Leadership, Henry Kissinger writes in his latest book, is a medium by which a society moves from the past of its memory to the future of imagination. It is “indispensable.” As Kissinger says, “Decisions must be made, trust earned, promises kept, a way forward proposed.” Without leadership, ordinary people are, he argues, incapable of “reach[ing] from where they are to where they have never been and, sometimes, can scarcely imagine going.” But leadership is also, in Andrew Roberts’s phrase, “a ‘protean’ thing with little fixed definition.” Leadership is ultimately what leaders do; it goes in whatever direction they choose.Continue reading
‘Public history’ is something of a misnomer. The degree to which history which can influence policy is ‘public’ is a difficult question. E. H. Carr writes in his What Is History? that, when he was working in a junior capacity at the Paris peace conference in 1919, all the diplomats and their staffs took extra care to empty their wastepaper baskets. They were thinking of the discussions surrounding the peace treaty after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, and the history they used to inform their actions was a titbit of information about that time: that nefarious negotiators spied on their opposite numbers’ plans by going through their waste paper. Carr uses this to illustrate the fallacy of thinking one can ultimately ‘learn from history’ in a way which is total and all-encompassing. Each moment in time presents new and unique challenges. One cannot rely simply on knowing the past to know the present, or indeed to predict the future. Continue reading
There we have it. The date and time for Donald Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un are set.
It was announced when Trump’s newly appointed secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, returned from Pyongyang with three Americans who had been imprisoned in North Korea. The summit – an outbreak of diplomacy after the two countries traded threats last summer – will occur on June 12, in Singapore. Continue reading
The situation on the Korean peninsula has not been good for a long time. But the ceasefire agreed in the 1950s, following years of open warfare, seems more strained now than at any moment in recent memory. Continue reading
Review – Kissinger 1923–1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson
Henry Kissinger remains one of the world’s most controversial statesmen. He is a man who is, as Niall Ferguson states at the beginning of this new biography, covering the first 45 years of his subject’s life, both revered and reviled in equal measure. Kissinger is held up by some as a kind of seer, an intellectual without parallel in recent times; others declare – just as fiercely – that he has exercised an entirely corrosive influence on world affairs, that he is a war criminal – and, perhaps most oddly, that he is an agent of the shadowy forces which operate behind supposedly democratic nations to control the way the world really works. (The latter position is obviously ridiculous, but it is worth mentioning – not least because the risible imaginings of David Icke and his ilk can sometimes reflect the more vigorous denunciations of Kissinger which exist in significantly more acceptable circles.) There is one thing, however, on which both sides of this particular debate – which seeks to decide whether Kissinger is a hero or villain, a saint or sinner – appear to agree: that Kissinger was a realist, and a realist par excellence. Ferguson, however, takes a dramatically divergent view, one which is contained within his provocative subtitle. For him, Kissinger is (or at least was) an idealist, which represents the exact opposite of much of the popular and scholarly perception of Kissinger’s life and his work. It appears that everyone else has got the man entirely wrong. Continue reading