Henry Kissinger is a political heavyweight. Of that there can be no doubt. Even the harshest of this US politician-come-guru, Henry Kissinger’s critics will have to admit that he is just that – a veteran in the ring of international geopolitics. Today, 27th May 2023, Henry Kissinger celebrates his 100th birthday. He is the only surviving member of the President Nixon administration and the oldest former US cabinet member. I would argue that he is one of the most important American veteran thought leaders in global terms with his only rival for the mantle of top spot in this regard, possibly being Noam Chomsky. In 2015 a survey ranked Kissinger as the most effective U.S. Secretary of State in the 50 years to 2015. In this article I will discuss some of his achievements and some of his failures and look at his importance in the field of geopolitics in the past, the present and into the future.
He was born to Jewish parents in Nazi Germany in 1923 and directly experienced the emerging brutality of political antisemitism under Adolf Hitler and the Nazis that led to the tragedy of the Holocaust. His family fled Germany in 1938 before the outbreak of World War 2 and migrated to the USA. Kissinger, a shy schoolboy in Manhattan, New York City, has never lost his German accent when speaking English. He became involved in the US military in World War 2, most notably, using his native German language skills to operate in the US Army Intelligence Corp.
He resumed education after the war in Harvard University (Political Science) where his 400-page thesis led to limitations of future student theses to be restricted to only 35000 words.
He decided to put his academic knowledge into practice and threw his weight into the political arena, throwing his weight behind Richard Nixon’s Republican campaign for election to The White House. From 1969 to 1977 he would dominate US foreign policy, serving as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under President Nixon and subsequently President Gerald Ford. During this period he used Realpolitik in some of the most critical world events that took place during this era.
The crowning glory of Henry Kissinger’s political career and the world event for which he is rightly most remembered is the 1972 renewal of relations between the People’s Republic of China and the USA. Since the communist revolution in China of 1949, the US had no formal relations with the PRC, maintaining Taiwanese claims to being China’s legitimate rulers after Chiang Kai-shek fled there after the success of Mao Zedong’s Long March and The Revolution. The successful summit in 1972 between the leaders of the two countries was preceded by a series of secret visits by Kissinger to Chairman Mao and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, where Kissinger’s unique diplomatic skills were put to the test. This rapprochement with Beijing was controversial and flew in the face of US public opinion. A ‘Two China’ policy was replaced by US military withdrawal from Taiwan and although the whole issue with Taiwan has never gone away to this day, it is testament to the success of ties that US Chinese relations have built and prospered for 50 years and it was only under President Trump recently that these relations have effectively soured. The people of China have benefited from development and now rival the US in terms of the world’s leading economic power and US citizens have benefitted from the economic relationship with imported cheap, mass-produced, manufactured goods and the whole US economy has been underwritten by Chinese investment.
Henry Kissinger is often labelled as a ‘China Hugger’ and in that sense I can most certainly identify with him, as I too am a ‘China Hugger’ and pretty committed sinophile. The mystery of the Orient, the exotic allure of the East. An Oriental complex has been diagnosed in far greater men: Alexander the great had an Oriental Complex as did Napoleon Bonaparte. One could argue that Marco Polo was one of the first recorded Orientalists. My own love of China and Oriental Complex is pretty insignificant in terms of the history books but one could certainly argue that Henry Kissinger is in the category of great sufferers of the condition who have marked the history books preceding him. He most certainly has done more than most over the past 50 years to bring the USA and China together, to bring China into the international arena. Yes, things are perhaps shady in an international current geopolitical climate but you would be a fool to ignore the advice of Kissinger with regard to US-China relations and how to both embrace and guard against China is where his political expertise and knowledge really comes into its own.
China was conveniently used as a counterweight in the Cold War. The Sino-Soviet split made a marriage of convenience between superpowers to combat the influence of the Kremlin. It paved the way for a much sought after end to the Vietnam War. The Paris Peace Accords led to Henry Kissinger being jointly awarded the Nobel Peace with Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, the prize’s most controversial award in its history to that date. Kissinger begrudgingly accepted the award and donated his prize money to charity yet did not attend the award ceremony and a few years later he did try to return the prize.
