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Buce Watches Henry Kissinger Look at HImself in the Chinese Mirror

Very nice catch. I think, however, that Li Hongzhang had a much better grasp of the real state of world affairs and the interest of his country and the world than Henry Kissinger ever did.


Underbelly: Kissinger Gazes into the Chinese Mirror: The point struck me early on when I read Kissinger's sketch of Li Hongzhang, who dominated what passed for foreign policy under the decrepit Ming Dynasty late in the 19th Century.  Here's Henry on Li:

Ambitious, impassive in the face of humiliation, supremely well versed in China’s classical tradition but uncommonly attuned to its peril, Li served for nearly four decades as China’s face to the outside world. He cast himself as the intermediary between the foreign powers’ insistent demands for territorial and economic concessions and the Chinese court’s expansive claims of political superiority. By definition his policies could never meet with either side’s complete approbation. Within China in particular Li left a controversial legacy, especially among those urging a more confrontational course. Yet his efforts—rendered infinitely more complex by the belligerence of the traditionalist faction of the Chinese court ... 

Okay, I should  not get carried away here--the late 20th Century United States did not face "foreign powers' insistent demands for territorial and economic concessions."    But when Henry says "[a]mbitious, impassive in the face of humiliation, supremely well versed," surely he is thinking of himself?  So also "his policies could never meet with either side's complete approbation"--?  And perhaps most: "controversial...especially among those urging a more confrontational course." The soundbyte on Kissinger today (fair or not) probably includes the phrase "war crimes."  It's perhaps difficult to recall the shock and impotent rage Kissnger and his boss the Emperor President withstood from their old allies on the right when they so shattered Cold War orthodoxies by establishing as relationship with our great enemy. The only other betrayal of equal magnitude would be when Ronald Reagan yanked the pins out from under the Neocons by sitting down to chat with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Kissinger never had to play from weakness the way Li dd. He did have (or felt he had) to make deals, and to bear the acrimony.   "But appeasement is also politically risky," Kissinger writes, "and [threatens?] social cohesion.  For it requires the public to retain confidence in its leaders even as they appear to yield to the victors' demands."

Oh, perhaps I overdo here.  Perhaps Kissinger did not understand  he reflection when he wrote about Li; perhaps he merely saw it.  Either way, I suspect we are getting some of Kissinger's self-appraisal here, the taste of a summing-up.  And I'm actually only in the early chapters of the book; I look forward to much more of the same.

I do suspect that Buce is going to learn much more about Kissinger than he will learn about China…