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KISSINGER

He was brilliant, he was funny, he was impactful on the world stage, he was instructive.  He advised 12 presidents and published a dozen books.  He was a deep thinker with a penetrating intellect and a prodigious store of historical knowledge.  He played at the highest level with the greatest men of his age:  Mao, Brezhnev, Nixon, Golda, Reagan, Gorbachev, Deng, Xi, Putin.  His analysis was free of spin and narrative – it was penetrating and original.  We have no one like him anymore.

 

            I read his first book when I was in high school in the 1960’s:  Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy.  And his Leadership in 2022.  As a statesman, he was unparalleled in his time.  Like two of his heroes, Bismarck and De Gaulle, he always had an idea of his country and what it could achieve. 

 

His bon mots are legendary. 

 

When asked why beautiful women wanted to date him, he said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

 

When he was made Secretary of State by Nixon while retaining the office of National Security Advisor, a journalist asked what he wanted to be called, Mr. Secretary or Dr. Kissinger.  “You can call me Excellency,” he said. 

 

When asked which side we favored in the Iraq Iran War, he said, “We hope they both lose.”

 

“Academic politics are so vicious,” he said, “because the stakes are so low.”

 

He said: “We wanted to Soviets and the Chinese to be closer to us than to each other.”

 

            Kissinger was considered the master of realpolitik and was hated by the American Right and the Left for it.  The Neocons were infuriated by his policy of détente with the Soviets.  The Left hated his indifference to human rights and blamed him for atrocities in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Chile.  But, he was guiding the affairs of a super power.  There were no easy choices, maybe no good ones.  The world is a dangerous place and Kissinger understood that.  He steered the ship of state with a deft hand and advised others to do the same.  He always knew where he wanted to go.

 

            What were his achievements?  The withdrawal from Vietnam; the opening to China; triangular diplomacy with the Soviet Union and China; détente with the Soviets; shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East after the 1973 War, leading to peace between Egypt and Israel; elimination of Soviet power in the Middle East.  Kissinger guided the US out of the darkness of the Vietnam era and Watergate and into a confident position in world affairs.  He negotiated with and was respected by Sadat, Mao, Brezhnev, Le Duc Tho.  He bonded with Nixon and guided Ford.  His counsel was sought by all their successors, but not always followed.     

 

            One can’t help but wonder what Kissinger’s advice would be to us today.  The world has become very dangerous again and we seem to have lost our footing.  Perhaps he wrote it down somewhere or confided in someone.  Or maybe extreme old age took the wind out of his sails.  Certainly, he would have had an overall strategic vision of where we should go and a realistic plan for getting there.  And, he would have known how to deal with the personalities. 

 

            I think what we miss the most is the intellectual style Kissinger brought to the table.  It was concrete, it was soaked in history and it was subtle.  It was the way Americans used to think before our Ivy League professors taught to analyze the world like French Marxists. 

 

            Kissinger was once asked how he thought posterity would treat Nixon.  He said that a personality of that complexity could best be treated by a great dramatist.  I’d like to see that play.  And watch Kissinger at work. 

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Guest Wednesday, July 17, 2024