Introductory note: current events are giving a special urgency to our topic.
Henry Kissinger´s mishandling of foreign affairs is by no means over and done with -- a relic of the 1970s. This month he traveled to Beijing and talked to the Chinese leaders about Trump.
Kissinger is posturing right now as the indispensable go-to China expert -- THE conduit -- for the incoming Trump administration. This post will show why the Chinese are only too willing to place Kissinger front and center.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton viewed Kissinger as her role model. Kissinger´s close ties to her are well-known.
Let us hope Trump will know better than Hillary. A lot more than we may ever know depends on it.
Regarding that hope, there is little room for optimism.
President-elect Trump recently jolted the diplomatic world by calling into question the long-standing One China Policy that China insists on and the United States accepts.
In 1949, the American ally Kuomintang Government of President Chiang Kai-Shek found refuge on the island of Taiwan after losing the civil war on the mainland to Communist forces led by Mao Tse-tung.
The government in Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of China -- a "breakaway state" which someday will be re-incorporated into China as was Hong Kong in 1997.
You just saw the heart of the One China Policy.
For their part, Taiwan politicians view Taiwan either as an independent country or as the heir apparent to Chiang Kai-Shek and hence the legal government of all China.
For any nation seeking full diplomatic relations with mainland China, Beijing insists that its One China Policy be accepted. President Carter did so in 1979, breaking off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and transferring them to Beijing. All other U.S.-Taiwan relations, notably military and economic, continue.
Trump´s China Card: toss into the air existing U.S.-Chinese relations, notably the One China Policy.
Is it the right card to play?
The answer is what lawyers hate to hear when they cross-examine:
* * *
As China surges as an economic, political and military power, it is becoming more aggressive.
- Beijing menaced America in the South China Sea over China´s transformation of reefs into islands to which China claims sovereignty and is rapidly militarizing. Of the U.S. spy plane incident, the Beijing government-connected Global Times proclaimed in an editorial: "China, despite its unwillingness, is not afraid to fight a war with the US in the region, and is determined to safeguard its national interests and dignity.”
- China recently bullied Singapore over its continuing relations with Taiwan.
- As of this writing, China´s aircraft carrier is roaming the Pacific: "The threat of our enemy is growing day by day. We should always be maintaining our combat alertness," said Taiwan Defense Minister Feng Shih-Kuan.
- The list goes on ... and on.
The growing combativeness of China is the fruit of the incredible incompetence of one man: Henry Kissinger.
I know those words come as a shock to most readers. The shock is the effect of decades of brain washing. To millions of people around the globe, U.S. government and mainstream media propaganda unflinchingly portrayed Kissinger as a world-beater negotiator, a genius´s genius.
We took apart that picture one stitch at a time in our post "´Henery´ Kissinger Debunked" (August 11, 2015). To my knowledge nothing similar to it exists anywhere else. That post has received thousands of visitors throughout the world. Most are from the Orient.
The "Debunked" post was the upshot of my decades of coalition building for a governor and later for the leadership of a state house of representatives.
The latter was a world unto itself ...
Most of the time, the house was divided 36-34 between a Republican-conservative Democrat coalition and the regular Democrats. I was the chief of staff for the latter, i.e., the House Majority Floor Leader.
The close division of power meant that a new coalition had to be built for each separate piece of controversial legislation. Over the years there were hundreds of them.
The narrow margin of victory/defeat meant the prevailing atmosphere was highly-charged, confrontational. In the on-going zero-sum game, you had to know how to count. You also had to be right ... or else.
I helped the Majority Floor Leader build coalitions on everything from triple trailers and interstate banking to amendments to the juvenile code and gross receipts tax.
I will call the underlying process what it was: trench warfare.
Please do not look for comparisons between my experience in a hard-knocks house of representatives and the rarified, cloudberry liquor, feigning and distaining connoisseurs and collectors world of Harvard´s Henry Kissinger. There aren´t any.
In our mean-as-snakes legislature, Kissinger would have been knocked out in the first round. You are about to see why.
* * *
There is nothing abstract or exceptional whatsoever about coalition building.
The political world furnishes practical examples daily. To understand them, however, requires a type of logic which in America is rarily presented and analyzed outside graduate student seminars in political science. I suspect the national ignorance is an upshot of the two-party system in which coalitions are rarily seen by the American public. Such is not the case in nations with multiple political parties.
