A good book review both gives the gist of the book and allows you to decide if the book is worth reading or not. This is just what Niall Ferguson's review of Henry Kissinger's new 432 page "magisterial meditation" on world politics, World Order does ["K of the Castle"- TLS 11/28/2014]. I'll give you the gist of Ferguson's review and enough quotes from Kissinger's book for you to decide for yourselves.
Spoiler alert! In case you are unfamiliar with the politics of Henry Kissinger (Nixon's Secretary of State) I can almost sum up his views in one sentence: He never met a fascist he didn't like.
Ferguson seems to be a big fan of Kissinger and before getting down to the business of reviewing his book gives us a rather long prologue condemning the foreign policy of President Obama, "no master strategist" who "has been responsible for a succession of foreign policy debacles."
I have no brief for Obama's foreign policies; they are policies aimed at maintaining the world hegemony of US imperialism and the economic impoverishment and virtual slavery of billions of people, the goals of which are basically the same as Kissinger's, but I object to Ferguson's attempt to personally blame Obama for "failures" that are inherent in the very nature and ends of imperialist policies themselves-- policies he inherited from even worse "master strategists" then he, one of whom was Kissinger himself.
What "debacles" does Ferguson have in mind. We will give Obama an "F" if Ferguson is right about this, or an "E" for Effort if Furguson doesn't know what he is talking about. These are subjective letter grades but I think they are closer to reality than Ferguson's "debacles" view. Here are five "debacles" according to Ferguson:
1. The "reset" with Russia. This really failed, contra Ferguson, because Obama followed the strategy already in place, of pushing NATO right up as far as possible to the Russian borders. The policy was one of keeping "set" American and NATO goals and for the Russians to "reset" their opposition to acceptance of US plans. E
2. The "pivot" from the Middle East to East Asia. This is actually still on going, Ferguson's complaint is premature, but delayed because Obama's predecessors so screwed up the Middle East that it will be almost impossible for any American president to unscrew it. E
3. His "incoherence" with respect to Egypt: supporting the revolution against an ally (Hosni Mubarak) ! [only after it was a fait accompli], then the Muslim Brotherhood after it won elections [isn't that kosher?], then supporting a "bloody military coup" [is this the first time we have done this?] and, Ferguson might add, support for the new military government (which won an election too). As a matter of fact it has been standard American policy to support Egypt as an "ally" whatever government it has as long it will "play ball" with us. Obama is no different than any other president. E
4. His refusal to back up his "red line" on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. What is Ferguson talking about? Syria has turned over its chemical weapons. It is till unclear who all the actors are in chemical weapons use in Syria. Obama refused to start a military adventure vis a vis the "red line" because Congress and the American people were against it. E
5. His "hubris" in saying he doesn't "need George Kennan right now." Well Kissinger himself doubts that a George Kennan type of strategy is applicable in all cases today. It's evidently only "hubris" ( "hubris" is not a "debacle" anyway) if Obama thinks that way. E
These examples are enough to see that Ferguson is just a mouthpiece for the ultra right anti-Obama opposition to anything the first Black president of the US tries to do. Everyone of the above "failures" is based on the right wing Republican world view, which Ferguson ultimately represents.
Ferguson goes on to say Obama's "nadir" has been his "U-turn" reaction vis a vis Iraq and Syria due to the rise of ISIS or IS, the Islamic State and its barbarism. Isis is disgustingly "barbaric" but it is no more so than the US, as its actions in Vietnam, Central America, and the Middle East, among other places, amply demonstrate. Ferguson says Obama has been forced to re-engage in Iraq and is now bombing a Sunni force, the Islamic State, which was fighting against Bashir al-Assad whose government he has said should be overthrown. The attempt to overthrow Assad is probably a "debacle."
Why is that Obama's "nadir?" It is the "nadir" of long standing American foreign policy going back over many years that has finally begun to unravel on Obama's watch. He has to react as best he can to the problems resulting from the disastrous polices stretching back at least to the Reagan years (if not to the beginnings of the Cold War itself) with which he has been confronted.
The real "nadir" was the George Bush administration's illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq which upset the entire political equilibrium, such as it was, in the Middle East and created a monstrous terrorist movement that had no real international traction until it was fueled by US imperialist hubris and the desire to control the oil resources of the area.
Ferguson accuses of Obama of having no strategy for all this disorder. This is just like attacking the Fire Department for running hither and thither whenever a major fire breaks out due to arsonists running amok in the city. That may be the only strategy available until a way can be found to eliminate the arsonists. The arsonists that set the Middle East afire are still politically active in the US Senate and House of Representatives as well as in the board rooms of the military-industrial complex which makes billions of dollars in profits through wars and overseas US interventions.
Ferguson says that George W. Bush was blamed by the left for invading Iraq, but, unlike the hapless Obama, "at least Bush had a strategy." Yes he did. It was invade, then introduce "democracy'', get rid of the evil doers, accept the love and appreciation of the people, then leave in triumph. His strategy was over on May 1, 2003 with his "Mission Accomplished" speech-- about a month and a half after the invasion of Iraq. A strategy that led to complete and utter failure and a mission that 11 years later has no end in sight. This is the strategy of "Do stupid stuff" the opposite of Obama's ("stuff" is a toned down version of the original sentiment).
Finally, after venting his spleen on Obama's policies [actually due to the failure of the Bush "strategy"] Ferguson turns to Kissinger's book. But I have already exceeded my suggested word count so I will deal with this part of Ferguson's review in my next installment. Stay tuned for Part Two.