Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Political

Henry Kissinger

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Henry Kissinger was the sole purveyor of American foreign policy, with the exception of presidents Nixon and Ford. While he was National Security Advisor, he essentially made the department of state irrelevant by taking over many of the tasks, like communicating with foreign officials and heading foreign policy task groups, typically reserved to the secretary of state. By Nixon’s second term, he was serving concurrently as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, and had pushed out most other foreign policy advisors from the policymaking process.

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Kissinger was involved in Nixon’s conduct of the Vietnam War, the opening of China (essentially the establishment of relations with Mao was not a great triumph for human rights, but another triumph of realpolitik), the coup that brought Pinochet to power, etc. The human rights perspective of Kissinger’s detractors, everything Kissinger did was terrible. He was not bothered by this at all, as he was a firm member of the realist school of foreign policy, which holds that in the anarchic system of international relations, only power matters. Realists believe that international institutions such as the United Nations or international norms such as the concept of human rights are irrelevant. (In the Cold War, this became especially acute as Kissinger allied with brutal regimes, and conspired against democratic ones, in the name of anticommunism.)

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Take this quote from Kissinger:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

Remember that Kissinger is Jewish himself. That’s how much of a realist he is.

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While Kissinger was in office, the world was undergoing significant upheaval. There were various international crises originating in the Third World, and there was also domestic unrest in every region of the world. The most important aspect of Kissinger’s foreign policy outlook was his overriding concern of maintaining international stability, particularly by maintaining the Cold War’s bipolar global order. Wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and domestic protests in the U.S. and Europe all threatened to upend the bipolar order. Kissinger believed that wars in the Third World might drag the two superpowers into military conflict or nuclear war, and domestic unrest in Western Europe could open that continent up to greater Soviet influence. Simultaneously, domestic unrest in the U.S., particularly protests against the Vietnam War, had the potential of leading the U.S. away from the global interventionism necessary to maintain its superpower status.

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Furthermore, Kissinger was able to elevate himself to an unusual degree of celebrity in the 1973-1976 period because of Watergate and the elevation of the unelected Ford.

President Ford Discussing Progress with Henry Kissinger

Kissinger was the only major public figure of the Nixon Administration to escape Watergate unscathed (because he didn’t know about it, as it was a domestic election thing. To clarify, Kissinger had no connection to Watergate), and Ford, who had no constituency other than the existing Administration, heavily relied on Kissinger. [As Saigon fell, Kissinger’s polling dwarfed Ford’s.]

Then presidential adviser Dr. Henry Kissinger tells a White House news conference that "peace is at hand in Vietnam" on Oct. 26, 1972. (AP Photo)

Because of the unusual circumstances of this presidential term, Kissinger is now a symbol of everything realpolitik. (He’s a lightning rod for criticism from non-realists.) Many people adopted elements of this view of foreign policy, but none personified it like Kissinger.

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Reading Recommendations

There are four excellent biographies of Kissinger:

  • Jeremi Suri, Henry Kissinger and the American Century (This book provides a more favorable view of Kissinger than most other biographers).
  • Jussi Hahnimaki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy
  • Mario del Pero, The Eccentric Realist: Henry Kissinger and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy
  • Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power

The following are excellent studies of U.S. foreign policy during the Nixon-Ford administrations:

  • Daniel Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s
  • Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente
  • Barbara Zanchetta, The Transformation of American International Power in the 1970s
  • Paul Thomas Chamberlin, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War World
  • Gary Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide
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How did lobbying as we know it today get its start in the United States?

Lobbying had always existed in the United States, even before its independence, thriving in local governments. When crafting the constitution and the Federalist Papers, James Madison saw commerically motivated “factions” as threatening to the general will. He tried to neutralize that threat by making them compete against each other. Even though the First Amendment protects the right to petition, Madison hypothesized that special interest groups would often negate each others powers, thus preventing any possibility of tyranny. Since the federal government did not deal with many economic matters throughout most of the nineteenth century, lobbying occured only at a state level. However, the onset of the Gilded Age and increased federal intervention in fiscal matters also brought a heightened scale of lobbying as we know today.


The “Nixon Madman Theory”

Essentially, a key tenet of Nixon’s foreign policy was to make the leaders of communist countries think that he was unstable and prone to use nuclear force. What ensued in his first year in office in 1969 is one of the most fascinating episodes of the Cold War because it really highlights the growing split between the USSR and China and how Nixon tried to drive a wedge between them in order to strengthen the United States’ relative power and influence.

