmy Carter, successor to Kissinger's last boss, the late Gerald Ford, who began to make a policy fetish of "human rights," sometimes to the exclusion of what seemed at the time to be the national interest. Since then human rights, national assertiveness, and American exceptionalism have merged in strange ways, providing rationales for the bombing of Serbia and the invasion of Saddam's Iraq.

A Kissingerian realpolitik might have resisted the breakup of Yugoslavia and the impulse to democratize the Middle East with tanks. Although it no doubt would have encouraged the conduct of business as usual with the likes of Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, by avoiding war it might have led to better outcomes than we have seen.

Sacrificing self-dramatization to common sense. No "vision thing." Perfect for the part.

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hihi0926 said...
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