There were marked manoeuvres under Nixon in relations with the Soviet Union and Kissinger was an emissary to Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow where ultimately the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks led to a SALT I treaty being signed. Détente as a policy marked a shift in the Cold War and since leaving office Henry Kissinger has maintained a campaign for nuclear disarmament, indeed very recent work has focused on the dangers of artificial intelligence gaining control over nuclear weapon launch codes and nuclear conflict. Nuclear non-proliferation hasn’t always been a complete policy has he has supported nuclear weapons agenda in places like Brazil.
Indeed some of the worst of Kissinger’s failures really, in retrospect, have involved Latin America, where the worst vestiges of US Imperialism really do rear their ugly head. He has given tacit support to some of the most brutal of right-wing military dictatorship in Chile and Argentina and his blatant support of juntas has produced enemies such as the family of Chilean general, René Schneider who have tried to have Kissinger prosecuted for direct involvement in the kidnapping and death of the military officer who served the Salvador Allende socialist regime in Chile that the US assisted to be overthrown by the military coup of Augusto Pinochet.
A disregard of human rights in other arenas has drawn much public criticism too. American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain cites the example of Cambodia as reason for Henry Kissinger to be put on trial in the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Blatant carpet-bombing of Cambodia with Napalm during the Khmer Rouge’s rule there was a serious environmental disaster and Bourdain believes that Cambodian civilians still suffer to this day from irresponsible US military intervention there. The Nixon government was also badly scarred by its support for West Pakistan in the Bangladeshi Liberation War of 1971 where Kissinger and the President chose to ignore reports from their own ambassador that genocide was being committed on a large scale by the West Pakistan dictatorship on the Bengali population of East Pakistan which would eventually become the new state of Bangladesh. Kissinger didn’t cover himself with glory in a regretful comment about Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, being a ‘bitch’ and a ‘witch’.
Perhaps a more successful intervention was in the Arab-Israeli conflict. His pioneering ‘Shuttle Diplomacy’ helped to bring a ceasefire in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. His Jewishness did cause blatant bias with regard to favouring Israel and after Nixon gave a huge $2 billion dollar investment in Israeli military aid to replace expended Israeli weapons during the war, this ultimately led to the Arab Oil embargo which had knock-on catastrophic global financial effects throughout the 1970s.
Richard Nixon worked closely with Henry Kissinger and his independent discrete clandestine diplomacy marked an apogee for US Imperialist foreign policy success. Nixon did, however, take exception to Kissinger’s controversial comments in an interview with Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci, where he compared himself to a cowboy. Kissinger’s role under Gerald Ford was gradually diminished and he left his official government role when democrat nominee, Jimmy Carter, defeated Ford in the 1976 US Presidential elections.
Oriana Fallaci Henry Kissinger Cowboy Interview
After office, Kissinger embarked on many lucrative business opportunities, creating his own firms and working for large multinational conglomerates. Some of these business activities were controversial, such as the $5 million dollar advisory role at mining giant Rio Tinto. Protests about a new role at Columbia University led to the position being terminated. Although he has maintained lasting ties in academia. He has published over a dozen books, of which I have only read one but was I was impressed by the insight and scope and obvious in depth knowledge in Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History.
Henry Kissinger was often involved somehow in US foreign policy serving after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He also has gotten involved in Iranian issues. US political leaders have taken advantage of his advice, and this has spanned the political spectrum with Hilary Clinton drawing criticism from opponents for boasting of the closeness of her friendship with Henry Kissinger. Donald has regular meeting sin the Oval Office with Mr. Kissinger. He claimed recently that he was no fan of the incumbent Joe Biden Administration, yet he also believes that Trump is not an ideal candidate for a return to a Republican Presidency. He has graced the courts of Kings and Queens, leaders across the World and many an influential international body from Davos to the Bilderberg Group. Lizard One World illuminati bloodline internationalism at its grandest.
In his later years his output has, if anything, increased and his wisdom is perhaps more refined and apparent.
A Conversation with Henry Kissinger: Historical Perspectives on War | Davos 2023
How does the best-known veteran of foreign policy view the great global standoff today? Henry Kissinger is a titan of US politics — as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor in the Nixon and Ford administrations he brokered detente with the Soviet Union and orchestrated a breakthrough presidential visit to China in 1972. Incumbents have sought his insight long after he left the White House. Anne McElvoy asks him about the current threats to world order, how to handle Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and what he would have done differently when in office. And, following an Economist advert, are plane companions ever too inhibited to talk to him?