Spain is a case in point. It offers the most recent and widely-publicized case study of the complexities of coalition building:
Elections in 2015 created a fragmented 350-member Congress of Deputies in which no party received the 176 seats necessary to form a majority.
Attempt after attempt by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to form a governing coalition with other parties failed. There was no recourse other than to hold a second round of elections in June 2016. The largest party led by Rajoy increased its seats to 137 -- still not enough to govern without a coalition.
Once more, Rajoy failed to find allies. A ten-month deadlock ensued. It was broken in October and Rajoy survived as Prime Minister only because, due to an internal crisis, the second largest party abstained in the vote for Prime Minister.
Rajoy has been Prime Minister since 2011. What is astonishing is not only that his party so quickly lost its outright majority of 186 seats in the 2015 elections -- seats which Rajoy had won in a landslide -- but also that despite all the power a prime minister wields, he proved time and again incapable of building a governing coalition.
Rajoy´s ineptitude is exceeded only by that of one other man in living memory: Henry Kissinger.
* * *
The mounting dangerous confrontations with China call for a paraphrased revisit to our "Debunked" post of 2015. Only then can what is happening before our eyes be put in a realistic context.
Realistic is the key word.
The full-bore, overdrive American propaganda machine picturing Kissinger as a great international statesman has associated, almost as an involuntary reflex, his name with realpolitik.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Realistic, pragmatic: it is easily shown Kissinger was neither.
Rather, I should say is neither ...
To the detriment of world peace and stability, as noted above the 93-year-old Kissinger continues to meddle in America´s relations with China. For their part, the Chinese know a useful fool when they see one; they continue to build up Kissinger as America´s Number 1 China Man. Chairman Mao gave the watchword: Kissinger is an "old friend of Chinese people."
We are about to reveal what is behind the Chinese strategy.
What follows is a warning not only to Americans but also to the Chinese.
* * *
You want to see, dear reader, what true realpolitik in international relations looks like?
With the exception of moments in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, America´s foreign policy has been singularly devoid of realpolitik since the 1940s.
Forget personalities. Forget hate, vengeance. Forget love, misty water-colored memories. Forget any personal bias or preference. Forget ideology. Realpolitik is the exact opposite of the practices of Kissinger, the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA.
You Washingtonians out there: in what follows one of us is right, the other is wrong. If I am wrong, absolutely nothing happens. On the other hand, if you are wrong, everything happens -- and none of it for the better.
The core of realpolitik is coalition-building. A basic introduction was presented in William Riker´s text The Theory of Political Coalitions, 1962. Riker employed game theory. I seriously doubt Kissinger read the book; if he did, he didn´t understand it.*
This is Riker´s basic premise: the coalition which wins is the minimal one required to take control:
An illustrative example. Let´s imagine a five-party system after a general election.
The representation of the parties is as follows:
Party A: 5. Party B: 40. Party C: 26. Party D: 25. Party E: 4. Sum: 100 representatives.
51 are needed to form a majority and win control.
There are three possible winning coalitions:
Parties B and C = 66 representatives. Parties B and D = 65 representatives. Parties C and D = 51 representatives.
If we assume that power will be divided according to strength within the coalition, the parties will prefer the largest relative size within the coalition. The result is that the coalition "Party C and D" will be the winning coalition.
The largest party is thus kept from power.
I want to underline something that is counterintuitive:
In a situation of fragmentation of power, it is not necessarily an advantage to be the biggest, strongest party. If you occupy that position, as do Rajoy in Spain and America in Southeast Asia, you had better know what to do with it ... or else.
Of course, political realities modify Riker´s premise. Most importantly, the above example assumes the parties are impregnable blocks. In practice, if worked properly, you can usually break off some members. For example, in the house of representatives where I worked, we won over three Republicans on a permanent basis.
Thus, the biggest party B could unite with the two smallest parties, A and E, then scrape up the missing 2 members in Party D needed for control. That way B takes power and locks out Party C, the second largest.
BEWARE: other parties will play the same game and look for members in the biggest party to break off. If you are in that party, you may be in for a shrewd awakening; you discover one fine morning you do not have as many votes as you thought; that is what happened in the house of representatives where I worked. There are ways of identifying weak links but I will not discuss them here.
Tradition, distrust, family relations, hurt feelings, opposing economic interests, long-standing feuds, ethnic/racial prejudices and ideological disputes can prevent party leaders from doing the "rational" thing and uniting for control. We will show in a moment an astonishing example of how one man´s personal spite gravely jeopardized America´s national self-interest and world peace.
