Kissinger's response to Munich and Nazism in A World Restored is pellucid. The key word is "revolution," something that Kissinger's experience as a youth, augmented by scholarship, taught him to fear. Rapid social and political transformation leads to violence, whether throughout the Europe of the early 1800s, owing to Napoleon's aggression -- itself a direct result of the French Revolution -- or in the Germany of the 1930s. Although the word "revolution" is applied to the America of the 1770s and sometimes to the Zionist movement, the cultural and philosophical awakenings among English settlers in America and Jewish settlers in Palestine took place over decades and were, in truth, evolutions. Iran did experience a revolution in the late 1970s, as did Cambodia in 1975, China in the late 1940s, and Russia in 1917. From his dread of revolutions Kissinger extracted the following principles, which I summarize:
Disorder is worse than injustice. Injustice merely means the world is imperfect, but disorder implies that there is no justice for anyone, since it makes even the mundane details of daily existence (walking to school, for instance) risky. Obviously, great injustice is worse than a little disorder. In the 1980s Iraq was orderly, so much so that it was like a vast prison, while Iran was in revolutionary chaos. Yet I always felt safer in Iran than in Iraq. I suspect that in Kissinger's fear of disorder there is something deeply personal. In the 1930s he saw Nazism, often in the form of thuggery, overwhelm his seemingly secure physical surroundings. The Nazi thugs he observed were the riffraff cast up first by the civil violence resulting from Germany's defeat in the First World War, and then by the Depression. Kissinger's experience was thus different from that of the humanist Elie Wiesel. Wiesel, who grew up in a secluded Hasidic community in Romania in the 1930s and is five years younger than Kissinger, experienced the Holocaust itself: he spent 1944 and 1945 in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. By then Kissinger was already in the U.S. Army.
The "most fundamental problem of politics ... is not the control of wickedness but the limitation of righteousness." The Nazis, the Jacobins, the ayatollahs, and the others who have made revolutions have all been self-righteous. Kissinger suggested that nothing is more dangerous than people convinced of their moral superiority, since they deny their political opponents that very attribute. Tyranny, a form of disorder posing as order, is the result. This was one of Edward Gibbon's arguments against early Christianity. Gibbon represented the Enlightenment in full flower, just as Metternich, Kissinger reminded us, represented its dying breath before the onset of modernism, with its righteous causes. In any event, Kissinger observed wryly, punishing the wicked is "a relatively easy matter, because it is a simple expression" of public decency, and thus not a crucial task of statesmanship.
Because the real task of statesmen is to forestall revolutions, the real heroes of history are enlightened conservatives such as Metternich and the eighteenth-century Briton Edmund Burke, who fought discrimination against Catholics and opposed the French Revolution for its immoderation. Burke hated revolutions, Kissinger explained, because they violate the average person's sense of morality and well-being; Metternich saw them as contrary to reason. "The true conservative," Kissinger wrote, "is not at home in social struggle. He will attempt to avoid unbridgeable schism, because he knows that a stable social structure thrives not on triumphs but on reconciliations." (The Republican majority in Congress and the "religious right" are thus not true conservatives.) A true conservative is in fact a hesitant progressive: he or she seeks to slow change when society is reforming too fast and to instigate moderate change when society is not reforming at all. Burke's writings are the epitome of this search for pacing. I imagine that Kissinger's tolerance of the late Chinese ruler Deng Xiaoping and his successor, Jiang Zemin, can be explained by the fact that the two Chinese dictators represented enlightened conservatism within their own cultural and historical limits. Both fostered gradual but unmistakable reform that has bettered the material lives of tens of millions of people. At the same time, they averted the kind of revolutionary upheaval that might result from instituting democracy across a vast and geographically riven landscape in which less than 10 percent of the population is middle-class. The Chinese leadership is attempting to treat the dour effects of its decades-old revolution just as Metternich treated Europe after Napoleon's -- by doling out moderate doses of change.
The dangers inherent in fast social transformation are so great, Kissinger wrote, that demands for universal justice are ill informed.
