Ego or Kissinger Style
The last week has been a busy one in the world of American diplomacy. Last week President Trump announced he was willing to meet personally with North Korea’s leader Kim Jung Un. This week, Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson rather then letting him resign.
The fact is that Tillerson and Trump have had many disagreements in the last year and Tillerson’s departure has been predicted for over half a year – especially since Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” – something guaranteed to get most people fired.
The abrupt firing of Tillerson follows months of infighting between the State Department and White House over efforts by Tillerson to save the Iran nuclear deal.
In the weeks leading up to Tillerson’s departure, he had been spearheading efforts to convince European allies to agree to a range of fixes to the nuclear deal that would address Iran’s ongoing ballistic missile program and continued nuclear research.
While Trump had prescribed a range of fixes that he viewed as tightening the deal’s flaws, Tillerson was not successful in convincing the European to back these demands according to the Free Beacon who disclosed this tension between Trump and Tillerson last week.
White House allies warned Tillerson’s senior staff for weeks that efforts to save the nuclear deal and balk on Trump’s key demands regarding the deal could cost Tillerson his job, a warning that became reality Tuesday when Trump fired Tillerson.
Another problem with Tillerson, is the slow pace of filling political positions at the Department of State, which has left the positions empty or filled by Obama’s people. Some of key jobs remaining unfilled include the undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs and the U.S. representative to the U.N. mission in Geneva – both jobs having much to do with the Iran nuclear deal. The undersecretary for management is another empty office, even though veterans of the bureaucracy from past Republican presidents remain available. Tillerson privately complained that the White House is interfering with such process delaying filling critical positions.
From the point of the Trump administration, Secretary of State designate Mike Pompeo understands Trump in a way that Rex Tillerson did not, and perhaps even more importantly, he figured out how to communicate with the president effectively. Around 11 a.m. on any given day, White House staff would likely find CIA chief Mike Pompeo in the Oval Office, briefing the commander-in-chief. For 30 minutes or so, Pompeo would help Trump digest the country’s most closely held secrets about the world’s most pressing conflicts. He used “killer graphics” to keep Trump on point. He carved out time for general “knowledge building” on long-term strategy. He fielded Trump’s questions on any number of topics.
This should lead to a smoother relationship between the White House and the State Department and secure the control from the White House of how the State Department functions.
However, the news coverage of the incoming CIA director, Gina Haspel, is focusing on her involvement in the waterboarding program. But, she is a three-decade veteran of the CIA, well-known in the intelligence community, and she’s got the kind of résumé an administration would want to see in a director: This includes, “several stints as chief of station at outposts abroad, deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action.” She will face a stiff opposition in the Senate for her confirmation not only from Democrats (Sen. Rand Paul statement).
Trump’s New Foreign Policy Direction
Although Trump’s style is unique and frequently abrasive, it appears that Trump’s foreign policy reflects the policy of America’s most famous diplomat in the last half century, Dr. Henry Kissinger.
It is no secret that Kissinger has met frequently with Trump, most recently on February 8, 2018, and advised him on many subjects like the Middle East and North Korea.
As President Nixon’s National Security Advisor, he regularly ignored the State Department – especially for major policy initiatives like the opening of China. In many ways, Trump’s decision to meet with NK’s Kim without bringing in the State Department is much like Kissinger’s secret trip to China without letting Secretary of State William Rogers know what was happening.
The new direction by Trump also reflects a growing sense that American diplomacy, as practiced by the State Department, is a failure. This has been highlighted by a new book called “The Return of Marco Polo’s World.” The author believes that the post-Cold War diplomacy of the US and the West has been rooted in idealism – nation building, UN peacekeeping, humanitarian intervention, political/economic integration, social justice, etc.
The author, Roger Kaplan says this style of diplomacy is a dangerous failure. He notes nations should be guided by realism. That is, nations should act in their own self-interest. In other words, foreign policy realists focus more on mitigating evil to their own country than on promoting good around the world.
