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Saturday, September 19, 2015

NIALL FERGUSON: Kissinger the Freedom Fighter

Fascinating analysis of Kissinger's early ideas and motivations by his biographer Niall Ferguson. I was fortunate enough to be at the Munk debate on China a few years ago where the two debated against each other.


Surely no statesman in modern times, and certainly no American secretary of state, has been as revered and then as reviled as Henry Kissinger.

At the height of his fame, Kissinger appeared as a cartoon “Super K” on the cover of Newsweek, complete with tights and cape. Time magazine called him “the world’s indispensable man.” In 1974, his approval rating, according to the regular Harris survey, was an astounding 85%.

Since then, however, heaping opprobrium on Kissinger has become a thriving industry. The Nation magazine once caricatured him under a stars-and-stripes bedcover, gleefully ravishing a naked female whose head was the globe. The late Christopher Hitchens went further, accusing him of “war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Protest groups like Code Pink never tire of repeating such charges, most recently by disrupting a January hearing of the Senate Armed Forces Committee at which Kissinger was testifying.

The vitriol of the left is at first sight puzzling, especially when one considers how many of Kissinger’s initiatives were denounced by conservative critics at the time as too accommodating of America’s communist enemies. In his time as national security adviser, he played a key role in negotiating the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. It was Kissinger who, with Zhou Enlai, opened diplomatic communications between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China. It was Kissinger who extricated the U.S. from the Vietnam War. And it was Kissinger who pressed for the end of white rule in Rhodesia.

Critics of every stripe tend to agree that Kissinger took foreign-policy realism too far. According to authors Marvin and Bernard Kalb, writing in the mid-1970s, he pursued “a global realpolitik that placed a higher priority on pragmatism than on morality.” His former Harvard colleague, the late Stanley Hoffmann, called Kissinger a Machiavellian who believed that “the preservation of the state…requires both ruthlessness and deceit at the expense of foreign and internal adversaries.” Even a relatively sympathetic writer,Walter Isaacson, concluded in his 2005 biography that “power-oriented realpolitik and secretive diplomatic maneuvering…were the basis of [Kissinger’s] policies.”

This view of Kissinger is in urgent need of revision...


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