Henry Kissinger, architect of the destruction of Indochina and secretary of state to one of America’s most corrupt leaders, wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post yesterday making arguments that, if uttered on any of the cable news shows, would be condemned as anti-American.
Kissinger’s analysis is a balanced one, in contrast to much of what we’ve seen. “Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation,” he laments. “Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.”
The West’s approach to Ukraine has been characterized much like the Russian approach: zero-sum. But, Kissinger advises, “We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction” inside Ukraine.
Kissinger also seems to criticize the superficial and trivial nature of the commentary from pundits and politicians. He says “the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” Furthermore, “the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington.”
Kissinger then proposes four suggestions for how to settle the issue in a responsible (not belligerent) manner that prioritizes “how it ends, not how it begins.”
1. Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe.
2. Ukraine should not join NATO, a position I took seven years ago, when it last came up.
3. Ukraine should be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people. Wise Ukrainian leaders would then opt for a policy of reconciliation between the various parts of their country. Internationally, they should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its fierce independence and cooperates with the West in most fields but carefully avoids institutional hostility toward Russia.
4. It is incompatible with the rules of the existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea. But it should be possible to put Crimea’s relationship to Ukraine on a less fraught basis. To that end, Russia would recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea. Ukraine should reinforce Crimea’s autonomy in elections held in the presence of international observers. The process would include removing any ambiguities about the status of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.
It’s hard to know if Kissinger has become more reasonable in his old age, or if his tempered approach to the Ukraine crisis is merely an illustration of how degenerate and juvenile our politics has become in the generation that has followed his. For a man that has committed and been complicit in war crimes, it’s troubling that this is the voice of moderation. Either way, his suggestions are the most reasonable yet articulated in the mainstream: leave Ukraine’s future up to Ukrainians, don’t make it a choke point for feckless geo-political competition between the U.S. and Russia.