Was he a brilliant diplomat who, like a rock star, conned world leaders? Or was he an unscrupulous manipulator who did not shy away from secretly bombing Laos and Cambodia to give North Vietnam more room in peace talks?
It emphasizes: many opinions will be formed about the American politician and diplomat Henry Kissinger, who turned 100 years old today. As National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, he served under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford during the height of the Cold War.
After his service, Kissinger remained active on the world stage. Through his consulting firm Kissinger Associates, he continues to advise governments and corporations around the world. In addition, he is a frequent guest in the media and conferences, such as the World Economic Forum.
Last year, for example, he warned in Davos not to block Russia completely. He also said that he would consider it appropriate for peace talks to take place where parts of Ukraine remain part of Russia. It is anything but a popular message in the West, and especially in Ukraine, but it can still be ruled out as a future environment.
Everyone agrees that the German-Jew Heinz Alfred Kissinger was the most influential and influential US Secretary of State and diplomat of the last century. He was born in 1923 in Fürth, Germany. 15 years later, he fled with his parents to the United States, away from Nazism.
Kissinger made history by secretly traveling to China in 1971 to prepare for President Nixon’s visit. He spoke with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders about strengthening relations and welcoming China to international meetings, such as the United Nations.
Seven months later, Nixon traveled to China in front of the world, confirming that the communist friendship between China and Russia was a little closer than expected.
Kissinger often played chess on many boards. He maintained close contact with the Russian ambassador in Washington. He confided to them—without Nixon’s knowledge—that the United States was planning to withdraw from the highly criticized Vietnam War. He also told him that America would be satisfied with the continued presence of the communist Vietcong in South Vietnam. The war was permanent, according to Kissinger.
Two years later, in early 1973, it was agreed in Paris that the war would be ‘Vietnamized’; America would withdraw. An honorable peace, Nixon said, hides failure. South Vietnam received only material aid from America. In 1975 Saigon fell and the world saw dramatic images of helicopters evacuating the last Americans from the roof of the American embassy.
A common theme in Kissinger’s career is what is called realpolitik, or a form of practical politics. Kissinger was – and hates ideology. Serving America’s interests as best as possible in the world order and balance of power was most important to him. He knew how to party against each other like no other.
For example, America’s proximity to China did not lead to difficulties in relations with Moscow, as expected. Shortly after his meeting with Mao, Nixon also traveled to Moscow to negotiate the first SALT agreement, which provided for the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons. Thus Kissinger was the architect of ‘detente’ (relaxation period) in the Cold War.
In 1973, Kissinger and North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho were both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The award was controversial. Kissinger did not take the award. He donated the money to a charity for the children of fallen Americans. Le Duc Tho refused the award, as there was still no peace in Vietnam.
The shadow side
Kissinger’s realpolitik brought great diplomatic success, with praise and magazine articles in newspapers such as Time and Newsweek. But there was also an important dark side. Because although the Cold War was partially defused by Kissinger’s actions, it remained unstable, especially in South America, Africa and Asia.
For example, in 1973 the president elected by the socialist Salvador Allende of Chile was expelled and killed with the help of the United States, and was followed by the dictator Pinochet. In addition, Kissinger supported the Indonesian government in the bloody suppression of the freedom struggle in East Timor, the brutal suppression of the Pakistani army in East Pakistan and the rebellion that led to the liberation of Bangladesh at the cost of one million victims.
Kissinger’s support for the bombing of Cambodia, according to his critics, caused the population to embrace the Khmer Rouge regime, eventually leading to genocide.
It is not welcome everywhere
Kissinger is still making his voice heard on the world stage. For example, he recently warned on various platforms about the dangers of a new arms race and uncontrolled artificial intelligence.
He was also recently a guest on a news program on the American channel CBS. When asked, he replied that Chinese President Xi Jinping might answer the phone personally if a Kissinger ally were to call Beijing. “And Putin?” asked the announcer. “Probably.”
Watch an excerpt here:
Unfortunately, Kissinger is no longer accepted everywhere. He can no longer travel to countries like Chile, Argentina and Spain, where judges are asking for his arrest and testimony on behalf of relatives of victims of US aid to military regimes.