SPIEGEL Interview with Henry Kissinger: 'Europeans Hide Behind the Unpopularity of President Bush'
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 84, has thrown his support behind John McCain. SPIEGEL spoke with Kissinger about Germany's Afghanistan mission, tepid European commitment to combatting Islamist extremism and whether direct talks with Iran should go ahead.
SPIEGEL: Dr. Kissinger, you have endorsed Senator John McCain as your choice for the White House. McCain, though, has said he would be prepared to stay in Iraq for another 100 years. Are you sure he is the right man for the job?
Kissinger: John and I have been friends for 30 years. I have great confidence in him.
SPIEGEL: Most Americans would like to see a rapid withdrawal from Iraq and possibly Afghanistan. But McCain has made his motto "No Surrender."
Kissinger: He was trying to make a distinction between American military forces in a country where they were there as part of a civil war and military forces that are part of an alliance accepted by the population, such as in Germany after World War II. He did not say we should stay in Iraq in a combat mission. He was trying to make exactly the opposite point.
SPIEGEL: The Democrats have promised a rapid withdrawal. Is this a realistic option?
Kissinger: The issue is: Are American forces withdrawn as part of a political settlement? Or are they withdrawn because America is exhausted by the war? In the latter case, the consequences of an American withdrawal would be catastrophic.
SPIEGEL: Do you think there would be another eruption of violence?
Kissinger: There would be a high possibility of killing fields. Radical Islam won't stop because we withdraw. A rapid withdrawal would be a demonstration in the region of the impotence of Western power. Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaida would achieve a more dominant role, and the ability of Western nations to shape events would be sharply reduced. The virus would have huge consequences for all countries with large Muslim populations: India, Indonesia, and large parts of Europe.
Kissinger: Some Europeans do not want to understand that this is not an American problem alone. The consequences of such an outcome would be at least as serious for Europe as for the Americans.
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. All this is happening at a difficult period in European history.
SPIEGEL: Difficult why?
Kissinger: The major events in European history were conducted by nation-states which developed over several hundred years. There was never a question in the mind of European populations that the state was authorized to ask for sacrifices and that the citizens had a duty to carry it out. Now the structure of the nation-state has been given up to some considerable extent in Europe. And the capacity of governments to ask for sacrifices has diminished correspondingly.
SPIEGEL: Thirty years ago, you asked for one phone number that could be used to call Europe.
Kissinger: ... and it happened. The problem now is: Nation-states have not just given up part of their sovereignty to the European Union but also part of their vision for their own future. Their future is now tied to the European Union, and the EU has not yet achieved a vision and loyalty comparable to the nation-state. So, there is a vacuum between Europe's past and Europe's future.
Kissinger would like to see more German involvement in Afghanistan.
Kissinger: I think Angela Merkel, like any leader, has to think of her re-election. I have high regard for her. But I do not know many Europeans who would deny that the victory of radical Islam in Baghdad, Beirut or Saudi Arabia would have huge consequences for the West. However, they are not willing to fight to prevent it.
SPIEGEL: For example in Afghanistan. Does NATO need more German troops in the southern part of the country?
Kissinger: 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. That means we need more German and NATO troops in Afghanistan. What I am not comfortable with is that some NATO members send troops primarily for non-combat missions. That cannot be a healthy situation in the long term.
SPIEGEL: Many Germans say we have to stand up to the terrorists, but that Germans can't do the actual fighting, partly because of our history. You are intimately familiar with German history -- your family left Germany when you were nearly 15 years old. Is it fair for today's Germany to refer to the constraints of history?
Kissinger: I understand it, but it is not a sustainable position. In the long run, we cannot have two categories of members in the NATO alliance: those that are willing to fight and others that are trying to be members à la carte. That cannot work for long.
SPIEGEL: Do you think the Germans can be persuaded to change their approach?
- Part 1: 'Europeans Hide Behind the Unpopularity of President Bush'
- Part 2: 'The Bush Administration Made Several Mistakes'
© DER SPIEGEL 8/2008
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