SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Henry Kissinger was a scholar before he became a mover and shaker. And in a new book, he traces the idea of order and world affairs - how nations try to establish systems to make the world a more orderly place. It usually doesn't work out that way for long. His new book, "World Order," stretches from China under to the emperors, the treaties of Europe to the pivotal position of Russia and Iran today. We spoke with the former secretary of state last week shortly after news that James Foley - the U.S. journalist - had been beheaded by militants from the Islamic State also known as ISIS. Mr. Kissinger said that in all the crises roiling the world, the U.S. shouldn't lose focus on Iran.
HENRY KISSINGER: There have come into being a kind of a Shia-belt from Tehran through Baghdad to Beirut. And this gives Iran the opportunity to reconstruct the ancient Persian Empire, this time under a Shia label. From a geo-strategic point of view, I consider Iran a bigger problem than ISIS. ISIS is a group of adventurers with a very aggressive ideology. But they have to conquer more and more territory before they can become a geo-strategic, permanent reality. I think a conflict with ISIS - important as it is - is more manageable than a confrontation with Iran.
SIMON: What would you do about ISIS?
KISSINGER: They have cut the throat of an American on television. This is an insult to the United States, which requires that we demonstrate that this is not an act that is free. I would strongly favor a strong attack on ISIS for a period that is related to the murder of the American. Then, we have to go into the long-range problem. I think when we're dealing with a unit like ISIS, we should not get into a position where they can lead us by establishing ground forces. But we should set strategic objectives where we thwart any goal they set themselves, which we should be able to do by superior air power. And then if we can enlist other countries or other more local groups to do the ground fighting, we might actually destroy them.
SIMON: Let me ask you about a couple of other areas of the world. You spent a considerable time in this book writing about what you call the Russian enigma. What's your reading of what Vladimir Putin's Russia wants?
KISSINGER: The attitude of the West and of Russia towards a crisis like Ukraine is diametrically different. The West is trying to establish the legality of any established border. For Russia, Ukraine is part of the Russian patrimony. A Russian state was created around Kiev about 1,200 years ago. Ukraine itself has been part of Russia for 500 years, and I would say most Russians consider it of Russian patrimony. The ideal solution would be to have a Ukraine like Finland or Austria that can be a bridge between these two rather than an outpost.
SIMON: Mr. Kissinger, every time we interview you, we hear from people who object, who say they have no interest in your opinion because of your role during the war in Vietnam, especially the bombing of Cambodia and Laos. How do you answer that?
KISSINGER: They should study what is going on. I think we would find, if you study the conduct of guerilla-type wars, that the Obama Administration has hit more targets on a broader scale than the Nixon Administration ever did.
SIMON: Is there not, though, a difference between a drone attack and carpet bombing?
KISSINGER: Of course. When you - B-52s have a different bombing pattern. On the other hand, drones are far more deadly because they're much more accurate. And I think the principle is essentially the same. You attack locations where you believe people operate who are killing you. You do it in the most limited way possible. And I bet if one did an honest account, there are fewer civilian casualties in Cambodia than there have been from American drone attacks. The Vietnam War was a great tragedy for our country. And it is now far enough away so that one can study without using the slogans to see what's really happened. And I believe you would find - my position was that of the chief of staff of the president - that the decisions that were taken would almost certainly have been taken by those of you who are listening, faced with the same set of problems. And you would have done them with anguish, as we did them with anguish.
SIMON: Mr. Kissinger, a future question - do you think Hillary Clinton would be a good president?
KISSINGER: I know Hillary as a person. And as a personal friend, I would say yes, she'd be a good president. But she'd put me under a great conflict of interest if she were a candidate because I intend to support the Republicans.
SIMON: Well, I didn't ask it in a partisan way, just if she were to run and be elected, would you be comfortable with her as president of United States?
KISSINGER: Yes, I'd be comfortable with that president.
SIMON: Henry Kissinger. His new book - "World Order." Thanks so much for being with us.
KISSINGER: You've just lost me. I don't know how many friends.
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