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Kissinger calls Arab Spring a challenge for next administration

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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011
 

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."

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