Monday, November 17, 2008

Chutzpah We Can Believe In

This is not the first time I have committed a Chutzpah of the Week award at the very beginning of the week. I always worry that such a commitment will be overridden by some greater act of chutzpah before the week has ended. However, since Henry Kissinger has been off my chutzpah radar for well over a year, it is hard for me to resist the opportunity to get him back on the beam. Ironically, his only past award was granted on a Wednesday, thus also raising the question of whether or not he would be trumped before the end of the week. He sustained the challenge than, and I suspect he will do the same this week.

The site for this week's award is the meeting of the World Economic Forum, which may provide even more fertile ground for the cultivation of chutzpah than our own District of Columbia does. What other gathering has consistently hosted and honored a delegate wanted as a war criminal by a sovereign nation, as if positive media attention had the power to dismiss the charges pending against him? On the other hand had this week's gathering in India not provided Kissinger with an opportunity to speak to the world, I might have missed out on his act of chutzpah, because the core of the act resided in his speech. As reported from New Delhi by James Lamont (assisted by Andrew Ward in Washington) for the Financial Times, Kissinger used his Forum speech to endorse the appointment of Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State!

Consider the perspective behind this act. The deterioration of the status of the United States in the eyes of other countries was probably not the factor that decided Barack Obama's election to the Presidency; but it was a factor that attracted considerable attention in our own country, as well as overseas. From a historical point of view, that deterioration can probably be traced back to the Vietnam War; and, while Kissinger was not directly responsible for getting us into that mess, he was responsible for many decisions that did little more than make things worse. One of those decisions involved the invasion of Cambodia and now provides the primary grounds for his war criminal charges. Nevertheless, his power to advise Presidents continued and grew even to a level of authority in the current Administration, through which our country's degraded state could no longer escape attention. Within this context he now presumes to offer to the President Elect his thoughts on the future Department of State!

Needless to say, Kissinger is not the sort of person to do anything without a motive; so we have to wonder what is really going on with this act. It would be too trivial to dismiss this as the act of a wise man in his dotage trying to show the world that he is as wise as ever. My guess is that it is actually the act of an old man who has become afraid of ghosts, and the specific ghost I have in mind is that of Augusto Pinochet. International justice finally caught up with Pinochet, but it did not happen until he was close to death. Kissinger looks at Obama and sees a man who takes global relations seriously enough to reconsider our country's participation in the International Criminal Court (ICC). Were that to be the case, our country would recognize the authority of the ICC to subpoena Kissinger to face charges filed by the Cambodian government, a fate from which he has been protected by the Bush Administration. Does Kissinger see Clinton as an ally in keeping that protection intact; and, if that perception is accurate, what would that say about Clinton's ability to restore the reputation of the United States as an "honest broker" in global deliberations?

Kissinger's self-insertion into the shaping of the Obama Cabinet counts as chutzpah for all the right reasons. However, in doing so, his chutzpah may have brought attention to a serious argument against Clinton's qualifications to represent the Obama Administration as Secretary of State. Thus of us who relish irony might enjoy hoping that Kissinger's little act of pretention might, by exposing a previously unnoticed flaw in Clinton's ideology, ultimately lead to that very confrontation with the ICC that he has been trying to avoid for so many years.

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