Interestingly enough, Kaplin admires Dr. Henry Kissinger.
This brings us to Kissinger and Trump foreign policy. A look at Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation titled “Peace, Legitimacy, and the Equilibrium (A Study of the Statesmanship of Castlereagh and Metternich)” answers many questions. The currently available version has been expanded from the original dissertation and is titled “A World Restored, Metternich, Castlereagh, and the problems of Peace 1812-22.” A reading of it indicates that Trump is following classic “Kissingerian” foreign policy. The paper looks at the Congress of Vienna after the Napoleonic Wars and how a stable, century long peace was constructed.
In the introduction, Kissinger strikes directly at current diplomatic theory: “Whenever peace – conceived as the avoidance of war – has been the primary objective of a power or a group of powers, the international system has been at the mercy of the most ruthless member of the international community.”
Think about Iran.
Kissinger continues, “Whenever there exists a power which considers the international order or the manner of legitimizing it oppressive, relations between it and other powers will be revolutionary…Only absolute security – the neutralization of the opponent – is considered a sufficient guarantee.”
This, in many ways, explains why Pompeo and his hard line towards Iran, fits the Kissinger style of diplomacy. Iran is a revolutionary nation that wants to smash the existing framework and it feels threatened. As Kissinger noted, “nothing can reassure it.”
Kissinger warns, “It is a mistake to assume that diplomacy can always settle international disputes if there is “good faith” and “willingness to come to an agreement,” for in a revolutionary international order, each power will seem to its opponent to lack precisely these qualities.”
This is why the Iranian nuclear deal is likely to be abrogated. And, why Kissinger has apparently warned Trump away from it, despite State Department recommendations.
Of course, the question is then, “Why deal directly with North Korea, when Trump is not willing to do the same with Iran?”
It seems that Kissinger and Trump feel that North Korea isn’t revolutionary because it isn’t trying to push its principles in neighboring countries. Rather it is trying to achieve legitimacy.
This is why Kissinger’s opening with China was so successful. After decades of revolution and coming out of the “Cultural Revolution” of the 1960s, China wanted legitimacy rather than revolution. This is what the opening with the US offered. And, as we can see, it worked as China, although still autocratic, has become a member of the international community.
It appears to Trump and Kissinger that North Korea is more concerned with legitimacy and being accepted into the community of nations.
This is the key according to Kissinger. “Stability then, has commonly resulted not from a quest for peace, but from a generally accepted legitimacy.”
By meeting with Trump, North Korean leader Kim starts on the road to legitimacy and the threat of war is consequently lessened in the region.
However, one meeting does not make a legitimate nation, which puts more pressure on Kim. Kissinger noted in his dissertation that Napoleon tried to gain legitimacy by marrying Princess Marie Louise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – demonstrating that one marriage does not make a legitimate nation either.
A final proof of Kissinger’s impact on Trump’s foreign policy is Trump’s view that a threatening North Korea may make it necessary for Japan and South Korea to go nuclear in order to maintain a balance of power.
This reflects the attitude of Great Britain’s foreign minister Castlereagh at the Congress of Vienna. As an island off the continent of Europe, Britain was concerned with maintaining a balance of power on the continent that would preclude Britain from having to send its army to the mainland.
This is much the position of the US, which is not physically near to North Korea. Thus, its main interest is maintaining a balance of power in the region that prevents having to send troop to Japan or South Korea. Needless to say, allowing either nation to “go nuclear” would be a realistic way to create a balance of power in the region – although it would be an anathema to modern diplomatic policy.
Viewed in this manner, what many see as Trump bravado should be viewed in terms of Kissinger’s “Realpolitik.” It should also be viewed as a rejection of the style of modern diplomacy that focused on policy disasters like nation building in Iraq, “agreement at any cost” nuclear deal with Iran, and disastrous UN “peacekeeping” missions in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Considering that, it is no surprise that Tillerson was fired.