Tue Feb 19th, 2008 at 11:25:09 AM EST
Henry Kissinger in Spiegel adds his voice to the American choir calling on Europe -- Germany in particular -- to put combat troops into southern Afghanistan. His is, of course, (reputedly) the voice of cold reason, though he does manage a taunt about Europeans hiding behind Bush, ie using Bush's awfulness as a pretext for looking the other way.
Two themes stand out for me. First, Kissinger says there are "vital Western interests" at stake, and these do not concern rivalry with China. The exclusive immediate problem appears to be defeating radical Islamism.
SPIEGEL Interview with Henry Kissinger: 'Europeans Hide Behind the Unpopularity of President Bush'
SPIEGEL: What does Europe not understand? Paris, London and Berlin do not see the "war on terror" as a common challenge for the West?
Kissinger: I don't like the term "war on terror" because terror is a method, not a political movement. We are in a war against radical Islam that is trying to overthrow the moderate elements in the Islamic world and which is fundamentally challenging the secular structures of Western societies.
OK, the Great War On Terror always was a tacky brand name. With Professor Kissinger we move up-market. But notice that, apart from its effect on the Islamic world, radical Islam is fundamentally challenging the secular structures of Western societies. Radical loony Evangelical creationists aren't doing that, of course, any more than an ultra-reactionary Pope playing footsy with wannabe fascists in Spain and Italy and getting channelled by the president of France and his ring kissed by Tony Blair. No, read: Europe is getting taken over by Muslims. And believe it if you are so inclined.
So what follows?
I think it is obvious that the United States cannot permanently do all the fighting for Western interests by itself. So, two conclusions are possible: Either there are no Western interests in the region and we don't fight. Or there are vital Western interests in the region and we have to fight.
And the fight is against radical Islam alone:
You cannot simultaneously attempt to overthrow the government of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan in the name of democracy and fight radical Islam. The democratization processes and the war against radical Islam have a different time frame.
So Afghanistan is not about nation-building or spreading democracy, it's about combat troops fighting radical Islamists in the south of the country. If I understand it rightly, it's about fighting to win. So how about cleaning up the tribal areas of Pakistan that are the base camp and refuge of the Taleban?
SPIEGEL: Barack Obama also says the conflict in Pakistan is the war Americans really need to win. Is he right?
Kissinger: You can always say there is some other war I would rather want to fight than the one I am in. What does it mean to fight the war in Pakistan? Should we use military power to control the tribal regions in Pakistan and to conduct military operations in a region which Britain failed to pacify in over 100 years of colonization? Should we use military force to prevent a radical take-over of the Pakistani government? Should we prevent the Pakistani state from splitting up into three or four ethnically based groups? I don't think we have the capacity to do that.
SPIEGEL: What about pushing for more military action against al-Qaida terrorists in the border regions with Afghanistan?
Kissinger: The audience listening to such exhortations believes that there is a master plan to bring another government there and that this democratic government will fight the tribal regions. In the short-term, this is an illusion.
There are some solid reasons there. Why is it, though, that they don't apply to the north-western reaches of those same mountains? Fighting on the Pakistani side is an illusion. But then what are Europeans being asked to do? Put in combat troops on the Afghan side of the region to hold back the forays of a fish-in-the-sea mountain guerrilla that has time on its side and can fall back on a broad and impregnable hinterland, which it is an illusion to imagine subduing? And this is how to defeat radical Islam?
Does Henry Kissinger deserve to persuade many Germans (or other Europeans) with this pitch?