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Kissinger, Henry Alfred

KISSINGER, HENRY ALFRED

KISSINGER, HENRY ALFRED (1923– ), U.S. secretary of state, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in the Bavarian town of Furth, and named Heinz Alfred, Kissinger immigrated to New York in 1938. He attended high school at night, working during the day at a shaving brush company. He went to the City College of New York at night for a degree in accounting, which was his father's occupation. In 1943 his schooling was interrupted when he was drafted into the Army. While serving at Camp Claiborne, La., Kissinger met and came under the influence of Fritz Kraemer, a German refugee who was 35 and had European doctorates in law and political science. For many years, Kraemer, a conservative of a Central European background, was Kissinger's guide and mentor, and helped forge his fundamental political beliefs. After getting out of the Army, Kissinger, on Kraemer's recommendation, enrolled at Harvard University, where he wrote an appreciative dissertation on the diplomacy of the 19th-century Austrian statesman Prince Metternich, who was famous for his policy of suppressing any movement threatening the existing dynastic order. Kissinger's academic years, in which he helped set up the Harvard International Seminar, provided a base for his career in world politics. The seminar brought aspiring younger leaders to Harvard for a summer of study under his direction and provided him with a network of contacts around the world in years to come. He headed the seminar from 1951 to 1969. He also founded and edited a quarterly magazine on foreign affairs, Confluence, which lasted six years.

While still at Harvard, he obtained an appointment as staff director of a study group on nuclear weapons and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. His first book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, published in 1957, argued against the doctrine of massive retaliation, which implied full-scale nuclear war, and in favor of a "limited nuclear war" that would not escalate into total destruction. The book became a bestseller. The council received all the royalties, Kissinger all the credit. Kissinger then became the director of a Special Studies Project to define the nation's critical choices. The project was sponsored by Nelson Rockefeller. In the report that emerged from the study, International Security: The Military Aspect, in 1958, Kissinger lent his name to the doctrine that it was necessary to develop tactical nuclear weapons in order to prepare to fight a limited nuclear war. Kissinger later backed away from that view, and in 1961, in The Necessity for Choice, he declared that a limited nuclear war was untenable in practice, and he supported a doctrine of conventional warfare, with the use of nuclear weapons as a last resort. Kissinger received tenure at Harvard in 1959 and the rank of full professor of government in 1962. Although he was a Democrat, he also served as a part-time consultant to Rockefeller, a Republican, who in 1959 had become governor of New York. Kissinger had a small role in the administration of John F. Kennedy as a part-time consultant, but when Rockefeller sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1964, Kissinger worked as an adviser.

In 1965, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge asked him to visit South Vietnam as a consultant. For the United States, the Vietnam War was in an early stage. Although Kissinger came away deeply pessimistic, he supported the war anyway. He believed the United States could not win, but neither could it withdraw. It was necessary, he believed, to negotiate a way out. Kissinger did not say how that was to be accomplished. As the war proceeded, poorly for the United States, Kissinger became increasingly critical, and he called it a "disaster," but he urged only an assessment of the procedures and concepts that had gotten the United States involved. In 1968, the president-elect, Richard M. Nixon, unexpectedly chose Kissinger to be his national security adviser. At the time, the two did not know each other. Kissinger was an ally of Rockefeller, who was disdainful of Nixon. There are several conflicting views, including Kissinger's own account, Nixon's, and those of other biographers, of how the two hooked up. The net result is that Kissinger became knowledgeable in the ways of Washington and soon had complete access to the Oval Office. Lawrence Eagleburger, a long-time close aide to Kissinger and acting secretary of state, told a Kissinger biographer: "Kissinger and Nixon both had degrees of paranoia. It led them to worry about each other, but it also led them to make common causeon perceived mutual enemies. They developed a conspiratorial approach to foreign policy management."

In 1973 Nixon appointed Kissinger secretary of state, the first Jew and the first person not of American birth to get such an appointment. He took the oath of office on a Saturday with his hand on a Christian Bible, a matter to which the Jewish community paid considerable attention. With the conclusion of the Vietnam War, Kissinger played a leading role in trying to solve the thorny problems of the Middle East, especially after the Yom Kippur War. For a period of 72 hours, the fate of Israel during the Yom Kippur War depended on an American president who was pro-Israel but who had frequently expressed antisemitic views, an American secretary of defense, James Schlesinger, who had become a Christian while at Harvard, and the first American secretary of state of Jewish origin, to use a term common then. Kissinger used the incomplete victory of Israel as an opportunity to defuse the Arab-Israeli conflict and establish a countervailing American presence in the Arab world that would serve as a check on, and ultimately a diminution of, Soviet influence in the area. He succeeded in bringing the fighting to a halt by means of a six-point cease-fire plan, face-to-face negotiations between Egypt and Israel, a peace conference in Geneva, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cairo and Washington.