It should go without saying that coalition building requires an intimate knowledge of the political participants as individuals. Who are they? How do they make a living? What are their values, interests, hobbies? How did they get where they are? What is their educational background? Who are their family members, associates, mentors, allies, enemies?
An indicator of how crucial that knowedge of individuals is:
I have known politicians who, if you met them at a cocktail party 20 years ago, will remember you and the occasion perfectly. If you cannot remember names, you will not make it in electoral politics.
As our "Debunked" post showed, Kissinger never displayed the slightest interest in knowing individual players as persons. A mere two years after the fact, he had to be reminded who was one of the top North Vietnamese negotiators (Phan Haen) sitting across the table from him in the Paris Vietnam Peace Talks. Immersed in his own puffed up mirror world, Kissinger had other priorities.
Despite its deficiencies Riker´s analysis is sound where it counts: he makes you think objectively and creatively. During my years of coalition building -- and destroying -- I kept Riker in mind.
Which brings me to this point ...
* * *
Here is where Kissinger went catastrophically wrong:
The two biggest and most powerful players in Southeast Asia continue to be the United States and China. Staying with the five-party example for illustrative purposes, let us assume those two nations are Parties B (40 members) and C (26 members) respectively.
Obviously, if they formed a coalition they would dominate the region; however, there would be no rational reason for the United States to form a coalition with China:
(i) That coalition would result in far more power -- 66% -- than the United States needed to take control.
(ii) Because it had a lot to offer, the price which China would, could, and should demand for making a coalition with the U.S. would be high relative to the price demanded by smaller Southeast Asia nations.
Thus, sticking with our political party illustration, because China had 26% of the power, it would reasonably demand 26% of the budget, 26% of ministerial appointments, etc.
(iii) From a realpolitik standpoint, any China/United States coalition could only be temporary.
Assuming China obtained the high price it wanted, it would be advantageous for it to coalesce with America -- but only as a holding action. The reason is that
(iv) even if the United States paid the extraordinarily-high 26% price China demanded, China would still, over time, build its own coalition with smaller nations that would demand far less than the 40% the United States would, could and should demand.
What was said, then, about America coalescing with smaller nations applies equally to China -- perhaps even more so. By uniting with them, Number 2 (China) would become Number 1.
That is precisely what is happening now. China is practicing realpolitik; the United States is not.
America is resorting to a down n´ dirty substitute for solid coalition building in Southeast Asia. We will identify it shortly.
We come to the Kissinger Kicker inside Kissinger´s China Folly:
We want this; we want that ... Under Kissinger´s lead, the United States foolishly paid the 26%-price -- and then some -- China demanded. That the price was too high is detectable in the trade agreements Trump criticized during his campaign, that is to say, in cheap Chinese goods inundating American retail shelves; in boarded-up factories and storefronts from California to the New York Island.
Professor Peter Navarro, Trump´s head of his new National Trade Council, put numbers on the damage done: 57,000 factories gone and 5.5 million jobs lost.
Two key definitions:
Kissinger´s China Folly is the United States/China coalition that Kissinger sought and achieved. The Kissinger Kicker is the absurdly -- make that, disastrously -- high price he and America paid for that coalition.
From the standpoint of coalition building, viz., of realpolitik, America should have formed a coalition with Vietnam and other Southeast Asia nations to balance China -- and not with China to form a counterweight to Vietnam.
In common and common-sense parlance, Kissinger got it ass-backwards.
But why didn´t Kissinger do the right thing -- forge a coalition with multiple small nations and balance China?
Thanks to the de-classification of top secret State Department memos, we now know the answer.
Emotionally, he wasn´t up to it.
Kissinger´s catastrophically poor judgment about China is rooted in a visceral obsession with revenge for having been outsmarted and outmaneuvered by North Vietnam in the 1968-73 Paris Peace Talks.
That type of obsession is not unusual in politics. I witnessed it time and again ...
Election winners tell funny stories. As for losers, the real punishment is not a political career thwarted or eating crow on election night. Rather, losers are compelled to run the election over and over and over in their heads for the rest of their lives.
Would-a-could-a-should-a; would-a-could-a-should-a: the words keep coming back, firing like bullets from a never-ending machine-gun.
