The conservative challenge : Henry Kissinger and the ideological crisis of American foreign policy
When the first Nixon Administration took office, all the main conditions that make foreign policy innovation likely were present in an acute form: a combination of external and domestic crises coupled with widespread political self-doubt and unrest. There were essentially two alternatives for the new Administration: First, to implement a 'holding operation' that would preserve the key features of the conservative-realist definition of the US national interest, but would also include tactical adjustments to a changed environment that demanded - at least temporarily -a more differentiated policy of global containment. The second option open to the Nixon-Kissinger team was to set in motion a process of redefinition of the prevailing notions of national interest and security, and of the objectives of US foreign policy, questioning the basic (conservative-realist) ideological presuppositions that had guided this policy until the Vietnam debacle, and also the role played by the 'liberal' ideological discourse as a legitimating device disconnected from US actions - particularly in the Third World. The central thesis of the study is that substantial ideological innovation - not merely a change in tactics - was feasible and also necessary at the time in order to avoid a repetition of costly mistakes, to relate the US to emerging forces in world politics, and to restore an equilibrium between the ethical values that give cohesion to a free society and its actions abroad. Kissinger brought to office a conceptual framework that allowed him to impose significant coherence upon US foreign policy, but which also made it extremely difficult for him and Nixon to introduce the ideological innovations called for by the Vietnam experience. In this study four themes intertwine: (1) a consideration of the nature and functions of ideology in politics; (2) a characterization of US foreign policy ideology; (3) a discussion of the problem of innovation in the field of foreign policy; (4) an analysis of Kissinger's political thought and the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy strategy. The conclusion is reached that under Nixon and Kissinger the conservative-realist aspect of US foreign policy ideology reached a higher point of political maturity and sophistication, without in any fundamental sense deviating from the assumptions about US aims and security interests that took America into Vietnam.