Last week, The Nation and The National Interest held a public discussion to explore whether these days foreign policy realists of the right could make common cause with foreign policy idealists of the left. (The event was titled, “Beyond Neocons and Neolibs: Can Realism Bridge Left and Right” and can be viewed here.) After all, both groups share an opposition to the messianic crusaderism and bullying interventionism of the neocons that has yielded the Iraq war. Speaking for the left were Kai Bird, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Sherle Schwenninger, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute and a regular contributor to The Nation. The hardheaded crowd was represented by Dov Zakheim, an undersecretary of defense from 2001 to 2004 and now a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton (who supported the invasion of Iraq), and Dmitri Simes, a former Nixon adviser and now publisher of The National Interest
The presentation showed there was not a lot of territory to share. In his opening remarks, Bird noted that Henry Kissinger had been wrong about everything, and he referred to Vietnam and the US support of the military junta that in 1973 overthrew Salvador Allende, a democratically elected socialist, in Chile. Invoking Kissinger as the embodiment of all that has been wrong with U.S. foreign policy for decades was a deep insult to the conservative realists. Kissinger is the honorary chairman of The National Interest. Bird’s salvo prompted Zakheim to defend Kissinger, particularly on Chile. (Nixon and Kissinger, via the CIA, had backed efforts to topple Allende.) “Chile,” Zakheim said, “doesn’t look to me like a failure….Quite a success. It wasn’t doing that well in the 1970s.” Simes then chimed in: “I’m not appalled by what Kissinger and Nixon have done in Chile. I’m not aware of them ever endorsing torture.”
There’s realism; then there’s callousness. More than 3,000 Chileans were killed by the junta that was encouraged and then supported by Nixon and Kissinger; millions of Chileans lost all their political rights for years, as well. That’s hardly “quite a success.” And Simes is wrong to suggest that Kissinger was unaware of the abuses of the Chilean regime. The coup occurred on September 11, 1973. A quick search at the website of the National Security Archive, a nonprofit outfit, produced a November 16, 1973 cable from Jack Kubisch, the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, to Secretary of State Kissinger that noted that the Chilean junta had carried out “summary, on-the-spot executions.” The cable also reported that military and police units had engaged in the “rather frequent use of random violence” in the post-coup days.