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Lawyers, he remarked in 1968, are the “single most important group in Government, but they do have this drawback—a deficiency in history.” For Kissinger, history was doubly important: as a source of illuminating analogies and as the defining factor in national self-understanding.Americans might doubt history’s importance, but, as Kissinger wrote, “Europeans, living on a continent covered with ruins testifying to the fallibility of human foresight, feel in their bones that history is more complicated than systems analysis.” The Problem of Conjecture Unlike most academics, Kissinger discerned early in his career that high-stakes policy decisions often must be taken before all the facts are in. policies did not reside in the ‘facts,’ but in their interpretation,” he argued in A World Restored.“It involved what was essentially a moral act: an estimate which depended for its validity on a conception of goals as much as on an understanding of the available material.”This was an idea Kissinger later formulated as “the problem of conjecture in foreign policy.” Decision-making, he argued in a 1963 lecture,requires [the] ability to project beyond the known.
The more elementary the experience, the more profound its impact on a nation’s interpretation of the present in the light of the past.” After all, Kissinger asked, “Who is to quarrel with a people’s interpretation of its past?
It is its only means of facing the future, and what ‘really’ happened is often less important than what is thought to have happened.” To the political scientist, states might “appear …
While he held office, the United States ratified the nuclear arms Non-Proliferation Treaty, the international convention banning biological weapons, and the Helsinki Final Act.
It was Kissinger who, with Zhou Enlai, opened diplomatic communications between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, arguably one of the turning points in the Cold War.
Yet even his harshest critics cannot deny the skill with which Kissinger managed the most important of all the foreign relationships of the United States at that time, the one with the Soviet Union.
He was responsible—to name only his most obvious achievements—for negotiating the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviets.
Writing in 1983, Kissinger’s former Harvard colleague Stanley Hoffmann depicted Kissinger as a Machiavellian “who believe[s] that the preservation of the state …
requires both ruthlessness and deceit at the expense of foreign and internal adversaries.” Many writers have simply assumed that Kissinger modeled himself on his supposed heroes, the Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich and the Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck, the standard-bearers of classical European realpolitik. Morgenthau, the authentic realist, vehemently disagreed. Kissinger was certainly not an idealist in the tradition of U. President Woodrow Wilson, who sought universal peace through international law and collective security.
Every statesman must choose at some point between whether he wishes certainty or whether he wishes to rely on his assessment of the situation.…
If one wants demonstrable proof one in a sense becomes a prisoner of events.