Former U.S. Secretary of State and 1973 Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger, a giant of Cold War diplomacy, addressed Wednesday’s general session at the ASIS International 53rd Annual Seminar and Exhibits, thanking attendees for their service protecting freedom, but warning that today’s crises abroad are only early symptoms of a growing global Islamic jihad.
“The Islamic jihad is, in a way, only at the beginning. We’re just seeing the symptoms of it in one part of the world,” Kissinger said of the Middle East, pointing to huge, potentially disaffected Muslim populations in India, Indonesia, and in the West.
Kissinger served as national security advisor to President Richard M. Nixon from 1969 until 1975, and simultaneously as secretary of state beginning in 1973 until 1977, the final three years under President Gerald R. Ford.
Kissinger and his North Vietnamese counterpart Le Duc Tho shared the Nobel Prize for their efforts to end the war in Southeast Asia, while in 1977 Ford awarded Kissinger the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Kissinger’s remarks focused on neighboring flashpoints in the fights against radical Islam and the spread of nuclear weapons: Iraq and Iran. Addressing the former, Kissinger restated his contention that withdrawal is a formula for disaster on a broad scale.
“When people talk about Iraq and talk about American withdrawal, they have to understand that the war we’re fighting happens to be located in Iraq today, but it will not end in Iraq. It’s an assault on the institutions of the region, and on the international system. It’s deeply founded, and it’s run by dedicated people,” Kissinger said.
“If this radical element develops the idea that they defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and the Americans in Iraq, that will not be the end of the process. It will be the beginning of a whole new kind of crisis…the script for a much more serious crisis down the road.”
Kissinger recalled April 30, 1975—the day Saigon fell—as the saddest of his career. Despite the United States’ protracted withdrawal from Southeast Asia, he characterized the move as series of simple decisions, decisions he said the United States can’t make in Iraq.
This is not something that we can win by a decision. We can only win it by demoralizing the terrorists and keeping them from achieving their goals and by building the leadership structures to resist them. Making a decision to leave, Kissinger said, would only produce a “temporary quiet.”
Kissinger noted the failure of Iraq’s elected leaders to establish a functioning government, but expressed optimism that leaders in the region may be compelled to establish order. “More and more of them are realizing that it their countries, not the Americans will be the victim” of a political failure in Iraq, Kissinger said.
Addressing Iran, Kissinger expressed doubts about the potential of diplomacy to stop the country’s push for nuclear capability. “Nobody wants another war. But history has shown us that those who want to change the system, and tell you they want to change it, and who take action to change it, through terrorist attacks all over the world, if they’re not confronted, and if it’s not demonstrated to them that they cannot succeed, then you don’t get a long way,” Kissinger said, recalling the relative simplicity of the Cold War—an era of mutually assured destruction.
“I have read people saying that if you could contain the Soviet Union, you could contain Iran. But it is not the same thing. If Iran has nuclear weapons, four or five other countries are going to have nuclear weapons. And then nuclear material will be spread around the world, and it’s bound to become available to terrorist groups.”
“Some people say, ‘You have to use diplomacy.’ I have studied diplomacy as a professor, I have practiced diplomacy as a diplomat,” Kissinger said. “I have never seen a negotiation in which you prevail by the beauty of your argument. That’s a construct of academics. In the real world, you have to have incentives and penalties.” Those penalties, however, such as economic sanctions, often either have little effect, or, if severe, harden a country’s resolve. “It is not surprising that no conclusion is reached,” Kissinger said.
In an exclusive interview following his speech, Kissinger told Security Management that the challenge of Iran lies in the fact that its government represents a cause more than it represents a nation of people.
Kissinger tempered his speech with an optimistic observation on the state of the nation. “We are still the strongest nation in the world, and we are still the most cohesive nation in the world, which is essential to eventual achievement of peace. Nobody is applying to emigrate to the jihadist countries. They are coming to our country because they want conditions for a better life.”
His droll, academic baritone belying his sense of humor, Kissinger expressed his personal debt to members of ASIS. “This is an organization to which I personally owe a great deal, because for the last decades of my life I have needed personal security for a variety of reasons, mostly to protect me against my own staff."
Kissinger is currently chairman of the international consulting firm Kissinger Associates, Inc., and is the author of more than a dozen books, most recently Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War.
ASIS President Steve D. Chupa, CPP, worldwide security director for Johnson & Johnson, introduced Kissinger, calling the day’s session one of “historical” significance for the association.
Born in Bavaria in 1923, but fled with his family to the U.S. in 1938 to escape growing Nazi persecution of Jews, Kissinger became a United States citizen five years later while training for eventual service as an Army interpreter in Germany during and just after World War II.
Kissinger earned his undergraduate degree and doctorate from Harvard University, where he remained as an instructor before working for several major think tanks. He served as a policy advisor to former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in three consecutive presidential campaigns before joining Nixon’s administration.
“For me it is a pleasure to talk to this group,” Kissinger said, wrapping up his address. “You see all of this. You have to help overcome it. This is an enterprise that was imposed on us. No American would have wanted it. But in which the future of world peace, and of our children, depends on the success of the effort.”