Henry Kissinger warns Channel 4 News that if an Islamist government replaces Mubarak in Egypt that it would be a “fundamental change to the kind of world we have known since world war two”.
Dr Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, is regarded as one of the great movers and shakers of the modern political age. And one who knows what makes the Middle East tick.
He’s the man who famously brokered the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, which had begun when Egypt and Syria had attacked Israel. Those negotiations helped set the course for US foreign policy in the Middle East.
A course that meant support for Israel, support for a pro-western Egypt and helping to underwrite the co-existence of the fractious elements that make up Middle Eastern politics. Until the present Egyptian protests of course.
Read the full transcript of my interview him below:
Events in Egypt are now going to take sort of a prescribed course, which we shouldn’t try to influence from the outside.
I believe that the army has obviously decided that he should go, and so it’s only a question of modalities by which they can arrange his departure.
This will mean a period of enormous uncertainty, because the crowds that are now producing this upheaval and this revolution are united in their desire to get rid of Mubarak. But clearly they have not developed an idea of what direction Egypt should go.
They have not developed an idea of what direction Egypt should go.
The struggle as to that direction will begin with the departure of Mubarak and that is what we should be thinking about.
Why are you reluctant to influence the situation when America has clearly been influencing the situation for decades? America’s been propping the Egyptian regime up?
America has been allied with Mubarak. I was in office when the switch of Egypt from the Soviet Alliance to America occurred. I was not in office during the Mubarak period. But I remember the enormous relief strategically when his leadership joined more or less our side.
So for the US to be friendly to Mubarak was not an unusual event. Now what do we mean by we supported him? He had made a peace agreement with Israel, he had moved from the purchase of Soviet weapons to American weapons. On the whole he was an element of moderation in the region – what did we do to support him beyond that?
We didn’t have the choice between stability and democracy. We’re talking now about five American administrations composed of Presidents Reagan, two President Bushs and two administrations of President Clinton – a whole variety of Secretary of States. They all seem to have come to parallel conclusions which was what was done in relation to Egypt was on balance the better course.
Hasn’t that left America on the wrong side of history? Millions of people demonstrating for democracy against an ally of the United States?
Now wait a minute, let’s not delude ourselves. We do not know what they’re demonstrating for. What they’re calling democracy is a change of regime, possibly of leader, possibly a change of system. That does not necessarily make what they want a democratic answer.
Let’s not delude ourselves. We do not know what they’re demonstrating for. What they’re calling democracy is a change of regime, possibly of leader, possibly a change of system. That does not necessarily make what they want a democratic answer.
I don’t know what they want. I think that is going to be the decisive issue, and it’s an issue the Egyptian people are going to have to decide. It’s not something America can decide.
America’s almost had more influence than the Egyptian people for decades, given how much military and financial aid it’s given the Egyptian government.
If you look at the series of crisis that the US has had to go through the 1980s, 1990s and the other period, your proposition that we should have withheld economic aid from Egypt in order to get what? Did we know what democracy was in Egypt?
Isn’t it a kind of presumption to assume that the US is asked at one and the same time to withdraw and at the same time engage itself in every country of the world? Retrospectively introducing democracy?
It would have been better if Mubarak had left five or ten years earlier, but one has to look at it in the terms of the choices that were actually available to American leaders. Not in terms of what professors might teach at universities.
What do you think the dangers are now? You sound a little fearful of what might come out of this?
No. I think we should realise, understand what is going on. What is going on is the classical pattern of revolution. Revolutions occur by the coming together of resentments. After that the problem becomes to establish authorities and a sense of direction. There are many possibilities. There could be an Islamic direction. There could be a secular progressive direction, or there could simply be a quest for authority. We won’t know this until social groups and parties begin to form.
Insofar as our influence, it should be in the direction of secular moderation and of the greatest share of the public in forming decisions. But we should realise that as a result of this upheaval the American influence in the day to day events will be reduced, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not fearful.
We should realise that as a result of this upheaval the American influence in the day to day events will be reduced, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
We have to face the facts of what will be significant strategic change in the region. It’s impact on the other countries. Its impact on the perception for the role of America and of the West and I of course believe and hope that this will move in a constructive direction. I think that the American Government has behaved skilfully and thoughtfully during this immediate period.
If there is a more Islamic flavour to whatever regime emerges from this, people in Israel will be very fearful? They will be fearful that the peace that you began thirty years ago will break down.
The impact on Israel will be one of the problems. The border with Gaza – a whole range of issues because Egypt under Mubarak has been very restrained on the Arab-Israeli issues and I would expect it would become a much more assertive partner. The greater impact will be the more short range impact – in countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf, the whole structure of what has been the West’s position in the regime which will now be squeezed from Iran and from what may happen in Egypt
But Egypt also has a possibility to move it in a very positive direction so I think there are opportunities for the West, for America and Europe and especially for America and Europe working together in moving this into a constructive direction.
But we shouldn’t delude ourselves that a moment of exultation is a foreign policy.
So you do believe there could be a domino affect? Would you expect Jordan to be next?
It’s not in our interest that Jordan be next, or Saudi Arabia be next. It is in our interest to have governments in that region that respond to their public’s aspirations and to hope that those public aspirations will be moderate and not radical, that they would be secular and not Islamist but we really don’t know if that is the case.
If it’s not the case, if the will of the people is that they are not a secular state but they are more Islamic state – that they are not an ally of the United States of the West but oppositional towards it. What then?
Well there is something between being an ally and being in opposition to the United States. It’s conceivable that governments emerge that will deal with issues on a pragmatic basis as they arrive, but if the contingency that you describe where to arise that Islamic governments appear in opposition to the West – and following some of the foreign policy of say of the Iranian government – than that would be a fundamental change in the kind of world that we have known since the end of World War Two.
We would have duty to begin living with it and to understand it, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves that this would not be a radical change in the international environment.
‘It would be a fundamental change in the kind of world that we have known since the end of World War Two.’
It would have a big impact on the evolution of Asia, which is also redefining a new position in the world and a constant, objectively, leaving aside the internal structure – a constant decline of the west is going to have international consequences, even if your argument is right that it’s partly our own fault.
At the end of the day, there will be some people who will conclude that for all the grand talk of recent presidents of America being the champion of democracy around the world, what this series of revolutions is proving that America is anything but. That America prefers stable despots to unstable democracies.
But that would be a very simple-minded statement.
Because the way this issue usually comes up is in the midst of very fast evolving situations. Because if you carry this argument to its conclusion it means the United States should be a principle revolutionary force in the world overthrowing governments while being castigated, especially in Europe, of being too interventionist with its military forces. We can’t have it both ways.
It’s not the worst crime in the world to say that an American policy brought about 30 years of stability, which it did.
So it’s not the worst crime in the world to say that an American policy brought about 30 years of stability, which it did. One wishes that it would have been more responsive to evolutionary forces. And we will have to see what happens now, the fact that there is a revolution doesn’t necessarily always mean that the United States is at fault or that the United States could have avoided.
You have to ask specifically, what exactly should the United States have done? Cut off aid?