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June 2012

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The Limits of Universalism
by Henry A. Kissinger, former Secretary of State
Text: http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-limits-of-universalism-7397
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor

In remarks at the 30th anniversary gala of The New Criterion magazine, Henry Kissinger advocated a Burkean approach to foreign policy. "Values," he said, "are universal, but generally have to be implemented as part of a process."

Neither pure realism or idealism, Kissinger said, "meet the Burkean test of accounting for the full variety of human experience and the complexity of statesmanship." Foreign policy is shaped by a country's cultural inheritances, including its history, values, instincts, and ideals.

For Kissinger, a prudent and successful foreign policy eschews the desire for perfection or permanent solutions. He approvingly quoted Bismarck: "The best a statesman can do is listen carefully to the footsteps of God, get ahold of the hem of His cloak and walk with Him a few steps of the way."

Too often U.S. policymakers have sought ideal outcomes to international disputes and ended up exhausting the country and undermining our interests, as in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Kissinger fears that we are making the same mistake in our reaction to the "Arab Spring" in the Middle East and North Africa.

"We will be less frequently disillusioned," he concluded, "if we emphasize a foreign policy designed to accumulate nuance rather than triumph through apocalyptic showdowns, and our values will benefit over the long term."bluestar

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