Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kissinger v. Gerson

I do love me some Republican infighting....

Michael Gerson claims that the foreign policy realism of Nixon and Kissinger failed to bring about effective results.  Using the issue of emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union, Gerson states that

Realists often hold a simplistic view of great-power relations, asserting that any humanitarian pressure on Russia or China will cause the whole edifice of global order to crumble. This precludes the possibility of a mature relationship with other nations in which America both stands for its values and pursues common interests.

Gerson then goes on to claim that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which linked normal trade relations between the US and USSR with the freedom of Soviet Jews to emigrate, helped lead to the end of the Cold War, showing the amorality of realism.

But Jackson-Vanik turned out to be a pivot point in the Cold War. After an initial drop in emigration, the legislation exerted two decades of pressure on Soviet leaders, eventually resulting in higher emigration levels. It pressed one of the West's most powerful ideological advantages against the Soviet Union by demonstrating the weakness of a system that must build walls to keep its people from fleeing. This emphasis on human rights inspired not only Jewish refuseniks but other groups and nationalities that inhabited the Soviet prison.
Jackson-Vanik was both a rejection of Kissinger's realism and a preview of Reaganism. It asserted that oppressive regimes are more likely to threaten their neighbors, placing human rights nearer the center of American interests. It elevated standards of human dignity that were direct threats to regimes premised on their denial.
This is, of course, absurd, as Kissinger points out in his rebuttal.

Gerson ascribes the collapse of the Soviet Union in part to the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. The amendment played no significant role in what resulted from imperial overstretch, incompetent economic management and the determined resistance of a succession of presidents from both parties, culminating in the Reagan period.
But then again, this debate sums up Republican foreign policy--the grown-ups of the 70s and 80s versus the immature children of the Bush administration who saw every foreign policy as the penultimate battle between good and evil.

I detest Kissinger with great passion, but he is certainly right here. Gerson presents his case wearing classic neoconservative clothing--the fetishization an idealized version of Israel and Jewish people, the overly simplistic argument, the claiming of Reagan as all things good and right in the world, and the idea that America working from a moralistic standpoint can use its power to magically force the world's bad guys to change.

Never mind the abject failures of Iraq, Afghanistan, and every other piece of Bush's foreign policy.

Meanwhile, Kissinger provides actual evidence and demonstrates the great complexity of early 70s foreign policy issues, of which Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union had to play a relatively minor part.

To put this in the context of a class, Kissinger is the student whose politics make me retch but who knows what he's talking about, writes a sophisticated paper, and gets an A before going on to a graduate program at Harvard or Georgetown. Gerson is the equivalent of the privileged but moronic freshman who writes a poorly written and naive power about how America rocks and the commies are evil. He gets a C, but it doesn't matter because Daddy is going to take care of him no matter what happens.

That the morons control the appartus of Republican foreign policy scares me far more than the competent but evil Republicans of years past.