U.S. needs bipartisan foreign policy: Kissinger

Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger says the United States needs to restore unity in its foreign policy by developing a bipartisan approach once the divisive presidential election race ends this fall.

Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger says the United States needs to restore national unity to its foreign policy by developing a bipartisan approach once the divisive presidential election race ends this fall.

Kissinger strongly backs Republican John McCain but says leaders of both sides agree the United States needs a new consensus no matter who wins.

"Those who have seen this now for a few decades will make an effort to come together to give it a direction which unifies our people, and hopefully as many of the rest of the world we can convince to come with us," he said in a speech to the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal on Wednesday.

Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger arrives at the International Economic Forum of the Americas, held in Montreal this week. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))
Missing from the U.S. is the "common enterprise" that was evident when he was a graduate student at Harvard University in the early 1950s, Kissinger said.

A schism was caused by the Vietnam War that prompted opponents to launch very personal attacks and accuse people of selling out the country, he noted.

Much of the same vitriol is in evidence today over the United States' invasion of Iraq.

The 85-year-old former official in the administrations of U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford applauded Canada's efforts in Afghanistan.

"One admires the role that Canada has played in that instance," he said, later telling reporters that he's always looked at Canada as a friend.

"Sometimes we differ and sometimes we can learn from Canada."

Critical of Obama

Kissinger said he's optimistic a solution can be found in the troubled Middle East.

In Iraq, a conference of foreign ministers of neighbouring states and members of the United Nations Security Council could develop an agreement to stop feeding the civil war, he told reporters.

"But if one begins by announcing a withdrawal of troops on a fixed deadline" — as proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama — "then one is giving the radicals a target against which one changes the whole situation."

Kissinger said the world has changed after a long period dominated by national states. Now, European countries are freely ceding much of their sovereignty to the European Union and aren't in the same position to ask their citizens to sacrifice for the common good.

The Middle East is composed of countries whose boundaries were artificial creations after the First World War and hold no real meaning, Kissinger said.

Consequently, there's no outcome of the Iraq war based purely on a national basis, he said.

Fundamentalist radical Islam seeks to sweep aside borders and institutions, he said. A big victory in one country would spread to Afghanistan and Pakistan before advancing to neighbouring states including India, which has the world's third-largest Muslim population.

That's the crux of the debate, Kissinger said.

"It isn't who is for war and who isn't for war. It isn't who is for peace or who is against peace, it's how you visualize the nature of peace, in what way you can create a structure that will prevent a continuation of the conflicts that we have seen."

The protest group Raging Grannies demonstrated peacefully outside the Montreal hotel where Kissinger spoke. ((Corinne Smith/CBC))
A third influence is the rise of Asia as the world's new centre of gravity.

That doesn't mean China will replace the Soviet Union in a new cold war with the United States, he added.

Overlapping these varied geopolitical forces is a need for the world to work together to find solutions in key areas such as energy, environment, climate change and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Kissinger said the United States' influence in the world could be undermined by a protracted economic recession.

"It's important to turn the economic situation around as quickly as we can," he said after the speech.

Outside the downtown hotel where he was speaking, more than 50 protesters chanted and carried placards calling him a war criminal.

"He's a criminal," said Marguerite Bilodeau, 72, a member of the Raging Grannies. "He's meddled around with wars and many people have been killed because of him."

Kissinger has been the subject of legal proceedings in countries including France, Spain, Britain, Argentina and Chile for his roles in various bloody U.S. foreign-policy moves in the late 1960s and 1970s. His accusers, including British-American author Christopher Hitchens, argue he fomented genocide, war crimes and other atrocities during the Vietnam War, the Chilean coup of 1973 and the Indonesian repression of East Timor, among other events.