Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Monday, April 18, 2011

Learning from the Masters

Few people realize that Winston Churchill won a Nobel Prize and it was not a Nobel Peace Prize--rather, it was the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was awarded the prize for his historical writings over decades--his histories of World War I, World War II and his multi volume biography of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. Churchill earned his living before being elected to parliament and between the world wars as a writer. There are two writers that I would compare to Winston Churchill in both having been skilled statesmen and skilled writers: Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher.

I read Kissinger's three volumes of memoirs, which must amount to more than 2,000 pages altogether, when I was a graduate student and after receiving my doctorate. The first volume, The White House Years, deals with his period as national security advisor to Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973 during Nixon's first term as president. Most of it concerns detente, the opening to China, the arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, and the Vietnam War. It was published in 1979. Three years later the second volume, Years of Upheaval, appeared dealing with the period from Nixon's second inauguration in January 1973 to his resignation in August 1974. During this period Kissinger wore two hats: as national security advisor and as secretary of state. The book deals with detente, the opening of the SALT II arms control negotiations, the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 and the start of the Middle East peace process from October 1973 to May 1974 with Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem, Cairo, Amman, Riyadh and Damascus. I read this volume before I started graduate school and it was an education in itself about mediation, negotiations, and power politics. Kissinger explained in detail his motivations behind his policies and why they worked or did not work in practice. His third volume, Years of Renewal, covering his period as secretary of state under President Gerald Ford did not appear until 1999. I found this disappointing. It covered among other topics his involvement in the Angolan civil war in 1974-95, the negotiation of the Sinai II agreement between Egypt and Israel of September 1975 that served as a foundation for the later Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, and his mediation in Rhodesia in October 1976. I had written about Rhodesia in my doctoral dissertation and had read of Kissinger's involvement in many journalistic accounts. I found his explanations unrevealing compared to his earlier discussions of his Middle Eastern mediation.

Kissinger wrote a history of diplomacy entitled simply Diplomacy, which appeared in 1994. It is a brilliant discussion of the techniques of diplomacy used by master practioneers of realpolitik  such as Richelieu, Metternich, Cavour, Disraeli, Bismarck, Churchill, Helmut Kohl, and Margaret Thatcher. I recommend it for anyone interested in this subject. In 2001 he wrote a book entitled Does America Need a Foreign Policy? that he answered decidedly in the affirmative. It is a good short work. He also wrote essays on foreign policy for Newsweek in the 1970s and 1980s after he had left office.

Richard Nixon between the appearance of his memoirs in 1978 and his death in 1994 wrote a series of books dealing with foreign policy that were aimed at rehabilitating his image as an elder statesman of the Republican Party. In seven books he discussed the Cold War, Vietnam, Soviet and Chinese Communist leaders, and American interests. In my opinion the best of these was Leaders, which dealt with various foreign leaders that Nixon had dealt with during his career in politics. The book is well written and offers genuine insights into the figures and their policies. His other books are good for those interested in the general subject, but not as well written as Kissinger's writings and suffering from Nixon's attempt to dumb them down for a general audience. He also lifted and repeated entire sections from earlier books--something much easier done in the computer age than earlier.

Thatcher, the longest-ruling British prime minister in the twentieth century, was also the most controversial and, after Churchill, the most important. She wrote two volumes of memoirs, the first dealing with her period as prime minister and the second with her life before Downing St. In 2002 she published  Statecraft, her primer on international affairs and foreign policy from a British perspective at the start of the twenty first century. In it she covers the end of the Cold War and America's role in ending it victoriously, the Middle East and terrorism, the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Asia, Russia, and Europe. This is a tour de horizon or overview of international affairs during the end of the Cold War and the New World Order by a realist and Euroskeptic. I find it to be both eloquent and convincing. In terms of British politics if I were British I would probably be a floating voter between being a "wet" Tory and a Liberal Democrat. So I'm not a Thatcherite at all.

1 comment:

  1. I never knew Nixon wrote so many books, I only have unflattering images of the former president as my impression of him... kind of unfortunate I think.