After visiting the Palace of Versailles outside Paris in the 1970s, reporters asked Henry Kissinger what the majestic Hall of Mirrors looked like, to which he replied that it was “extraordinary” because he was “surrounded by genius.”
For supporters, Henry Kissinger is indeed a diplomatic genius who continues to master the art of recognizing political reach like no other. To critics, he was a war criminal. For many, he and his political legacy fall somewhere in between.
More interested in the future than the past
During Kissinger’s time first as a foreign policy adviser and later as secretary of state to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, he contributed to the end of the Vietnam War, entering a détente with the Soviet Union, opening US relations with in China, overthrowing a democratically elected leader. and changing the borders of some countries. After he left office, he continued to offer “geopolitical consulting” to several undisclosed international leaders with his Kissinger Associates consulting firm.
Even 100 years after he was born Heinz Alfred Kissinger to a Jewish family in the Bavarian town of Fürth, Kissinger is seen as an international foreign policy heavyweight and contributes his geopolitical views to issues.
He has often warned of the dangers of artificial intelligence for the world. Putting AI in the same league as the danger from nuclear weapons, he warned his young peers that it was a “whole new problem.” A warning from a man who has seen everything.
‘The ends justify the means’
In the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kissinger created a stir by calling for a negotiated peace in November. His appeal comes at a time when Ukraine’s Western allies have just begun to increase their military aid to Kyiv.
While Kissinger argued that the upcoming talks were necessary to avoid another devastating world war, Kyiv accused him of “appeasing the aggressor.”
Ken Lieberthal, who worked with Kissinger on several occasions over the past decades, said the centenarian had a “clear view of what needs to be done” and “how to get from here to there. ” Kissinger’s approach required “a dispassionate assessment of capabilities,” Lieberthal explained. A devoted advocate of Realpolitik, Kissinger himself described his thinking about the conflict more bluntly: “the ends justify the means.”
The criticism of Ukraine left Kissinger undaunted. When it comes to dealing with Russia, Kissinger, who masterminded America’s détente policy in the 70s, can point to being on the brink of war with Russia itself. He later described detente as “a conflict management strategy with the Soviet Union” that bought both sides time for diplomacy and avoiding heated conflict.
In a remarkable change of mind, he is now backing Ukraine’s future membership in NATO after he concluded that “the idea of a neutral Ukraine in these conditions” “is no longer meaningful.”
But his willingness to look at the principles of international law and human rights is not the most important, but only a factor in his policy equations that human rights advocates around the world immediately became angry when they heard in his name. US Senator Bernie Sanders, a leader of the Left in American politics, said that “he is proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend” calling him “the most destructive secretary of state in modern history” in his Asian policies in the 1970s.
Leadership is like ‘crossing a tightrope’
Kissinger described his often controversial take on strategic leadership as “walking a tightrope” that was “suspended between the relative certainties of the past and the uncertainties of the future.”
Kissinger wrote about his decision-making process. It saw him initially conceal the bombing of Cambodia from the US public. The US sought to defeat the Viet Cong there but became the cause of the Khmer Rouge massacre, which is estimated to have killed more than 2 million people. He sought to secure a cease-fire that would end the Vietnam War. Both, he and his North Vietnamese counterpart, Le Duc Tho, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their plan. Only Kissinger accepted the award, and he tried to return the Prize when an attempt at a negotiated peace failed spectacularly with the fall of Saigon. The decisions he made along the way cost tens of thousands of lives in Vietnam, Cambodia and neighboring Laos.
Whenever Kissinger spoke in public, which he still does to this day, there is no doubt that he knew and was not afraid of the dire consequences of the action. National Archive documents from the 1970s, released 40 years ago, prove that he pressured Nixon to overthrow democratically elected President Salvador Allende in 1973 because he felt the “model effect in Chile would be insidious.” ” for US interests in the region. In doing so, Kissinger effectively enabled the rise of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet whose government killed and tortured thousands of people.
A lasting impact on US policy towards China
“He always thought in terms of some kind of balance of power,” Lieberthal said of Kissinger’s support for interventions in what should be democratic processes.
According to Lieberthal, Kissinger was driven by the calculation that “dominance in one country will produce efforts in others.” Avoiding the instability of such a chain reaction may be the reason Kissinger led the broker of Nixon’s historic recognition of China in 1972, a policy that continues to bind the US to a commitment to ” Taiwan is part of China.”
The tensions currently playing out in the Taiwan Strait and the fear of a war against Taiwan mark the extension of Kissinger’s US foreign policy leadership from the 70s to the present. Kissinger can claim to have recognized China’s trajectory toward a global power and systemic rival decades ahead of most of his peers.
An American legend with German origins
As Kissinger celebrates his 100th birthday on Saturday, politicians and scholars around the world will continue to debate the importance and impact of the policies passionately advocated by an American legend whose accented English continues to reveal of his German origin.
Edited by Sean Sinico