CRF Blog

How to Fix America’s Foreign Policy

by Bill Hayes

In How to Fix America’s Foreign Policy for the New Republic, Anne-Marie Slaughter reviews World Order by Henry Kissinger.

Henry Kissinger’s new book should be read as a salvo in the ongoing foreign policy struggle for Barack Obama’s soul. It is a book of many parts, but the final third portrays the United States since the cold war as an “ambivalent superpower” oscillating between the “realism” of Theodore Roosevelt and the “idealism” of Woodrow Wilson — a deft and deceptive manipulation of history. In a book in which Kissinger repeatedly praises the craft and subtle strategies of statesmen through the ages, from Richelieu to Metternich, it is impossible to believe that the master statesman himself does not have a more immediate goal in mind than another disquisition on how the world is to order itself.

Kissinger begins World Order with an apparent conversion. After a lifetime steeped in the theory and practice of power politics, he begins by making an argument about justice and legitimacy. He defines world order as “the concept held by a region or civilization about the nature of just arrangements and the distribution of power thought to be applicable to the entire world.” Any successful world order rests on a “balance between legitimacy and power,” the legitimacy of “a set of commonly accepted rules that defines the limits of permissible action,” and a “balance of power that enforces restraint where rules break down.” Power is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

This dual concept of world order provides the framework for the most interesting and original parts of the book. The twin pillars of power and legitimacy allow Kissinger to examine multiple civilizations and to distill their distinct concepts of world order. Europe before the European Union is the easy one, as it is the source of the Westphalian world order that Kissinger reveres, which “remains the scaffolding of international order such as it now exists.” The various treaties that ultimately ended the Thirty Years War and became known as the Peace of Westphalia established “the concept of state sovereignty” and the equality of all states capable of participating in a “pluralistic international order,” regardless of the nature of their domestic arrangements. Kissinger places great faith in the Westphalian embrace of “multiplicity,” allowing a system based on a sovereign state to draw “a variety of multiple societies … into a common search for order.”

Next up is what Kissinger calls the Islamic world order, in which Islam itself becomes a “religion, a multiethnic superstate, and a new world order.” Modern Middle Eastern states must continually contend with the dictates of a universalist religion in which the realm of the faithful is a house of peace, governed by the Caliphate. Iran shares this expansionist view. Kissinger draws a persuasive parallel between the writings of Sayyid Qutb, a founding member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and those of Ayatollah Khomeini, both seeking the creation of a new Islamic world order based on the overthrow of “all the governments in the Muslim world” and their replacement by an Islamic government. The contest with the satanic United States is thus not a conflict between two nations but “a contest over the nature of world order.”

Then on to Asia. [more]