Interviews June 2007

Statecraft and Stagecraft

Author David Samuels interviews former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, and George Schultz
Henry Kissinger | Colin Powell | George Schulz

As America’s chief diplomat, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice occupies the most powerful unelected position in our democracy. While Rice may believe that history is evolving toward a world of liberal democracies that look more or less like the United States, the job she occupies is a throwback to the days when French noblemen and Austrian counts drew lines on maps that determined the fates of nations for centuries to come. Foreign policy is where American democracy stops and a combination of executive authority, expert opinions, hard economic and geopolitical realities, and the persuasive skill of deal-makers takes over.

As part of his reporting about Condoleezza Rice and America’s new policy in the Middle East, author David Samuels sat down with three former Secretaries of State to see how they understand America’s current place in the world and the possibilities for diplomatic engagement with our friends and enemies in the Middle East and elsewhere. Here are some excerpts from those conversations.

(click here for interview)

Dr. Henry Kissinger, 84, is one of the most high profile and controversial diplomats in American history. As National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon, Kissinger helped pioneer the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and opened American diplomatic relations with communist China. In 1973, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam, which led to the withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam, and to the defeat of the South Vietnamese government by North Vietnamese troops in 1975. 

Kissinger’s critics, most recently Christopher Hitchens, have insisted that Kissinger’s policies toward Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, East Timor, Bangladesh and Cyprus amount to war crimes for which Kissinger should be held accountable in a court of law.

David Samuels spoke with Dr. Kissinger in Manhattan about Condoleezza Rice and American policy in the Middle East at the offices of Kissinger McLarty Associates, the international strategic consulting firm in which Dr. Kissinger is a principal.

Click here to read the interview.

(click here for interview)

The career of General Colin Powell, 70, gives the lie to the modern idea that diplomacy and warfare are mutually exclusive pursuits. As Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff, Powell became the first African-American leader of the American military, as well as the youngest military chief in American history. Having served as a young officer in Vietnam,  Powell has always been famously cautious about the use of American military force, opposing the decision to deploy troops to the Middle East during the First Gulf War and warning President George W. Bush that “if you break it, you own it,” when the Bush Administration was debating the invasion of Iraq.

Powell’s tenure as Secretary of State was crowned by some notable diplomatic successes, particularly when it came to obtaining American bases in the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia (“the ‘stans”), and building and maintaining an unprecedented degree of simultaneous strategic cooperation with historical rivals like India and Pakistan. It was also marred by a significant degree of public and private infighting with other Administration officials and by his decision to represent the Administration at the U.N. to make the case about the danger posed by weapons of mass destruction that were supposedly in the hands of Saddam Hussein. 

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