Henry Kissinger has been called many names over the years.  But Atlantic Council president and CEO may have found a new one last night after the conclusion of Kissinger’s Makins LectureOptimist.


To be sure, the venerable diplomat is still an old school Realist, insisting on judging foreign policy by inconvenient facts and pointing out that diplomacy requires more than sitting down to chat and that our preferences are not always achievable.  Further, he believes our global political and economic institutions are “out of phase” and that we won’t get out of the current crisis until we realign them.

At the systemic level, however, he’s incredibly bullish.  If we play our cards right, we are about to “enter an extraordinarily creative period.”

For the first time in living memory, we have an international great power consensus on the major goals, albeit with differences in how to go about achieving them.  With respect to the global financial crisis, “no major country believes they benefit from the crisis or deliberately undermining the international system.”   Further, the crisis is in at least one way a blessing: with resources shrinking, “no country believes it can solve its own problems” without international cooperation.   This will force states to align their priorities with others, ultimately leading to necessary restructuring of the global system.

Other problem areas have the seeds of resolution, too. 

He’s “hopeful” about Iraq.  

While he’s pessimistic about our chances of achieving our goals in Afghanistan, he believes that “we can not avoid reassessing Afghanistan” in the light of what is possible; for a Realist, that counts as optimism. 

As to our potential great power rivals, he believes both Russia and China have “an enormous appetite for dialog” and that we will come to a mutually beneficial accomodation.


James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

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