The Eccentric Realist

The Eccentric Realist: Henry Kissinger and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy

Mario Del Pero
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Eccentric Realist
    Book Description:

    In The Eccentric Realist, Mario Del Pero questions Henry Kissinger's reputation as the foreign policy realist par excellence. Del Pero shows that Kissinger has been far more ideological and inconsistent in his policy formulations than is commonly realized.

    Del Pero considers the rise and fall of Kissinger's foreign policy doctrine over the course of the 1970s-beginning with his role as National Security Advisor to Nixon and ending with the collapse of détente with the Soviet Union after Kissinger left the scene as Ford's outgoing Secretary of State. Del Pero shows that realism then (not unlike realism now) was as much a response to domestic politics as it was a cold, hard assessment of the facts of international relations. In the early 1970s, Americans were weary of ideological forays abroad; Kissinger provided them with a doctrine that translated that political weariness into foreign policy. Del Pero argues that Kissinger was keenly aware that realism could win elections and generate consensus. Moreover, over the course of the 1970s it became clear that realism, as practiced by Kissinger, was as rigid as the neoconservativism that came to replace it.

    In the end, the failure of the détente forged by the realists was not the defeat of cool reason at the hands of ideologically motivated and politically savvy neoconservatives. Rather, the force of American exceptionalism, the touchstone of the neocons, overcame Kissinger's political skills and ideological commitments. The fate of realism in the 1970s raises interesting questions regarding its prospects in the early years of the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5977-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    On the night of September 26, 2008, during an otherwise predictable presidential debate, Henry Kissinger—his thoughts, his words and, more importantly, their true meaning—suddenly became a heated topic of discussion between the two candidates. Barack Obama and John McCain were discussing the possibility of the United States engaging in high-level talks, “without conditions,” with some of America’s most loathed enemies, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran. Drawing a historical parallel, McCain claimed that the opening to China in 1972, one of the most renowned examples of U.S. engagement with a hitherto absolute enemy, had been carefully planned. Richard Nixon’s visit,...

  4. 1 The Crisis of Containment
    (pp. 12-42)

    During the first two decades of the Cold War, the United States promoted a mostly coherent and unitary foreign policy. Washington did not always achieve its goals and occasionally suffered symbolic and practical defeats, the most significant of which came in October 1949 with Communist victory in the Chinese civil war and the subsequent birth of the People’s Republic of China. The fundamental objective of giving form to a U.S.-dominated “international liberal order” was, however, consistently pursued, whereas the necessity to limit the influence of the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism was rarely questioned.¹

    This “international liberal order”...

  5. 2 Kissinger and Kissingerism
    (pp. 43-76)

    Most studies of Henry Kissinger tend to present him as the quintessential exponent of a continental European realism that became popular in Cold War America. According to this established interpretation, Kissinger’s approach to world affairs was always distinguished by an attempt to oust the extreme moral and ideological traits, which had made the Cold War a peculiar and unique period in the history of modern international relations. The popular historian and pundit Walter Russell Mead has claimed that for Kissinger, “the United States and the Soviet Union” were simply “two great powers like Prussia and Austria.” According to one biographer,...

  6. 3 Kissingerism in Action
    (pp. 77-109)

    The year 1968, the historian Melvin Small recently claimed, was “the foreign policy election of the twentieth century.”¹ Foreign affairs played a central role in the presidential race between Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey. The crisis of containment and its most glaring manifestation, the Vietnam War, obliged Nixon and Humphrey to dedicate most of their speeches and interviews to international matters. The role of the United States in the world system, the new strategies necessary to face the Soviet challenge, and the way the United States could reaffirm and relaunch its leadership in the West were...

  7. 4 The Domestic Critique of Kissinger
    (pp. 110-144)

    The influence of neoconservative intellectuals and advisors on the foreign policy of George W. Bush has, throughout the first years of the new millennium, stimulated renewed attention for neoconservatism: for its origins, its cultural and philosophical foundations, and its evolution. Many scholars and commentators have stressed the radical nature of neoconservatism, particularly the Trotskyist past of Irving Kristol and other fathers of the movement, or the influence of Leo Strauss on some important neocons like former undersecretary of defense and World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz. Some scholars have underlined the connections between neoconservatism and the religious Right, whereas others, more...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 145-152)

    The domestic controversy in the United States, which ended with the defeat of Kissinger’s vision, was one of the key factors in the crisis of détente, although not the only one and not necessarily the most important. It was relevant, however, because it intersected with other processes that embittered the relationship between the two superpowers and made dialogue more difficult. The Middle East, the third world, and the Soviet Union’s policies in its sphere of influence represented other theaters and issues in which the crisis of détente and, along with it, Kissingerism matured and then exploded.

    Between 1974 and 1975,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 153-182)
  10. Index
    (pp. 183-194)