Kissinger-ing Up

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Henry Kissinger has written a real valentine to Barack Obama in today’s Washington Post.:

It took courage for the president-elect to choose this constellation and no little inner assurance — both qualities essential for dealing with the challenge of distilling order out of a fragmenting international system.

That Kissinger–who prides himself on being a source of indispensable counsel to American Presidents–might want to butter up the new guy is understandable. After all, it was only a couple of months ago that he was allowing the McCain campaign to issue–well, the word for it is a lie–under his name.:

McCain, responding to Obama, then mischaracterized what the Illinois senator had just said. He implied that Obama had said Kissinger approved of presidential level contacts with Iran. The Democrat did not say that.

Nevertheless, Kissinger later issued a statement to the Weekly Standard as if Obama had misspoken.

“Sen. McCain is right. I would not recommend the next president of the United States engage in talks with Iran at the presidential level. My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Sen. John McCain. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality.”

If you look at what Kissinger had said in that forum at George Washington University, you will see that Obama had not mischaracterized Kissinger’s comments. What Obama said was:

“Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who’s one of his advisers, who, along with five recent secretaries of state, just said that we should meet with Iran — guess what — without precondition. This is one of your own advisers.”

Indeed, the precise quote from Kissinger at that forum was:

Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we — we know we’re dealing with authentic — with authentic proposals.

Later, asked if those contacts should be at a high level, Kissinger expanded on his earlier comment:

Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are — what the outcome is that you’re trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to.

Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They’ve never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we’re trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can’t achieve what we’re talking about?

But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government.

In other words, there was no daylight between Obama’s position and Kissinger’s on the question of opening up a dialogue with Iran. Yet, the statement put out by the McCain campaign under Kissinger’s name implied there was a big difference–and was aimed at making Obama look weak and naive. Maybe this op-ed is Kissinger’s way of saying he’s sorry.