Welcome back to Kissinger’s world (Michael Hirsh)

Author: Michael Hirsh | Foreign Policy | 7 June 2020

The world, from Washington’s perspective especially, has gotten Kissingerian again.

An impressive article by Michael Hirsh, which manages to be: a review of Barry Gewen’s “incisive new intellectual history of Kissinger and his times”; The Inevitability of Tragedy; an insightful enumeration of some key social, economic and strategic challenges the world currently faces; and a useful commentary on the US-China rivalry and the accompanying geostrategic shifts.

America’s crusades are over or at best are corroded and crumbling at their derelict foundations… No one wants anything to do with transforming the world anymore—so much so that Americans put a frank neo-isolationist, Donald Trump, in the White House so that he could shut the country off from the world.

The coronavirus crisis has accelerated Trump’s agenda…The Trump administration is even invoking the power blocs of previous eras, mulling the creation of an “Economic Prosperity Network” of like-minded countries that would detach themselves from China.

…[T]he liberal international order and the system of alliances that emerged out of World War II three-quarters of a century ago still exist… [b]ut mistrust among allies is high, cooperation all but nonexistent, and each country seems inclined to go its own nationalist way. Global institutions like the United Nations and WTO have become meek poor relations at the table, pleading for policy scraps, while Washington, Beijing, and Moscow jostle for a seat at the head.

Among nations the great ideological struggles are over… [a]nd now, to a degree, we are also experiencing the failures of democracy, which in so many places seems polarized into paralysis, as in Washington…

We have also seen how capitalism… has proved grossly unequal to the test of producing social equity. The world’s chosen system is prone to continual collapse…

Just as significant, American prestige and power are as low as they’ve been in living memory…

All this brings us directly back to Kissinger, the great realist Hans Morgenthau (who was his mentor), and the fierce geopolitical urgency of now. Global anarchy beckons, and proliferating great-power rivalries demand savvy, hardheaded strategic diplomacy of the kind that Morgenthau conceived in theory and Kissinger mastered in practice. This appears to be the main message of Gewen’s book, which demands to be studied, especially at a moment when Sinophobia is surging and Beijing is giving back as good as it gets. For China today, Gewen writes, is “the Apatosaurus in the room.”

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