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Kissingerizing

In response to:

Good Henry & Bad Henry from the June 12, 1975 issue

To the Editors:

In a recent speech at Harvard, Alexander Woodside exposed our failure in Vietnam, saying that the policy on that disaster proceeded in ignorance of the society and culture of Vietnam. The same applies to the Middle East. On the assumption that the people out there are just like you and me, one presumably can make easy judgments as to motives and behavior in dealing with them without bothering with their history or culture, other than a few clichés (e.g., “Arabs never mean what they say”). It can simply be dismissed as “theology,” as Garry Wills did in reviewing my new book, The Kissinger Experience: American Policy in the Middle East [NYR, June 12]. Since some of the things in the book remind him of people he dislikes, he makes me a militarist and Cold Warrior. As such, I would have to approve of Kissinger’s global alert in the October War, and he says so. Actually, I condemn it as unwarranted by any serious Soviet provocation. As such, I would have to back competition with the Soviet Union in the Middle East, and he spends the bulk of his review on this presumption. Actually, I argue at length against the policy of vying with the Russians out there. As such, I would have to recommend a military invasion of Middle Eastern oil fields, and he suggests as much. Actually, I warn that the Kissingerian oscillation between far niente and saberrattling might lead to precisely that disastrous step. I do not regret not living up to his caricature of me and my book. But if “militarist” and “Cold Warrior” signify failure to see the wisdom of continuing unilateral retreats and concessions by us, Israel, or anybody else, then I must accept the labels.

I share Garry Wills’s affection for the Jewish state, but argue that it warrants support as prime strategic interest, not merely as charity, as he urges. It is good policy abroad and good politics at home. The American people endorse it consistently as a high policy value, second only to the European alliance. The trouble lies with the foreign policy elite which negates the popular will, insisting on the State Department charity line. Like some other progressives who make support for Israel contingent on what the latter regards as suicidal conditions, Garry Wills inveighs against its dependence on the “darker sides of American politics.” This has more to do with the psychological needs of men who desert an already besieged friend than with the real world, where support for Israel does not correlate in any way with the Left-Right variable. Even a cursory look at the line-up of senators for and against the Letter of the 76 indicates that this is patently untrue. It is true, however, that the partial desertion of the Left allows Israel’s supporters on the other side to loom that much larger and even adds new conservative supporters, precisely because of the desertion. Garry Wills requires more than a tourist acquaintance with Israel to appreciate the dilemma this causes to Israel’s leaders.

As for Garry Wills’s “Good Henry and Bad Henry,” it is a good device for scoring quick points for any reviewer, but has as a conceptual scheme only limited and preliminary uses. He himself confirms this in the end, as he concludes: “For Good Henry is inseparable from Bad Henry, and both are bad in the long run—not only for our relations with Israel, but for those with the rest of the world as well.” For me, too, initially there were two Henrys and, while nobody is all good or all bad, it became clear that the “good” tended to be public relations and the “bad” too often the reality underneath it. The model is the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam, where until recently we believed Kissinger to be moderator of Nixon’s recklessness, only to discover that Kissinger actually favored the action before even Nixon was ready.

Although Kissinger’s personalization of policy makes him an issue when discussing policy, I stressed that the essential issue is policy nonetheless. I hoped to help stimulate a real reassessment of our policy, for which conceptualization in terms of detente, whether for or against, is already woefully inadequate. When our warm “anti-communist” ally in Saudi Arabia causes more damage to Western civilization in several months than all the communists can in several decades, we surely require new conceptual departures. Garry Wills confuses the present facile rumors of Kissinger’s imminent departure with a book that happens to appear while these rumors fly. The book was actually conceived, researched, and written when Kissinger was universally celebrated. Perhaps Garry Wills will concede for once that I was a prophet who was proven right.

Gil Carl AlRoy

Princeton, New Jersey

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