Every statesman must attempt to reconcile what is considered just with what is considered possible. What is considered just depends on the domestic structure of his state; what is possible depends on its resources, geographic position and determination, and on the resources, determination and domestic structure of other states. THE young Kissinger here allied himself with other foreign-policy realists of the time, including Kennan, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Hans Morgenthau. All of them doubted that America, however overarching its power, would ever be able to affect the internal evolution of many other societies at once: the world is too vast, and the expense and stamina required are prohibitive, at least with regard to winning public acceptance. Morgenthau wrote in Vietnam and the United States (1965) that because the resources of even a superpower are limited, morality alone can never be a basis for foreign policy. These men saw the missionary idealism of America's ruling elite as naive. Kissinger believed that idealism had clearly failed throughout America's diplomatic history -- that it led to an inefficient cycle of intense hope and activity abroad followed by morose withdrawal once it became apparent that hope and activity were unlikely to remake the world. The clearest example is President Woodrow Wilson's failed attempt to advance democracy and self-determination in the Muslim Middle East after the First World War, and the isolationism that followed.
Kissinger identified the foundations of such idealism when he took up Castlereagh's position on the Greek struggle for independence in 1821, which Metternich opposed. Castlereagh's open-mindedness, Kissinger wrote, reflected not "a superior morality" but rather "the consciousness of safety conferred by an insular position." Because Castlereagh's England was surrounded by seas, it did not have to consider the implications of the breakup of Turkish rule in the Balkans -- implications that a Continental power like Metternich's Austria had no choice but to consider. Without America's insular position, guarded by two oceans and reinforced by plentiful natural resources, idealism might never have taken root here. Realism is in part the ability to see the truth behind moral pretensions. Our insular position also explains our failure to see war for what it is: an extension of politics.
I suspect, however, that our much-vaunted foreign-policy idealism is mainly confined to the media and academia, and particularly to the intellectual journals of opinion. Those who sit behind the important desks at the National Security Council, the Departments of Defense and State, and the Pentagon are usually realists. (This is a broad definition, given how often realists disagree: witness Morgenthau's and Kissinger's differing positions over Vietnam.) Even the rare Administrations that were associated with foreign-policy idealism converted to realism sooner or later. It was President Jimmy Carter who began what would later be called the "Reagan arms buildup." Traditional Republicans like George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger, and the bipartisan realist Frank Carlucci, became far more influential in the Reagan White House than neoconservative idealists like Elliott Abrams and Jeane Kirkpatrick. For her part, Albright has followed Kissinger's playbook in not overemphasizing human rights in China and in tolerating dictatorships that serve our interests. Realists almost always run foreign policy; idealists, I have found, attend academic conferences and write books and articles from the sidelines.
Take Bosnia. I supported intervention in Bosnia, for strategic and moral reasons. Andrew Kohut, the former president of the Gallup Organization, who is now the director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, told me recently that the polls on Bosnia have, however, been firm and undeniable: at no point in the 1990s, despite all the emotional media coverage and revelations of war crimes, have more than half of the American people thought that U.S. intervention there was warranted. Interventions in Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Grenada, and Iraq were all more popular than our limited and belated one in Bosnia, in late 1995; only the intervention in Haiti, supported mainly by liberal Democrats, was less popular. A former British diplomat, Jonathan Clarke, wrote in his essay "Searching for the Soul of American Foreign Policy" (1995), for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, that Americans "have in fact ... a rather consistent, well-developed, and finely-calibrated feeling for what does not make sense for their nation's foreign engagements," which in Clarke's view only the illuminati mistake for isolationism. Despite his grave German accent, his dire view of humanity, and his preoccupation with European history, Kissinger -- who negotiated with rather than confronted the Soviet Union, who helped Nixon to withdraw from Vietnam 550,000 soldiers in three years under combat conditions, and who generally supported interventions that were popular while expressing skepticism about those that weren't -- may have understood his adopted nation better than most people think he did. Indeed, before the March bombing campaign Kissinger implied in an article that forcing Serbia to implement the Kosovo peace agreement might precipitate what the Clinton Administration sought to avert: the destabilization of the southern Balkans. Even those of us who believe that the Administration had no choice but to use force must admit that Kissinger's analysis was shrewd.