40 years after the fact, Hanoi still sticks in Kissinger´s crawl. Judging from his off-hand comments and his obsessive-compulsive trips to China, to this day he sits around all day and hates.
You don´t believe it? Sorry to disillusion you but in what follows keep in mind that you cannot be disillusioned unless you had an illusion in the first place; it is impossible.
Kissinger´s petty vindictiveness, which evinces a racist undertow, boiled to the surface in the secret transcripts of State Department meetings such as the one we presented in "Debunked." Thanks to them we know -- finally -- what all the 1970´s, Kissinger-as-superman hubris came down to:
The Paris Peace Talks and mainstream media were the sound; Kissinger´s spite, the fury.
Unemployment checks; suicides; drugs and alcoholism; destroyed families; shuttered stores and disappeared factories; financially-broke cities and towns; cyber snooping; stolen videos; imported goods that fall apart: there is no doubt that every day America is paying an enormous price for one man´s malice -- but it may be low compared to what is coming.
- "I advise the US not to make a fool out of themselves in trying to be smart,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang lectured about tensions in the South China Sea.
- Peijing´s state media recently branded Trump is "as ignorant as a child ... "
As China rises as a world power, Kissinger´s China Folly and the Kissinger Kicker it contains will become more and more manifest in the form of growing Chinese contempt for America. No surprise there: contempt is as predictable as it is deserved when you don´t know what you are doing but obstinately keep trying anyway.
To repeat, that obstinacy is the upshot of Kissinger´s humiliating defeat by the North Vietnamese in 1973. It condemns him to play unhappily ever after The Blivet Trick, i.e., try to shove 10 pounds of horse shit into a five-pound bag.
Oh really? you assert: show me one example.
Glad to. This is what Kissinger told the Government of Thailand in the top secret 1975 memo analyzed in our "Debunked" post:
"We don´t mind Chinese influence in Cambodia to balance North Vietnam. As I told the Chinese when we last met when we were discussing the Vietnamese victory in Indochina, it is possible to have an ideological victory which is a geopolitical defeat. The Chinese did not disagree with me."
Reading between the lies, Kissinger obviously believes that if Vietnam can be isolated geopolitically, his 1973 defeat will be transformed into victory; he is searching for an alchemical solution in league with China. The Chinese are only too willing to nod and wink, look on benevolently: Yes, Henry, you´re so right; yes, Henry, you´re a great man.
The Chinese did not disagree with me. Here you see the end product of Kissinger´s hatred of Hanoi: he unwittingly sets up the Chinese Government as the ultimate judge and jury of who is right, who is wrong.
A personal feeling, then, not a realpolitik analysis of objective circumstances, is the basis of Kissinger´s China Folly.
As for what that feeling is ...
Mao "radiates authority and deep wisdom" Kissinger wrote in a top secret document to President Nixon. We have seen that sort of thing many times: Kung Fu, Zen Buddhism, The Karate Kid, I Ching, Taoism, Charlie Chan -- and also in the faces of a goo-goo-eyed 12-year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert.
What is wrong with Kissinger´s fawning over Mao is what lurks beneath it:
Any extreme always indicates the presence nearby of its opposite, usually in latent form. That is what makes the first extreme an extreme -- gives it its energy -- in the first place. Radiates authority and deep wisdom is an over-compensation for a xenophobic Yellow Peril horror swirling just a few inches below the surface.
Again, we have seen all this before. Europe´s idealized perfect Dream Woman of the middle ages gave way to the burning of real women as witches. Chinese readers: take note.
The story does not end with appearances, personal grievances or puerile longings:
If a world war ever breaks out between the United States and China, the deaths and destruction will dwarf anything else that ever occurred in human history. Kissinger´s China Folly will then be consigned where it belongs: infamy.
We are not saying that war with China is inevitable. We are saying that as a consequence of Kissinger´s ignorance and bitterness, with every passing day the evitability is less.
* * *
Make a new plan, Stan.
-- Paul Simon, "50 Ways to
Lose Your Lover" --
What you are about to read appears to be advice. It isn´t.
Our regular readers know our long-standing policy:
This blog does not give advice; it offers opinion. The line between them is not always clear. Please keep in mind three considerations:
"An opinion may consist of advice which is (i) deliberately offered too late to be actionable; (ii) knowingly impossible to implement due to circumstances prevailing at the moment; and/or (iii) offered with the foreknowledge that the simple fact of its publication will render its practical value null and void."
