Share This Page

Kissinger calls Arab Spring a challenge for next administration

The Arab Spring uprisings that have deposed Middle East dictators from Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi kicked off a long and perilous transformation of a volatile region, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said on Wednesday in Oakland.

"The excitement of the first month is the end of the first scene of the first act of a five-act drama," Kissinger told a nearly full house at the Carnegie Music Hall during an evening event titled, "Kissinger: A Conversation with History's Indispensable Man," sponsored by the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute -- soon to be the American Middle East Institute.

In countries like Libya, where tribal and religious factions have been repressed for decades under a strongman's thumb, this sudden release could lead to "a war of all against all," Kissinger said.

"The next administration, whoever wins, is going to have a very complicated challenge," not least of which is how to advance the peace process between Israel and Palestine with surrounding governments in upheaval, he said.

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill introduced Kissinger, and former Pennsylvania Gov. and U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh shared the stage with him, 30 years after Kissinger helped him raise money for his re-election campaign. The event followed the institute's business roundtable Downtown with dignitaries from the Middle East.

Kissinger, 88, served as secretary of State from 1973-77, National Security advisor from 1969-75, and as a presidential appointee to foreign policy and defense advisory boards since the 1980s. A native of Germany, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 and has helped shape U.S. foreign policy since the 1950s.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Kissinger warned against a nationalist backlash to the rise of China, which he visited in secret to lay the groundwork for President Richard M. Nixon's historic visit, and said he was "horrified" by the WikiLeaks disclosure of hundreds of thousands of American military and diplomatic cables.

"It destroys the context in which serious diplomatic work can be done," Kissinger said. Earlier, he lamented the loss of trust that he said used to underlie policy debates.

"We have fallen into the habit of conducting our public debates not on the issues but on motives," he said.

Fifteen protesters, most of them carrying signs accusing Kissinger of war crimes for, among other things, his role in advising Nixon during the Vietnam War, lined the sidewalk outside the museum.

Kissinger called Vietnam "a painful subject" and said "nobody could have had a greater incentive to end the war" than Nixon's incoming administration. Nixon decided the United States could not abandon a government that a previous administration had committed to.

"Serious people on both sides were arguing a question that really depended on an assessment of the role of America in the world," Kissinger said. "That was the underlying issue, and it is often the underlying issue now."

One protester interrupted Kissinger, yelling down from the balcony that he was a murderer and saying he "doesn't deserve a voice."

Once security escorted the protester out, Kissinger said, "I certainly don't leave them indifferent."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.