It pains me to take issue in any degree with my very esteemed friend Henry Kissinger, with whose foreign-policy views I have almost always agreed, but I think some degree of intervention in Syria is justified. Dr. Kissinger wrote otherwise in the Washington Post recently and invoked the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. I have had the opportunity to discuss his column briefly with him. As he wrote, that war may have killed as many as a third of the people of Central Europe, and “competing dynasties” did send “armies across political borders to impose religious norms.” But as he well knows, there was a good deal more to it than that, and the central event was that the French leader, Cardinal Richelieu — generally reckoned the most astute statesman, with Bismarck, in the modern history of continental Europe — recruited the Lutheran Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, to carry havoc into Catholic Central Europe and specifically to atomize Germany and confound the Habsburg (Holy Roman) Empire in Vienna. Richelieu was chiefly interested in sundering Germany into as many pieces as possible, and confounding the Holy Roman Empire, in order to assure the preeminence of France in Western Europe.
Richelieu’s cynicism shocked his contemporaries. It was he, largely, who composed the treaty of Westphalia and left his outline to his successor, Cardinal Mazarin. Richelieu died in 1642, causing the then-pope, Urban VIII, to observe that “if there is a God, the cardinal will have much to answer for; if there is not, then he was a great man.” Richelieu’s, and Westphalia’s, argument against international intervention was generally a convenience to reinforce the fragmentation of Germany into 300 self-governing entities, not a rigorous espousal of the sanctity of national borders. Wars continued in Europe at their traditional pace, challenging national boundaries, though not on such a general and destructive scale for 150 years. Richelieu, like subsequent European leaders from Napoleon to Metternich, Stalin, de Gaulle, and Margaret Thatcher, realized that a united Germany could dominate Western and Central Europe. The former and future British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, said that, quite prophetically, when Bismarck undid Richelieu’s work and founded the German Empire in 1871. The truthfulness of that view is not the least important element of the current economic crisis in Europe. I don’t think Westphalia really applies to Syria.
Dr. Kissinger must be correct that there should be a defined and agreed international standard for defining humanitarian outrages (and levels of collapse of failed states) that justify interventions to save the lives of large numbers of people; the world should not have tolerated the massacres of millions of innocents in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur, as it did not tolerate what would have happened in the former Yugoslavia in the absence of Western intervention. It was to Senator Robert Dole’s (and America’s) credit when he forced President Clinton’s hand with the lift (the embargo) and strike (the Serbian aggressors from the air) resolution in response to the unctuous European acquiescence in the ethnic cleansing of Yugoslavian Muslims. Scores of thousands of lives were undoubtedly saved. Such a standard might have to be worked out despite the opposition of China and Russia, which are engaged in ethnic cleansing of their own and object to the principle of righteous international intervention, as they could be afoul of it, however improbable it may be that any countries would attempt such a course with such formidable nations. But both of them had foreign armies on their soil in living memory.