[BOOK REVIEW]Statecraft, plain and simple

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[BOOK REVIEW]Statecraft, plain and simple

In this 1994 history of Western diplomacy, Kissinger makes it clear that his heart belongs to the British who established a balance of power system in the 18th century and to the Austrian, Metternich, who restored it at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the upheaval of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era.

The United States, Kissinger notes, has never accepted a balance of power system; in fact, the idealistic strain in American foreign policy has been adamantly opposed to such a callous approach to diplomacy. One of the first chapters of Kissinger's tome lays out the conflicting American views: Theodore Roosevelt's instincts to balance the world order versus Woodrow Wilson's idealistic drive to scuttle it and impose a moral framework on dealings among nations.

The United States has never balanced another set of mutually exclusive principles: America as a city on a hill, a shining beacon of democracy, versus America the world reshaper, justified by its moral superiority.

The history of European and American diplomacy from the 1600s to 1960 is alone worth the book's price. Kissinger makes his biases clear, but presents other points of view; a reader without a strong historical background can see the conflicts clearly and trace their resolutions.

Kissinger lays down a marker early on in describing the differences between an analyst, who has the benefit of either hindsight or no responsibility, and a statesman, who is always pressed for time to make irreversible decisions. Although he does not belabor that point in his discussion of his own role in the Vietnam War era, this section of the book seems more like an apologia than historical commentary. Perhaps there is no way it could not. Nevertheless, Kissinger has shown here that he is not only a political and diplomatic force to be reckoned with, but a gifted author and explainer as well.

by John Hoog

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