I used to think David Goldman’s “Spengler” columns were pretty good. But as time goes on, he seems to be getting almost deranged:
Kissinger’s latest offering has the distinct virtue of reducing the foreign policy Establishment’s thinking to absurdity. Kissinger saw the major powers as fixed entities to be moved around on a geopolitical game board, in a Parker Brothers’ version of the Congress of Vienna or the Treaty of Berlin. He missed the internal decay of the Soviet economy and its strategic consequences–the Russians’ realization in the mid-1980s that they could not compete with the American economy and its capacity to invent new military technologies. It wasn’t quite Stratego, to be sure: Kissinger drew on non-trivial mathematics, for example Thomas Schelling’s game theory. Variables in an equation and tokens on a game-board, though, both remain fixed entities to be arrayed according to given rules. Sometimes the long-term sometimes overtakes the short-term and mugs it.
The internal decay of present and former nation-states from Libya to Afghanistan is even more obvious, and even more germane to the politics of the region. Kissinger’s current recommendations for the Middle East, outlined in an Oct. 16 essay in the Wall Street Journal, treat the region’s players as if they were fixed entities that can be manipulated into a stable balance of power. It is obvious, though, that nothing is fixed about these entities, and this leads Kissinger to torture logic until it expires on the rack. Here for example is a characterization of Iran: “On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles….The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.”
One can imagine Iran’s supreme leader attempting to parse Kissinger’s logic: “Westphalian? What is ‘Westphalian?’ I have Googled it, and behold!, it is a kind of ham! The infidel Kissinger likens us to pork!” Iran perhaps the least Westphalian political entity on the planet. It is not a nation-state in any sense of the term but the rump of a collapsed empire, in which Persians comprise barely half of the population, with “Azerbaijanis (16–25+%), Kurds (7–10%), Lurs (c. 7%), Mazandaranis and Gilakis (c. 7%), Arabs (2–3%), Balochi (c. 2%) Turkmens (c. 2%)” making up the rest, according to Wikipedia. Shi’ite messianism and attendant imperial ambitions are its raison d’etre. It is like saying, “Excuse me, Mr. Hyde, but is Dr. Jeykll at home?”
And about what should the United States engage Iran in its “Westphalian” incarnation? “It is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces.” If we had some Westphalian ham, we could have ham-and-eggs, if we had some eggs: if we had “moderate Sunni forces” we could persuade the “Westphalian” Iran to withdraw the “jihadist or imperial” Iran to acquiesce in the reconquest of ISIS-held territories by Sunnis. Then “The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty.” Someone should break the news to Dr. Kissinger that Saddam Hussein is dead and that the previous Sunni regime is not available.
Is Iran any less a nation-state than the USA? If diversity is our strength, is it not also the strength of “the rump of a collapsed empire” in which there is still an ethnic majority more solid than a mere “proposition nation”?
And Spengler misses, or more likely, intentionally ignores Kissinger’s observations about the breakdown of the Westphalian state. Indeed, some of Man’s foremost thinkers about Man’s oldest art have been thinking very hard indeed about the implications of what they call “the crisis of the State”.
The fact that Kissinger could be – and in my view, observably is – wrong about the dangerous geopolitical situation in which the world finds itself does not mean that either the man or his ideas should be belittled, especially by someone who is so shortsighted that he genuinely believes his people can simply jump to China when their welcome in America finally wears out.
The original Spengler was tragic. This pale imitation smacks of farce.