Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said Sunday the US must launch an “all-out attack” on Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, and criticized President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, which he said demoted the US’s role in the Middle East.
In an interview with the Sunday Times (paywall), the 91-year-old ex-diplomat also addressed his role in the emigration of Soviet Jewry, and maintained he was unaware of president Nixon’s alleged anti-Semitism.
On the Islamic State, Kissinger castigated the US’s limited strikes and the ongoing discussion on whether to increase the attacks, and said: “There can’t be any debate anymore about fighting them.”
“We should launch an all-out attack on them,” he said, in reference to the jihadists, whom he referred to as “an insult to our values and to our society.” However, while calling for a “very significant retaliation,” Kissinger added that such an operation should be “of limited duration as a punitive measure.”
Kissinger said the US strikes ought to be “very substantial — on most known targets — and I would not make any distinction between Syria and Iraq.
“You can’t go through public agonies over what you will not do or what you will do… whether Syria is part of it, or Syria’s not part of it.
“In my view, this should have happened already,” he continued.
On Saturday, in an interview with NPR, Kissinger made a similar appeal for a US attack on the Islamists, but emphasized that Iran posed a more significant threat to the West than the Islamic State.
“I consider Iran a bigger problem than ISIS. ISIS is a group of adventurers with a very aggressive ideology. But they have to conquer more and more territory before they can become a strategic, permanent reality. I think a conflict with ISIS — important as it is — is more manageable than a confrontation with Iran,” he added.
Under Obama’s leadership, Kissinger said Sunday, “we have made ourselves bystanders” in the Middle East — a position that should be reversed. He added, with regard to the US president’s stance on Russia, that Obama does not understand Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said: “I don’t know whether psychological understanding of others is what he will be known in history for.”
While the US cannot force its positions on others, Kissinger said, American intervention is nonetheless crucial in creating “a new order.
“We don’t have the power to impose our preferences but without us, and without some leadership from us, the new order cannot be created,” continued Kissinger.
During the interview, Kissinger also challenged those who maintained he did not care for human rights, and defended his position on the emigration of Soviet Jewry.
“When you have lived in a country as a discriminated minority, excluded from public places, all the aspects of segregation, and had many members of your family killed, it would be amazing if you disregarded human rights,” Kissinger declared.
“But fate placed me in a position where American security had to be my task. What you could say publicly was more limited than what you might do in other respects. We brought Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union up from 700 a year to nearly 40,000, but as a quiet diplomatic approach, not as a public confrontation with Moscow,” he said.
Kissinger was a staunch opponent of the vocal protests in the US to pressure the Soviet government to allow the emigration of its Jewish population throughout the 1970s and 1980s, opting instead for quiet diplomacy.
The German immigrant, who narrowly escaped the Nazis, said in 1973: “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.” Kissinger later apologized for his remarks in a 2010 column in The Washington Post.
The former diplomat said he did not know Nixon to make disparaging remarks about Jews. “He certainly didn’t express it in the context of foreign policy and nor in his personal conduct towards me,” he said.