Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said geopolitics today requires "Nixonian flexibility" to help defuse conflicts between the US and China as well as between Russia and the rest of Europe.
While warning that China shouldn't become a global hegemon, the man who helped reestablish US-China ties in the 1970s said that President Joe Biden should be wary of letting domestic politics interfere with "the importance of understanding the permanence of China."
"Biden and previous administrations have been too much influenced by the domestic aspects of the view of China," Kissinger, 99, said in an interview Tuesday in New York with Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait. "It is, of course, important to prevent Chinese or any other country's hegemony."
But "that is not something that can be achieved by endless confrontations," he added in the interview produced by Intelligence Squared US and How To Academy. He's previously said the increasingly adversarial relations between the US and China risk a global "catastrophe comparable to World War I."
Former President Richard Nixon campaigned in the 1960s as a vehement anti-Communist, yet surprised many of his supporters by deciding to engage Mao Zedong's China and visit Beijing in 1972 on a trip that became a historic turning point for both nations.
Geopolitics and great-power relations are a central theme of Kissinger's new book, "Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy," that focuses on six key leaders: Germany's Konrad Adenauer, France's Charles de Gaulle, Nixon, Egypt's Anwar Sadat, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Singapore's influential first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
In his near-century of life, Kissinger has known all six of the leaders whose examples he cites, and through his advisory firm he continues to be a sought-out voice on global affairs from Beijing to Washington.
Reviewing the performance of today's European leaders from France's Emmanuel Macron to Germany's Olaf Scholz, Kissinger said it made him sad that current "European leadership does not have the sense of direction and mission" that previous heads of state, such as Adenauer and de Gaulle, brought to their roles.
On Europe's biggest crisis -- Russia's war in Ukraine -- Kissinger said comments he made earlier this year about the starting point for a negotiated end to the war have been misreported. Saying he thinks the timing for talks is getting closer, he said discussions about Crimea's future should be left for negotiations, not determined before the conflict is paused. Crimea was Ukraine's territory before Russia seized it in 2014.
And on the turmoil of Brexit, Kissinger said de Gaulle's view -- that Great Britain "would never be a wholehearted member of the European community" -- has proven justified.
Asked how the leaders portrayed in his book would fare in today's world, Kissinger said Singapore's Lee would be the best of the six to serve as US president, if such a thing were possible, and also the best at dealing with the long-term challenge of climate change.
Pressed on who would be the strongest negotiator with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kissinger opted for France's de Gaulle, then added "Nixon would be quite good."
Nixon was "a very good foreign-policy president. He destroyed himself domestically," Kissinger said.
On a less weighty issue, Kissinger said Thatcher, the British "Iron Lady" who faced down labour unions at home and Argentina's dictatorship abroad while becoming her nation's longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century, would be his pick for most interesting dinner companion.
"Brave man," responded Micklethwait.
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Bloomberg, and is published by special syndication arrangement