Kissinger retained Nixon's loyalty, by most accounts, by being obsequious to the president. Kissinger wrote that it was "almost suicidal" to challenge Nixon and that "Nixon's favor depended on the readiness to fall in with the paranoid cult of the tough guy." In his memoirs, Kissinger explained that Nixon had a "powerful tendency to see himself surrounded by a conspiracy reaching even among his Cabinet colleagues." One Kissinger biographer, Walter Isaacson, told of how Nixon and Kissinger conspired to exclude, humiliate, or deceive Secretary of State William Rogers, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, and others. Nixon's presidency was pathological, Isaacson said, and his book shows that Kissinger was part of that pathology. The wiretaps of colleagues and friends that were secretly authorized or abetted by Nixon and Kissinger "ultimately led to the plumbers, which led to Watergate," Isaacson said. And Watergate, the break-in at the Democratic campaign headquarters and the cover-up orchestrated by the White House and top Cabinet officials, led Nixon to resign in 1974 before he would have been impeached. During that crucial period in the White House, Nixon got on his knees to pray, and Kissinger joined him.

Kissinger played a key role in all the foreign policy events of the Nixon administration: the negotiations with North Vietnam in Paris to end the war, the opening of China to the West, the overthrow of the regime of Salvador Allende Gossens in Chile, the invasion and secret bombing of Cambodia, the arms control agreements, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

In the early 1970s, Kissinger became involved in negotiations in Paris with Xuan Thuy and Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam to end the war in Vietnam that had dragged on for years. To the North Vietnamese, the goal was to get the United States to withdraw its forces from Vietnam while the North Vietnamese kept their forces in the South. The main achievement of the negotiations was effective capitulation to the North Vietnamese terms. To achieve this deal, Isaacson wrote, it was necessary to engineer the "appalling betrayal" of the South Vietnamese regime. When Nguyen Van Thieu, the South Vietnamese leader, refused to go along with his own political suicide and upset the deal, Kissinger advocated bombing North Vietnam to get amendments to the agreement that would appease the South Vietnamese. As Isaacson wrote: "Hanoi was bombed in order to force changes in a treaty that the U.S. had already seen fit to accept. The modifications for which these lives were lost were so minor that neither Nixon nor Kissinger would adequately remember what they were." The months and years of the negotiations, carried out in secrecy, were Kissinger's way of cutting out the State Department and the rest of the United States government from the negotiations, Isaacson said.

Later, Kissinger declared that the Watergate scandal had so weakened the Nixon presidency that it could not effectively continue the war for as long as he thought might be necessary. In 1973 Kissinger and Tho were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The award was so fatuous that Kissinger, in Years of Upheaval, the second volume of his memoirs, felt "ill at ease," he wrote, when he learned of it.

After Nixon was driven from office and Gerald Ford took his place, Kissinger urged the United States to become re-engaged in Vietnam, despite a vote in Congress to stop all aid. In 1975, when Ford brought the war to an official end, he concealed his public announcement from Kissinger, then still secretary of state. Nixon and Kissinger also engaged in elaborate secrecy in their negotiations with China. While the foreign ministries of China, Pakistan, Romania, and the Soviet Union all knew about the American initiative, the U.S. State Department did not.

In 1970 Chile elected a leftist, Allende, as president. Kissinger actively participated in plans to prevent him from taking office. Before the election, Kissinger had told the American ambassador "to reinforce with the [Chilean] military the serious consequences of an Allende presidency" and to "reiterate the assurances of continued American military assistance" if the military moved against him. Allende was the victim of a bloody military coup, after which a right-wing dictatorship under Gen. Augusto Pinochet seized power. Kissinger denied any responsibility for the coup on the ground that the Chilean military leaders had not consulted the United States in advance.

Kissinger hoped his cultivation of Soviet and Chinese leaders would pay off in greater success in handling regional crises, but this did not happen. The Communist regimes had no intention of reining in their Third World allies, and their continued aggression gradually undermined Kissinger's credibility. By 1976 he had become an electoral liability for President Ford, who had to fight accusations from both left and right that his secretary of state was pursuing an immoral foreign policy.

Kissinger also had a knack for cultivating the press and frequently granted exclusive or off-the-record interviews to favored journalists and columnists. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine 21 times during his heyday. In 1973 he came out first in a Gallup Poll of the most-admired Americans. That same year the contestants in the Miss Universe Pageant voted him "the greatest person in the world today."

After leaving Washington and returning to New York in 1977, Kissinger formed Kissinger Associates and gave advice on foreign policy to private corporations. He and the company undertook diplomatic assignments for clients like American Express, the Chase bank, Coca-Cola, and others and served as a foreign policy adviser to their chairmen. He also served as an eminence-gris for foreign affairs specialists. All of the more than two dozen national security advisers after Kissinger either worked for him or worked directly for someone who did, and by the early years of the 21st century Kissinger's followers had essentially become the modern foreign policy establishment.

bibliography:

J. Hanhimaki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (2004); W. Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography (1992); S. Hersh. The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House (1983).

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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