Kissinger believes that there is a Russian attraction to Europe and a fear of domination by Europe. He thinks that the Kremlin has a reliance on military force. He’d like to be able to open up the 11 time zones covering Russia to internal conflict and outside interventions and see grave danger in the 15000 strong nuclear weapons arsenal within its vast territory. His comments on Ukraine and policy advice have been a mixture of pragmatism and controversy often with compete volta face in his ideas. He thinks that sanctions on Moscow should be maintained until a final settlement can be reached and that we should all be doing everything possible to prevents the war from escalating. Originally, he opposed Ukraine joining NATO and envisaged it causing the war, yet now he has changed his opinion. He sees a neutral Ukraine as no longer a meaningful concept. NATO should guarantee its freedom.
The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy heroism of this period is matched by the ambition in a step towards the strengthening of Europe. Kissinger would like to see Russia participate in European processes and notes well the evolution of Europe since end of WW2 and see his own success in helping to preserve that lasting peace since 1945.
One area in which I really see eye to eye with much of Henry Kissinger’s views is his thoughts on the whole Balkan issue. His ideas on the creation Bosnia and Herzegovina and also the new State of Kosovo are consistent with my own studied knowledge on the former Yugoslavia where Serbs, Croats and Muslims fought a brutal civil war which still hasn’t fully settled since its outbreak in the 1990s.
He sees the principles of America in bringing about a new world order and he warns against the potential devastating effect of superpower military confrontation between the USA and China, the recent breakdown of the relationship and in this area of concern, he offers solutions. Often his relationship with China is quite stark in that he truly is a very committed Sinophile. He has had to redact and clarify business dealings after the Tiananmen Square massacre of students by People’s Liberation Army tanks in 1989. He is cosy with the Chinese Communist Party and was a much-fêted VIP guest at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He’s made a lot of money from business dealings in China. He identifies a deep conviction on both sides – not a tactical move but a necessity that the two most technologically advanced countries with AI and nuclear destructiveness – engaged in military confrontation would mean that the structure and stability and very survival of mankind would be threatened. Ideally, each side should look to negotiations and at not be seeking to build advantages over each other.
We should prepare for an expected military showdown but at the same time be accepting of China’s new role as a primary mover in the global economy with natural internationalist foreign policy objectives of its own. China is not necessary the enemy of the international global order. Kissinger stated that he believes China wants to restore its historic role as the Middle Kingdom – Zhong Guo – 中国 – and to be “the principal adviser to all humanity”. It is typical Kissinger prophecy in action, predicting the global future. Even when he is out of fashion after maybe several decades, his original analyses are proven to be true. In his centenary year, Henry Kissinger’s advice in the sphere of international politics is as critical as ever. Can we find a way of harmonising the destiny of mankind in developing its non-destructive capabilities for the sake of peace, progress and humanity?
God knows what Henry Kissinger is doing to celebrate his 100th birthday. I suppose the standard sort of celebrations for a centenarian would be a cup of tea, a nice cake and perhaps a tot of brandy and hopefully a telegram from, King Charles III. I somehow think that Mr Kissinger would not be satisfied with this – let’s face it our Henry doesn’t quite fit into the ‘average’ mould. He’ll probably be banging on the White House front door as dawn breaks to have a quick brekkie with the President, hijack Air Force One straight over to Beijing for elevenses’ with Xi Jinping to hammer out CCP relations, private plane over to Geneva for a UN debriefing and a relaxing Alpine lunch, over to London for Afternoon Tea in Buckingham Palace with King Charles and Queen Camilla, then off to a nice Caribbean Yacht for an island paradise relax and unwind – a weekend break treat ahead of the start of the working week on Monday morning.
Henry Kissinger will no doubt leave a lasting legacy. When he does finally depart from us here on the living Earth, the World will lose one of its wisest and most responsible political experts who has been a mover and shaker in international geopolitics. We’ll be looking back at the #KissingerCenterPapers and his books and interviews and advice and predictions and insights into the future of our planet for many years to come and has history has consistently proven, Henry Kissinger is usually bang on and correct in his analyses.
He’s slimy in his Machiavellian cunningness, sly yet hardworking, selfish yet principled at times and blinkered and biased when wrong. He represents an age when diplomacy took effort and skill and diplomats like Henry Kissinger are from a forgotten age now in the tech-crazy social media maelstrom. That he’s a marmite character I do not question but I believe he has been an important figure in the international geopolitical arena and thus am celebrating his milestone centenarian achievement as the inaugural article in my new WezGWorld website.
Happy 100th Birthday Henry Kissinger!