During the buildup to the Vietnam war after the Cuban missile crisis, and prior to Nixon taking office in 1969, leaders in the US and USSR would generally not explicitly threaten each other for fear of stoking another nuclear crisis. Nixon believed that the only way to end the war in Vietnam was to get North Vietnam and China to back down in the face of nuclear extinction, as the threat of nuclear escalation is what brought about a ceasefire during the Korean War. After secret peace talks in Paris to end the war stalled in the first few months of his presidency, Nixon went full ape. If Teddy Roosevelt believed that the United States should speak softly and carry a big stick, Nixon believed the United States should yell incoherently and flail its stick around.

In October 1969, Nixon issued a secret high level alert to his top military brass. He told them to be on standby to use nuclear force against North Vietnam and possibly the USSR and to scramble planes equipped with nuclear bombs to fly near Soviet airspace. This was kept secret from the American public, but was made loud enough so Soviet intelligence would pick up on it. At the time, Nixon wanted to escalate the war in Vietnam by expanding the bombing campaign into the North, which was not popular with the American public and would have likely resulted in fully-fledged war with China. So Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese, the Chinese and the Soviets to think that he would do anything to win the war in Vietnam without actually having to do anything. It was a huge gamble.

But let’s not forget that in the immediate months prior to Nixon’s secret order, the USSR and China were in an undeclared military conflict with each other over a border dispute. Relations between the two communist powers had soured since 1960, which Nixon sought to capitalize on.

Prior to Nixon issuing the nuclear alert, the USSR was considering a preemptive, possibly nuclear attack on China’s nuclear arsenal. The USSR worried that if the United States escalated the Vietnam war with nuclear force and if China responded with nuclear force too, then they would get dragged into a nuclear war with them as well. When a KGB officer approached an American diplomat about the possibility of the USSR striking China’s arsenal and how the US would respond – and allegedly even asked if the US would collaborate with the USSR to weaken China – Nixon made it very clear that the US would not tolerate an attack on its enemy by its other enemy.

But while Nixon intended the nuclear alert to influence events in Vietnam in his favor, some evidence from recently declassified Cold War documents suggest that the USSR mistakenly believed that the alert was meant to warn the USSR against attacking China’s nuclear arsenal.

Nixon did want to exploit the soured relations between the USSR and China in order to have leverage over the Soviets, and the nuclear alert had the unintentional effect of hinting that the US would side with China should a nuclear conflict arise between them and the USSR. This also unintentionally played into Nixon’s policy of opening up to China. By opening up to China, the US would no longer be dealing with one communist power, but rather two competing communist powers that were at odds with each other.

The nuclear alert issued in October 1969 did nothing to improve the situation in Vietnam (and arguably made things worse). While it did frighten the Soviets, they did ultimately interpret it as a bluff. Still, it indicated to the Chinese that Nixon would give them leverage over the USSR. It set the stage for rapprochement with China, which culminated in Nixon’s monumental 1972 visit to the communist country and the subsequent improvement of Sino-American relations. And of course, the visit laid the foundation for the deepening of economic ties between the two nations.

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Conservative Christianity and the Republican Party:

I read a really good history of the Southern Baptist Convention, a couple of years ago (sadly, I forget both author and title) that documented the conscious decision by which the national leadership of the SBC, during the Reconstruction, made a conscious decision to be the voice of moral authority on the Confederate revisionist side, to embrace and defend the religious and social complaints of the former slave-holding class in the old Confederacy. So by the time of the rise of the Religious Right as we know it, the Southern Baptist Church had already invested nearly 100 years in raising, training, and providing volunteers for pro-segregation candidates in both political parties. After Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, that put the Southern Baptist Church firmly on the Republican side.

Also in 1964, at the presidential nominating convention (per the speeches and writings of Goldwater delegate and best-sellling conspiracy theory author John Stormer), was the meeting of the Republican Anti-Communist Caucus at which the leader of the top fundamentalist seminary in America, Dallas Theological Seminary, committed to revising the curriculum to persuade all future fundamentalist ministers that fighting Communism was Christian cause number one, and to teach that it was therefore a religious duty of all Christians to support politicians from what they saw as the only reliable anti-socialist, anti-communist party, the Republicans.

In 1968, the Pope of the Catholic Church issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which, among other things, banned the practice of contraception or abortion. By 1968, feminism was already seen as a left-wing political cause for long enough that it was being paid lip-service by even center-left politicians in the Democratic Party, which fairly rapidly coalesced into the current situation where observant Catholics feel forced into supporting the only anti-feminist political party, the Republicans.

