HISTORY has been largely kind to Henry Kissinger, the ‘eminence gris’ behind some of the most infamous geopolitical interventions of the late 20th century, who has died aged 100. His death may now allow for a colder analysis of arguably the most influential international statesman in the post-Second World War era.

This ought to address a fundamental question: how did his cynicism about world events come to be the dominant consideration when determining their outcomes?

Between the death of John F Kennedy in 1963 and the beginning of Jimmy Carter’s ill-fated Democratic administration in 1977, no war, it seemed, was worthy of the name until Kissinger turned up to break bread with the chief antagonists.

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Often he was the architect of local tensions, secretly undermining one side or the other, depending on which could be most relied upon to look the other way whenever Washington required.

His acolytes will point to his diplomatic triumphs in the old Soviet Union and Red China as being crucial in containing the threat of thermo-nuclear war. His ubiquitous presence throughout the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and its aftermath was credited with bringing it quickly to an end.

It was his involvement in the serpentine diplomacy of this struggle that gave birth to the phrase ‘shuttle diplomacy’. It all maintained the myth of Kissinger as a force for good working for peace in an unstable world.

These constructed myths around Kissinger reached their apotheosis in 1973 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Vietnam War. This was as ironic as it was perverse. Kissinger was known to have been an arch-critic of the war as far back as 1965 but had helped his chief sponsor, the disgraced and corrupt former US president Richard Nixon to prolong it by several years.

In an article in the New Yorker in 2020, the writer and academic Thomas Meaney wrote: “As early as 1965, on his first visit to Vietnam, Kissinger had concluded that the war there was a lost cause, and Nixon believed the same. Yet they conspired to prolong it even before reaching the White House.

The Herald: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at the residence of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer).Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at the residence of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer). (Image: free)

“During the Paris peace talks, in 1968, Kissinger, who was there as a consultant, passed information about the negotiations to the Nixon campaign, which started to fear that [Lyndon] Johnson’s progress toward a settlement would bring the Democrats electoral victory. Nixon’s campaign then used this information in private talks with the South Vietnamese to dissuade them from taking part in the talks.”

Not merely content with this, Kissinger and Nixon planned a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia which was a vital supply route for the Vietcong. The crimes of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia are well-documented, as well as a multitude of savage actions by the US infantry in Vietnam. But few now recall that America dropped more bombs on Cambodia (killing 100,000 civilians) than it had while fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. Never has the Nobel Peace Prize looked so tawdry.

Kissinger is also credited with bringing us ‘Realpolitik’. Effectively, it meant “the end justifies the means” and was intended to convey a grown-up and detached approach to settling global disputes. In reality, it was always used by the rich and powerful (usually the US and her allies) to justify the illegal toppling of governments; criminal conspiracy and the deaths and torture of those unable to defend themselves.

Little of this was fuelled by a desire to achieve peace in the long-term; only peace on America’s terms and only if it guaranteed the free writ of absolute capitalism.

An early clue as to Kissinger’s cynicism was provided by the book that would insinuate him into the purview of an entire generation of US Republican Presidents. In 1957, his book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy was published. It introduced – for the first time ever – the hitherto unthinkable concept of deploying “tactical” nuclear weapons in a conventional war. “Tactical” implies a degree of subtlety, but only in Kissinger’s world could destroying entire cities be regarded as subtle.

Kissinger was impelled to act in the interests of peace only if they accorded with America’s compulsion to spread its gospel of unhindered profiteering. This was evident in South America where he regarded himself as the Chosen One tasked with the sacred responsibility of ridding the world of communism or anything that smelt like it.

The Herald: U.S.President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in Austria in 1972 U.S.President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in Austria in 1972 (Image: free)

He was the architect of America’s supplanting of the democratically-elected Salvador Allende in Chile with the reactionary psychopath Augusto Pinochet. As Thomas Meaney observes: “The fact that Allende was popularly elected made him only more dangerous in their eyes. ‘I don’t see why we have to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people,’ Kissinger observed.”

Kissinger viewed any foreign government which dared to reject the American model of unfettered capitalism and brute military enforcement as fair game for toppling. The better if they were small and relatively defenceless.