Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
SAY this for the United States, the country has both those who hero-worship and those who work tirelessly at showing why the heroes of the country ought to be relegated to the wastebasket of history. Henry Kissinger followed the example of Winston Churchill and wrote by himself what has since been regarded as the definitive account of Henry A Kissinger, former Secretary of State. Overall, his books ( including “Diplomacy”) are of little value to practitioners of foreign policy, although they obey Richard Gere’s dictum in the musical “Chicago”. Which is to “give them the old razzle dazzle”. Mixing irrelevant examples of European diplomacy with anecdotes about he charmed world leaders, Kissinger has almost surpassed Churchill in literary self-glorification.
Reading his books on the history of the period when he dominated US foreign policy, it would be impossible to know that Kissinger was instrumental in giving false hope to President Nixon that he would be able to rescue South Vietnam from annexation by Ho Chi Minh, provided yet more hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese,Laotians and Cambodians got killed by the bombing and intervention caused by US involvement on the French colonial side in the Vietnam war. For his success in helping to control the population of the planet, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee clearly was ignorant of the fact that the war was ended by Kissinger through his North Vietnamese interlocuters only after even the Secretary of State realized that mass killing would not work against Ho Chi Minh, unless almost the entire population of the country got killed, something even Nixon and Kissinger shrank from. An individual less narcissistic but as brilliant as him, Seymour Hersh, has written in convincing detail about the facts behind the “fake news” narrative spun by Kissinger, only to be ignored as just another scribe on a rant against the powerful.
Kissinger missed an opportunity for peace (and to save more than two million lives) by not agreeing to work out the same peace agreement he finally worked out with the North Vietnamese, an agreement that had been placed on the table by Hanoi from the initial days of the Nixon presidency. Bill Clinton missed two mega geopolitical opportunities, the first to enlist Russia as a staunch US ally and to do the same with India. The problem faced by US Presidents and many of their appointees is that there is a lag – sometimes of several decades – between the reality of the present and the glories of the past. Looking at the way in which he is walking along a path that could lead to war with Iran and North Korea, it would appear that Donald J Trump is still of the view that US influence is where it was in the 1960s, before the Vietnam war and emphatically before the Taliban in Afghanistan has managed to prevail over the US and its allies since 2001, even though they are at the crossbow stage of weapons development when compared to the NATO forces battling them with all the finesse of a Keystone Cops brigade.
Say this for the 45th President of the US, he loves his admittedly remarkable country to distraction, thereby endowing it – and himself as its Commander-in-Chief – with perfection. No other explanation is possible for such policy initiatives as asking Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un to surrender his nuclear and missile stockpile just for the privilege of being in the same room as Trump. Because of the opportunity missed by two-term Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, by now North Korea has a stockpile of nuclear weaponry that can kill around six million people overall in South Korea, Guam and Japan before the country itself gets eliminated by a US nuclear attack that through the effects of fallout and blast will kill almost as many South Koreans, Chinese, Russians and Japanese as it will North Koreans. Already Pyongyang has the missiles needed to reach South Korea, Guam, the Philippines and Japan. Well within a year, it will be able to send missiles that would hit the Pacific coast of the US, and in a few months more, the East coast.
This is the country that Vice-President Pence (who seems not to have been briefed about the difference between nuclear and conventional weapons) is threatening to “do a Libya on”. Given such charming perspectives, beyond detonating a few test sites that have outlived their use, including by becoming vulnerable to external attack, the chances are close to zero that the DPRK’s Supreme Leader will surrender the only capability of his that matters to the big powers. As time passes with US officials blowing hard but doing little, soon the only question will be whether Secretary of State Pompeo will accept the inevitable and work out a peace deal with North Korea sweet enough to make Pyongyang as much a buddy of the US as Vietnam now is. The alternative would be to follow the Kissinger playbook and cost 2 million lives. Over to Mike Pompeo.
As for Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have calculated that Israel will remain unaffected by the meltdown (within an already existing meltdown) in the Middle East that the Netanyahu-Trump diplomacy towards Teheran is heading towards. This seems to be the case at first glance, but the law of unintended consequences suggests that those in power in Israel should not expose their people to a future risk from unforeseen effects of the cauldron that the region will become once the US and its allies actually land up in a conflict with Iran. This columnist warned his friends in the US and Israel several times that Bashar Assad was no Muammar Kaddafy but much more resilient, and that he was preferable to the available options (such as Al Nusra). Now that President Rouhani has been politically emasculated by the US walkout from the nuclear deal, the hardliners are in full command, with the advantage that the average Iranian has swung to their side after the US withdrawal. The chance for John Bolton to “take out” the Iranian regime was when he was with George W Bush, who lacked the grit to finish that job. To attempt a similar move now would be collective suicide.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.