In the second volume of his auto-biography, Francis Schaeffer, Jr., the son of the famous evangelist (and founder of the modern fundamentalist movement) Francis Schaeffer, documents that it was his personal revulsion to the idea of legal abortion, after 1973 Roe v Wade, that persuaded him to argue his father into telling wealthy Protestant fundamentalists that opposition to abortion was the most important Christian cause, and that they needed to donate money that funded the founding of Moral Majority. Schaeffer Junior says that he approached politicians in both parties, offering them the support of Moral Majority if they would denounce legal abortion, making the argument to Democrats that the traditional Catholic origins of organized labor and their traditional embrace of government regulation made anti-abortion a Democratic cause, only to find himself out-maneuvered by feminists on the platform committees and organizing committees. So, he says, he had no choice but, as their lead fund-raiser, to encourage early Moral Majority leaders to embrace Republicans, and their embrace of traditional rural values (see neo-Confederacy, above), as the only hope of seeing legal abortion overturned. (A decision he now says he regrets, but feels that the feminists left him with no alternative.)

(*Post-1964, the Southern Baptist Church embraced the Republican Party for segregationist reasons; post-1973, Moral Majority and the Catholic bishops both embraced the Republican Party for anti-feminism reasons.)


The added comma in the 2nd amendment:

What is it with 18th century punctuation and grammar?

Punctuation and spelling were a little looser then, and more importantly, some words in the 18th century do NOT mean what we think they mean today. People who posit that any historical document (whether something as well known as the Constitution to a simple piece of correspondence) is absolutely transparent to the modern reader needs to check their ego at the door. During my career as a historian I have made numerous errors of interpretation — and I am sure I am not done making them — because I misconstrued the use of a phrase or was unaware of how a phrase at a particular time was loaded with specific political, religious, or social meaning. Consider the history of words like terrific orenthusiast, or how certain terms like “gold” and “silver” came to take on special political meanings in the 19th century the same way that “life” and “choice” are — pardon the pun — pregnant with meaning today.

The truth is there may not have been universal agreement on the punctuation (or even the actual meaning) of all of the Constitution, much less its later amendments. Consider how both the Federalists and Antifederalists made counter charges as to what the Constitution would actually mean for a new America. Even the Federalist papers themselves are an interesting case in point — these documents, which have been cited over three hundred time sin court cases to explain what the constitution “actually meant,” were at their heart propaganda pieces to sell the Constitution on ratification. This does not mean that the Federalist papers are flim-flam, but some caution must be used: Sometimes the Federalist paper argue a very populist notion of the rights of the people (and mind you, this is before a bill of rights is on the table, at first), even though the top three types of positions in the new government (President, Senators, and Supreme Court Justices) would not be directly elected by the people.

A Hamiltonian view of what the Constitution meant, what it SHOULD have contained, and what it allowed is vastly different form what others such as Jefferson interpreted, and indeed formed a crux of the political discussion of the early republic.

So — and this is a roundabout way of getting back to the grammar discussion — yes, there is more than one way to legitimately parse the Second Amendment. But the best answer for what does it mean to have a “militia” or what kinds of rights does the second amendment refer to in reference to “arms”, grammar is probably not our most utilitarian friend. I discussed in the most recent second amendment thread the problem with the definition of militia. The majority opinion written by the conservative wing of the modern court in Heller, relied upon a definition of militia that chooses to both very broadly accept certain historical evidence (who are the people who make up the militia) but very narrowly construe the historical existence of the militia as being under control of the state governments. (One historical counterargument to Heller’s interpretation is that the militia as defined in Section I does indeed already exist, but were well-regulated meaning STATE CONTROLLED by the governor, which had been the case during the entire colonial period.)

The point is that grammar alone does not get us to “what does the second amendment really mean?” Heller is simply the most modern example of the court looking at historical and legal evidence and choosing to accept some types of evidence and discard others, which ultimately all rational people have to do when weighing teh evidence of what “the founders” meant. the problem is there is no one universal founder who agreed upon all things or set a specific set of definitions.

One last side note on historical grammar and punctuation and amendments: This problem with Amendments having various punctuation (or spellings) is not confined to this time period. There is a small bevvy of lunatic right-wing antitax zealots who have argued that the 16th Amendment was never properly ratified. Their argument boils down to that when the states sent back their ratification notices, some states had different capitalization, or a punctuation mark, or in one case a word that was plural was written in the singular, and that therefore they never really “ratified” the amendment. To no one’s surprise, these arguments have been dismissed by the courts, and now with some prejudice, as the claims have been labeled not only false but fraudulent by courts.