RIP Henry Kissinger 1923-2023
I am saddened by the death of the greatest strategist of our time, and more saddened by the fact that his death is such a non-event. Even more sad is that today’s governments do not have the experience, knowledge and capability that someone like Kissinger had (he visited China 100 times- NBC News), so they rely on politics and knee-jerk policies with strategy nowhere to be found (how many times has Blinken visited China?)
Kissinger and Nixon changed the world by applying strategy to the Cold War situation. Actually, both China and the US applied the same strategy, which can be traced back to at least the Three Warring Kingdoms period (220-280ce). After the collapse of the Han dynasty, China rule was divided into kingdoms. The evil Cao Cao, leader of the Wei kingdom, posed a great threat to the Shu kingdom, of which Liang was the military commander. So he convinced Zhou Yu, head of the neighboring Wu kingdom, to ally with Shu against Wei. This resulted in the defeat of Cao Cao.
The same strategy was used by both Kissinger and Nixon as well as Zhou En Lai and Mao Zedong. In this case, the threat was the Soviet Union. Zhou and Mao were worried about the aggressive posture of their neighbor to the North and did not want to be forced into a head-to-head conflict. Kissinger and Nixon were fearful of the threat of the two giant Communist nations with nuclear weapons as a critical consideration.
So, even though there were huge ideological differences between the US and China, Kissinger and Nixon adopted a reality-based strategy.
What are the differences between 1971 and today, Kissinger/Nixon and Blinken/Biden?
1. Nixon had a pair of balls
2. Kissinger was a brilliant strategist with an educated and informed world view
3. Nixon’s philosophy was that whatever benefited the US benefited him, not the other way around
4. As said before, they were comfortable with a reality-based strategy. Today, ideology and politics and polls determine strategy.
The result of their successful political leveraging were the SALT talks first, then eventually the collapse of the Soviet Union—because it had neither political or economic ground to stand on.
What can we learn from Kissinger/Nixon that we can apply today? Wait- from where I sit, even if I personally advise on US government grand strategy (fat chance of that!), the bigger problem is that there is nobody on the other end of the phone to listen to and understand me. Disagree? Tell me who the master strategist is in Washington (start with the Secretary of State, who appears to be the chief firefighter)?
I know- some of you are saying (after you call me a dumbass) that China in 1971 was much different than China today; today China is much more powerful and that power may pose a threat to the US. True. But China’s power today is thanks to us; we created the monster and now we are chiefly responsible to channel its power. No? If you had a kid who became a delinquent or sociopath due to your own neglect, who is responsible to fix the problem and make them productive? YOU are.
But what is different from then to now? Russia still proposes a threat, maybe even worse than in 1971. China didn’t invade Ukraine (or Taiwan). So leveraging amongst the three powers is equally important.
So what did the people in Washington in whom we trust do and what should they do now? They let Putin cozy up to Xi, and a year or so later we are shyly meeting with this and that to try to restart relations. F**k that. Have a pair of balls. Meet with XI and his cohorts for as long as it takes to create a mutually beneficial program of cooperation, no matter what the Right or the Left says. The US is in the center of it all—you and me.
Also, don’t give me the line about that the US is a democracy and China is a dictatorship. Events of recent years, and our income gap, has proven that, if the US is a democracy, it is seriously flawed. OR in grave danger if Trump is ever elected again (the thought makes me think of alternative countries).
There is no Henry Kissinger or John Galt to save us now. Even if there were, I believe nobody would listen. The strategy that Kissinger and Nixon used is still valid today. Russia is even more dangerous and we cannot give up any leverage to Putin, because, like Stalin and Hitler, he is dangerous smart.
The problem is that strategy as a guide for policy has been exterminated in favor of petty politics and greed.
I don’t have too much hope for the US ever adopting an educated, non-partisan strategy given its current divisive and self-centered population and direction. One way I believe would work, IF the government were willing to let strategy override politics where it was appropriate, would be if the government had a standing committee of academic experts whose voice would be taken seriously in the formation of national policy.
Otherwise, as I said in the beginning, strategy will pass away with Henry Kissinger. Rest in Peace.
(Kissinger is one of the two people I admire most in the world; the other is W. Edwards Deming)
2 December 2023