We will clarify shortly why the following commentary is opinion under (ii) knowingly impossible to implement due to prevailing circumstances.
We come to the explanation of our yes-but conclusion regarding Trump´s China Card, i.e., his challenge to the architecture of existing U.S.-China relations.
Yes, in and of itself, Trump´s China Card is a good one.
Kissinger´s China Folly -- the 40/26 coalition Kissinger foolishly forged with China out of hatred of Hanoi -- needs to be dismantled from top to bottom.
For starters, the Kissinger Kicker must be torn up. New rounds of U.S.-China trade negotiations are required in which anything and everything is back on the table.**
Here comes the but:
Will Trump do what Kissinger failed to do -- take a realpolitik approach and construct enduring alliances with Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, Phillipines, Singapore, Tailand, and yes, Vietnam?
I don´t think so.
The White House and Pentagon think that surrounding China with lily-pad military installations can make up for the lack of enduring alliances with Southeast Asia nations. As with Mariano Rajoy´s government by abstention, military emplacements on rock piles in the ocean are a cheap, no fuss-no-muss fix. In other words: a gimmick.
Sidebar: I suspect somebody in Beijing has an absurdist sense of humor: reef warfare. Their response to America´s militarized islands is to make ... new islands. A tip-of-the-hat to Monty Python if there ever was one.
It is crucial to note that if you add up the populations of all the Southeast nations we mentioned, the total (642 million) does not come to even half of the 1.4 billion inhabitants of China. Kissinger sycophants and State Department bureaucrats will smugly assert that, as a consequence, all those nations together aren´t big enough to form a coalition that will balance China. Incidentally, adding Japan (126 million), South Korea (51 million) and Taiwan (23 million) still falls far short of equaling China´s population.
Well, my Washington friends, if we reduce power to warm body counts (as you are inclined to do), there is one nation in the neighborhood that comes close to equaling China: India with 1.3 billion population. Speaking of coming close: India borders China; territorial disputes are on-going.
We are not talking about tearing China down. No Bad Neighbor policy here. We are talking about building up something else. The real purpose of competition is not to beat the other guy; rather, competition helps you improve your performance.
I note in passing that it is a waste of time proclaiming and defaming to the stars above that China is "unfair" or "cheating." All China did -- and is doing this very moment -- in playing Kissinger for a chump is what America should have done but did not do: look after its national self-interest.
What is to be done?
If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.
Stop listening to Kissinger. Stop looking for solutions from the very man who created the problem -- and who profits from it economically.
We come to why what is said here is opinion, not advice.
Look at the list of retired generals -- James "Mad Dog" Mattis as Secretary of Defense, John Kelly as Homeland Security Secretary, and Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser -- Trump wants to appoint to his cabinet. They will fight tooth-and-nail any switch in priority away from their militarized lily-pads toward serious coalition-building. To allow that switch would be tantamount to admitting that the strategy and tactics of the entire military-industrial complex were not up to the job of providing for American national security vis-à-vis China.
For exactly the same reason, the Trump Administration will not stop listening to Henry Kissinger.
On both accounts, then, existing circumstances make our viewpoint knowingly impossible to implement. Result: opinion, not advice.
Serious doubts are already circulating about Trump´s China Card. In questioning the One China Policy, was he just shooting his mouth off? Winging it?
Is he, as China hinted, a professional amateur?
Is he just another naive and clumsy American?
We will have answers to those questions after January 20, when Trump is inaugurated President.
Only strong and stable coalition building can dispel them.
* * *
President Nixon famously proclaimed his 1972 visit to China to be "the week that changed the world."
If Kissinger´s China Folly with the Kissinger Kicker are allowed to remain in place, Nixon´s words could come back to haunt America in a way which neither Nixon nor anyone else envisioned.
Assuming, of course, there is anything left in America to haunt.
*Ditto The Calculus of Consent, another game theory work, by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, 1962.
**Southeast Asia is by no means the only part of the Old World Disorder built by Kissinger that needs to be jettisoned.
Our posts "ISIS: Winston Churchill Speaks" (Sepember 12, 2014) and "How to Destory ISIS in Two Weeks" (May 30, 2015) discuss how a Churchillian alliance of all nations against ISIS would build a new architecture of international relations for real peace and genuine stability.
President Obama had a golden opportunity to bring the world together. Instead, he sat on his hands.