Former US secretary of state and national security advisory Henry Kissinger died on Wednesday. He was 100 years old. Kissinger is perhaps most notable for his work during Nixon Administration when he helped Nixon prolong the Vietnam War and expand it to Cambodia and Laos.
But his influence was certainly not limited to the Nixon years, he served in an official capacity in the Ford administration, and in more informal roles during the Reagan and Bush years as well. Throughout it all Kissinger was a ruthless servant of the American foreign policy establishment. As a Harvard-educated political scientist, Kissinger was employed to provide gravitas and legitimacy to a number of US wars and interventions, most of which ended in bloodbaths for the ordinary people of the countries Kissinger claimed to be improving.
Kissinger likely had the most freedom to inflict damage under Nixon, and thus his greatest crimes were committed in the Vietnam milieu. Spencer Ackerman this week efficiently sums up much of Kissinger’s worst deeds:
The Yale University historian Greg Grandin, author of the biography Kissinger’s Shadow, estimates that Kissinger’s actions from 1969 through 1976, a period of eight brief years when Kissinger made Richard Nixon’s and then Gerald Ford’s foreign policy as national security adviser and secretary of state, meant the end of between three and four million people. …
No infamy will find Kissinger on a day like today. Instead, in a demonstration of why he was able to kill so many people and get away with it, the day of his passage will be a solemn one in Congress and — shamefully, since Kissinger had reporters like CBS’ Marvin Kalb and The New York Times‘ Hendrick Smith wiretapped — newsrooms. Kissinger … was a practitioner of American greatness, and so the press lionized him as the cold-blooded genius who restored America’s prestige from the agony of Vietnam.
Not once in the half-century that followed Kissinger’s departure from power did the millions the United States killed matter for his reputation, except to confirm a ruthlessness that pundits occasionally find thrilling. America, like every empire, champions its state murderers….
Kissinger’s criminal mind was frequently employed to push the Gulf War and later the so-called Global War on Terror. Kissinger’s gimmick was to present himself as the “voice of reason” by positioning himself as a “realist”—even though he wasn’t actually a realist—and as a dispassionate critic of other foreign policy advisors.
Yet, Kissinger never came down on the side of actual foreign policy restraint, and he was reliably hawkish whenever the question of a new war came up. He had about as much respect for the sovereignty of foreign states as Vlad Putin on his most militant days. As Rothbard showed, however, Kissinger was able to morph between the roles of hawk and ultra-hawk as political realities dictated.
For example, during the Reagan years, Kissinger played the role of moderate within the administration. As Rothbard describes it:
One problem is that the Republican “pragmatists” are not very dovish. Not only are the grand old Republican isolationists of the pre-1955 era dead as a dodo, but there are not even any dovish Establishment realists of the Cyrus Vance or George Ball variety, let alone such Grand Old Men as George Kennan. The battle is between the hawks and the ultra-hawks. On the merely hawk side are the Vietnam war criminal Henry Kissinger and his many followers, war-mongers who, however, want to stop short at the brink of a nuclear holocaust. This evil “pragmatism” is scorned by the ultras, the Kirkpatricks, the Van Cleaves, the Aliens, the Pipeses, all they who want to burn out the universe to the furthest star.
By the time of the leadup to the Gulf War in 1990, however, Kissinger had left this “moderation” behind, at least as far as Iraq was concerned. Rothbard wonders if Kissinger’s “ultra-hawkish views” were perhaps related to Kissinger’s lucrative work as a “consultant” in which his client list included the government (i.e., dictatorship) of Kuwait. Regardless of his motivations, Kissinger continued to serve an important role in pushing federal war propaganda well into his final decades.
He served this role both as an advisor behind closed doors and as a public intellectual appearing in newspapers and on television. Americans of decades past were no less inclined to blindly accept the pronouncement of government “experts” as they are now. Indeed, Americans of the mid-twentieth century were perhaps more inclined to do as they were told. After all, where were they to find a dissenting opinion except in subscription-only physical newsletters mailed out by the small minority of those who dissented from the dominant narratives?
As late as the 1990s, Kissinger was still frequently trotted up as the “voice of reason” on foreign policy. Or, as Rothbard put it:
Kissinger is so Beloved, in fact, that whenever he appears on Nightline or Crossfire he appears alone, since it seems to be lese majest (or even blasphemy) for anyone to contradict the Great One’s banal and ponderous Teutonic pronouncements. Only a handful of grumblers and malcontents on the extreme right and extreme left disturb this cozy consensus.
Kissinger’s views were often predicated—at least publicly—on disproven theories like the “domino theory.” He helped develop the still-used idea that the US must go to war everywhere on earth that some ally is threatened—or else. As Kissinger put it: “We must understand that peace is indivisible. The United States cannot pursue a policy of selective reliability. We cannot abandon friends in one part of the world without jeopardizing the security of friends everywhere.
Kissinger was demonstrably wrong on this in Vietnam, or course. The US loss in that country did not lead to the spread of a grand communist coalition beyond that country. In fact, Vietnam and China were at war with each other only a few years after the Hanoi regime expelled the Americans from the country. Today, Vietnam’s communist regime has been at peace with the United States for decades. Moreover, as mentioned by Ackerman, Kissinger directly contradicted his own stated “principles” on this matter by being an architect of “the inauguration of an American tradition of using and then abandoning the Kurds.” For Kissinger, “friends” only mattered when they could help draw Washington into yet another war.
The theory is still employed today and pushed in the form of new crackpot arguments about how the best way to prevent a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is for NATO to “win”—whatever that means—in Ukraine. There is zero reason to assume that Beijing’s views of Taiwan have much of anything to do with Ukraine, but thanks in part to Kissinger, people buy the idea that the US must intervene everywhere for “the security of friends.”
For nearly seventy years, Kissinger was able to push his faux “realism” which just happened to align repeatedly with the goals of the militant moralists who have perennially sought to invade and carpet bomb foreign people for the sake of saving them from themselves. Because Kissinger served the regime so well, we must now endure countless paeans in the media and from the respectable classes of Washington. Get ready to see George W. Bush, Michelle Obama, Mitch McConnell, and Hillary Clinton all mourn together at his funeral as they hail one of the history’s great war criminals.