86. Interview With the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is general discussion about the second annual report on foreign policy, released February 25, 1971.]

M. Kalb: Dr. Kissinger, in going through the report, and in discussing the basic philosophy of the foreign policy, time and again the word isolationism comes up. Now, one could easily get the impression that the President fears just over his shoulders this terrible specter of a nation turning in on itself. One, is that really a paramount fear in his mind and two, do you think it will happen?

Dr. Kissinger: This country has gone through a very searing experience in the last 25 years and particularly in the last decade. We went from isolationism in the pre-war period to total involvement overseas, in a way in which problems in almost every part in the world became a direct American responsibility which [and?] we designed the programs around them with optimism, enthusiasm and dedication. Now in the ’60s and particularly the latter half of the ’60s, we came up against a number of situations that didn’t prove very attractive and many profound disappointments; the war in Viet Nam and many other things of that nature. So that is a danger that we will swing in the opposite direction, that having decided that too much involvement is wrong, we will go to little involvement. But we are too powerful and too important to withdraw and what the President attempts to do is to establish a balance to do the things that only we can do but not to do the things for others that they can and should do for themselves. There is some danger [Page 304] that disappointed idealism may turn into withdrawal and some of the most disillusioned people at the moment are precisely those groups who deserve the greatest credit for having shaped the previous period of foreign policy. We are concerned with the danger of withdrawal.

M. Kalb: Is it a fear of the right more than the left? Is this what he’s talking about here?

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t think you can characterize the American discussion on foreign policy primarily in terms of right and left. But for much of the post-war period we’ve had a bi-partisan foreign policy. And even today it doesn’t lend itself to such easy characterization but what we are trying to do is to steer a course that avoids extremes on either side of an unthinking, chauvinistic, self-righteous, American fortuitous mentality and on the other hand of a sort of undifferentiated involvement in international affairs in which we just multiply our commitment, so there is a fear of both of these extremes and an attempt to hold together the widest possible group that we can.

[Omitted here is discussion of the war in Vietnam.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 426, Subject File, Background Briefings, December 1970-December 1971. No classification marking. The interview took place on CBS Morning News. Interviewers included John Hart, Marvin Kalb, and Bernard Kalb.