10 Questions for Henry Kissinger

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger discusses China, Iraq and the music of Monty Python

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Marco Grob for TIME

Should America be afraid of China?
America needs to understand China, but it need not be afraid of China.

Why not?
China and the U.S. are afraid of certain tendencies in each other. China is afraid of America militarily surrounding it. America is afraid that China wants to dominate Asia and in effect push us out. I think we should find common projects on which we can work together, that create a sense of cooperation and community, so that the issue of confrontation will arise in relationship to specific practical cooperative projects rather than strategic confrontations.

In your book On China you seem to favor China's appetite for patience when it comes to foreign relations over America's affection for the pre-emptive strike.
That isn't true. What I say is, Americans, based on our history, have found most problems soluble. When an issue arises, we think it can be solved, and then it goes away. That's in part because our history has been short and very successful. The Chinese history goes back thousands of years, and in their mind, no problem has a final solution; every solution is an admission ticket to another problem. For the Chinese, history is a living reality. That's the psychological difference. But I don't attach value judgments.

Is your rosy view of China informed by your firm's work for the Chinese government?
We do not take any government as a client — anywhere. And we take no money from the Chinese government or any Chinese sources.

Do you feel optimistic about the so-called Arab Spring?
It's a tremendous historical event. I don't believe it is necessarily or as yet a democratic revolution. The challenge we have now is to see how we can contribute to a democratic evolution that is in the first scene of the first act of a five-act play.

Knowing that regime change is possible in that region without foreign intervention, do you think the U.S. could have simply waited a few years on Iraq?
I supported going into Iraq, as did four-fifths of the Congress, even though they've forgotten that today. As a general proposition, I do not believe military force should be used for regime change. But one always has to adjust this to specific circumstances.

And now?
It may turn out that Iraq will be the only country in the region with a representative government. But would I have recommended fighting for 10 years in order to achieve this? I would have said no.

Is the U.S. not a member of the International Criminal Court because former Secretaries of State like yourself might face prosecution?
The reason we are not a member of the international court is that the work is left to prosecutors who are drawn from a variety of countries who very often cannot understand what the issues are. I do not favor the International Criminal Court, but not even remotely out of fear for myself.

Do you ever wish you'd stuck with the first name Heinz?
[Laughs.] No. Not for a moment.

Artists from Monty Python to Bob Dylan have songs about you. Do you have a favorite?
This will be shocking to you: I don't know any of them.