But as 2014 limps to an end, there are reasons to question this mantra.
On several fronts, there are glimmers of optimism about easing decades-long confrontations in ways that would strengthen the coalition against the group that calls itself the Islamic State.
Building on a partial deal reached last month that permitted the Kurds to legally sell 150,000 barrels of oil a day through a pipeline to Turkey, the new agreement will allow the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to sell 550,000 barrels of oil a day, including 300,000 from the disputed Kirkuk region. The KRG and the central Iraqi government will split the revenue.
The decision to prolong last year's interim agreement for another seven months – the best negotiators could achieve after yet another round of high-level diplomacy in Vienna – will keep Iran from amassing the fissile material for a nuclear weapon without a significant easing of sanctions or breakthrough in U.S.-Iran ties.
Kissinger returns to Harvard University this week, where he first made his mark as a brilliant young student and professor, following his service in World War II. He will talk with students about his most challenging negotiations with China's Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, the Soviet Union's Leonid Brezhnev and the leaders of Israel, Syria, and Egypt after the October War of 1973.