Kissinger dies and media opines about legacy, effectiveness.

November 30, 2023 in Columnists, News by RBN Staff


It seems most commentators don’t quite understand what, exactly, Kissinger WAS effective at promoting and fomenting… (NEW WORLD ORDER? Totalitarian systems of control? Chaos used to cleanse traditional systems or remove them?)

But, it definitely wasn’t the interests of the common man in the nation of the USA, OR the world, for that matter.

Below is presented one example of commentary floating around in the media.


Source: The Guardian


“All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure.” So said Enoch Powell – yet to this famous aphorism, Henry Kissinger, cold war strategist, US secretary of state, counsellor to 12 American presidents and alleged war criminal – who has died aged 100 – is a notable exception.

The man who invented shuttle diplomacy, promoted the concept of hard-eyed realpolitik and pursued fleeting mirages of detente between hostile superpowers paradoxically lived a life of multiple professional failures that ended happily, marked by generally high international regard.

Kissinger was, throughout his long career, a champion for an American global hegemony that is now unravelling. He and his emulators gave to imperialism a new, post-colonial face, pursuing perceived national interest regardless of the costs – which were principally levied on others.

And yet the three pillars of Kissinger’s achievement – the opening to communist China in 1979, a less confrontational relationship with the Soviet Union, and the quest for common ground between Israel and the Arabs – were built on weak foundations that subsequently crumbled.

Spiriting Richard Nixon to Beijing in 1972, where he met Mao Zedong, was seen as a breathtaking feat at the time. The manoeuvre, a not-so-subtle attempt to outflank the Russians, became known as “playing the China card”. In theory anyway, it piled pressure on the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev.

But in the longer term, it was post-revolutionary China, not the US, that benefited immensely from this first, tentative engagement and the subsequent, rapid and unparalleled economic, business and investment boom.

Deng Xiaoping, seizing power in 1978 after Mao’s death two years earlier, took full advantage of normalisation to begin to build the global superpower that today rivals and, some say, existentially threatens Kissinger’s American hegemony.

It would be absurd to blame him for modern China’s transformation into an aggressive, expansionist predator with scant regard for democracy and human rights. On the other hand, President Xi Jinping, whom he met in July, is clearly following the Kissinger model.

Detente with the Soviet Union, and a raft of nuclear arms control treaties undertaken by Nixon’s Republican successors, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush (both advised by Kissinger), are conventionally viewed as additional feathers in the his cap.

But the eventual Soviet collapse and the ending of the cold war in 1989-91 – the key, triumphalist aim of western policymakers who took their cue from Washington – visited humiliation upon the Russian people.

Rather than help Moscow’s new leaders build a functioning, prosperous democratic state, Bush and then Bill Clinton cashed in on the “peace dividend” and, in Vladimir Putin’s view, broke their word about Nato enlargement to the east. In retrospect, this was a doom-laden failure.

Whether Putin is a student of Kissinger-ian pragmatism and realpolitik – the two men met in the Kremlin in 2017 – is an open question. What is plain is that Russia’s present leader is deeply familiar with the “China card” trick.

Weeks before the invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Putin and Xi held a summit meeting at which they declared a “no limits” partnership. The tables had turned. Now it was the US that was diplomatically wrongfooted.

China: a bigger problem than ever, challenging US leadership and values around the world. Russia: a bitterly resentful, resurgent power now once again threatening peace in Europe. Both are legacies of Kissinger’s world and the maximalist thinking that often informed his actions.

It is hardly necessary to cast a glance at the appalling suffering in Gaza, and or hear the grief of Israeli relatives of more than a thousand people who died on 7 October, to know that the successes of American Middle East peace-making, under Kissinger and since, are mostly illusory.

For sure, Kissinger helped mediate an end to the Yom Kippur war in 1973. But the basic conundrum – how may Jews and Palestinians live side by side in a disputed land – remains fundamentally unaddressed 50 years on. And the abiding perception of American political one-sidedness unfairly favouring Israel dates back to his time in office.

In lasting so long and continuing to contribute to foreign policy debates, Kissinger became a unique witness to the conflicts, travails and triumphs of what came to be known as the American century – the US-dominated, post-1945 international order.

But in many respects, he seemed, Canute-like, to resist, and stand in opposition to the rising tide of world affairs, which increasingly emphasised the importance of national self-determination and human rights.

His support for the murderous military coup in Chile in 1973 that overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende, and ushered in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, still stands out as a dreadful monument to the myopic, destructive American neo-imperialism of that era.

US support for violent cold war nationalist groups amid proxy wars with the Soviet Union, such as Unita in Angola or later, the Contras in Nicaragua, and Washington’s propping up of the worst kind of African and Middle Eastern dictators – because it supposedly suited US geopolitical interests – were policies that owed much to Kissinger’s thinking.

And then there was Vietnam. Although Kissinger is credited with helping to end the war, what he bequeathed, not unlike Donald Trump in Afghanistan, was a broken, shattered country that swiftly succumbed to a totalitarian takeover, rendering previous sacrifices futile.

For some who can remember it, Kissinger will never be forgiven for the secret carpet-bombing of neutral Cambodia in 1969-70, as part of the Vietnam campaign. Kissinger reportedly told the US air force to strike “anything that flies or anything that moves”. About 50,000 civilians were killed.

His actions were examined in Christopher Hitchens’ 2001 book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, which accused him of committing numerous war crimes. But as the decades rolled by and he gradually assumed the role of eldest elder statesman, such horrors – and all his multiple failures – were mostly set aside.

Kissinger was a man of a different age. It would be good to believe that, with him, that age has passed.