The National Interest's editor, Jacob Heilbrunn, spoke with Henry Kissinger in early July in New York.
Jacob Heilbrunn: Why is realism today an embattled approach to foreign affairs, or perhaps not as significant as it was when you had figures such as Hans Morgenthau, George F. Kennan, Dean Acheson, then yourself in the 1970s--what has changed?
Henry Kissinger: I don't think that I have changed my view on this subject very much since the seventies. I have always had an expansive view of national interest, and much of the debate about realism as against idealism is artificial. The way the debate is conventionally presented pits a group that believes in power as the determining element of international politics against idealists who believe that the values of society are decisive. Kennan, Acheson or any of the people you mentioned did not have such a simplistic view. The view of the various realists is that, in an analysis of foreign policy, you have to start with an assessment of the elements that are relevant to the situation. And obviously, values are included as an important element. The real debate is over relative priority and balance.
Heilbrunn: One of the things that struck me in the new biography of you by Niall Ferguson is his quotation from your personal diary from 1964. You suggested rather prophetically that "the Goldwater victory is a new phenomenon in American politics--the triumph of the ideological party in the European sense. No one can predict how it will end because there is no precedent for it."
Kissinger: At the convention, it seemed to be true to somebody like me, who was most familiar with the politics of the Eastern Establishment. Later in life, I got to know Goldwater and respected him as a man of great moral conviction and integrity.
Heilbrunn: Right, but I was more interested in your interpretation of the ideological force that emerged in '64.
Kissinger: It was a new ideological force in the Republican Party. Until then, the Eastern Establishment view based on historic models of European history was the dominant view of foreign policy. This new foreign-policy view was more missionary; it emphasized that America had a mission to bring about democracy--if necessary, by the use of force. And it had a kind of intolerance toward opposition. It then became characteristic of both the extreme Right and the extreme Left, and they changed sides occasionally.
Heilbrunn: And they both vehemently attacked the Nixon administration.
Heilbrunn: I remember that in your memoirs, you indicate that you were perhaps most astonished to be attacked from the right--
Kissinger: Totally unprepared.
Heilbrunn: --for allegedly appeasing the Soviet Union.
Kissinger: Well, and some, like Norman Podhoretz--who's a good friend today--attacked me from both the left and the right sequentially.
Heilbrunn: I'd forgotten that he'd managed that feat. In the end, though, detente played a critical role in bringing down the Soviet Union, didn't it?
Kissinger: That is my view. We viewed detente as a strategy for conducting the conflict with the Soviet Union.
Heilbrunn: I'm amazed that this doesn't get more attention--in Europe, this is the common view, that detente was essential toward softening up Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and getting over the memory of World War II, whereas in the United States we have a triumphalist view.
Kissinger: Well, you have the view that Reagan started the process with his Evil Empire speech, which, in my opinion, occurred at the point when the Soviet Union...