Former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger died November 29 at the age of 100. His legacy of German-style “Realpolitik” and shuttle diplomacy was looked upon favorably by the believers in “America-first” policy, while his opponents, mostly the advocates of world peace and stability, viewed his statesmanship as a “dismal failure,” especially in an emerging Africa and the Third World.
African American Journalist Clarence Page, the 1989 Chicago Tribune Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, looks back at Kissinger’s 100-year stay on Earth with some pause. He describes Kissinger’s legacy as Richard Nixon’s national security adviser and secretary of state in one word: mixed.
Henry Kissinger left behind a polarizing legacy that didn’t garner a lot of love from his peers. But he did indeed get a lot of respect, even among those who despised his longtime boss, President Richard Nixon. Kissinger wanted to be loved. He even approached Washington Post senior writer Sally Quinn at a party and asked her why she didn’t call him a sex symbol in her column.
Kissinger was born May 27, 1923 in the city of Fuerth in the German state of Bavaria during the same year of the publication of Arthur Moeller van den Bruck’s “The Third Reich,” the ideal great German Empire of the Nazis that would be the homeland of the pure blooded Aryans and free of all Jews. He escaped Germany at the age of 15, moving with his Jewish parents to New York in 1938. Kissinger was always an admirer of the great German and Prussian militarists and power brokers who rose to the top power positions after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, especially Austria’s Prince Metternich, the architect of Germany’s balance of power diplomacy.
Earning a PhD from Harvard in 1954, he gained the attention of some State Department officials because of his dissertation on Prince Metternich. He was frequently hired for his skills as a strategic thinker and consultant while working on the faculty at Harvard. When the right-wing of the Republican Party returned to power after the Kennedy-Johnson years of progressive government, Kissinger was appointed National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under the Nixon and Ford administrations from 1969-1977.
Hard as it might be to believe, Kissinger was a swinger, a real swinger, according to the insiders in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. Between dates with known Class-A-women like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn, and actress Jill St. John, and being the keeper of a set of keys to the Playboy Mansion given to him by mansion owner Hugh Hefner, Kissinger enjoyed the company of many high-status women, although he always seemed to be on the run, as Gabor once complained.
Henry Kissinger always saw himself as the smartest guy in the room. But Carter-era historian Nancy Mitchell held a slightly different assessment of his ability.
“He had a reputation for being a strategic genius,” Mitchell told the May 27, 2023 edition of The Guardian in its commemoration of Kissinger’s 100th birthday. “He didn’t study Africa. He went in with a very typical racism of the time, a contempt for all developing countries. But if you study what Kissinger did in Angola and Rhodesia, it really sheds a light on the weakness of his entire policy in Africa but also in the Middle East and Vietnam. He misread the situation in Angola from the start.”
His most revealing statement on Africa’s future, wrong as it was, shored up the racist attitude Mitchell and others had exposed during the conflicts in Rhodesia, South Africa and Angola. “The whites are here to stay” was Kissinger’s view in 1969 and was included in his seminal papers for the CIA.
Many other critics of his involvement with Africa refuse to see him in a positive light. They say that his track record in Africa was abysmal. Some of the experts who worked under him in the State Department said that Kissinger was responsible for keeping white domination in South Africa and Rhodesia in place a lot longer than it should have been.
Rolling Stone headlined Kissinger’s passing with a cutting observation: “Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies.” And adds “Good Riddance” as a kicker.
Spencer Ackerman writes in the November 30 edition of Rolling Stone that “between 1969 through 1976, a period of eight brief years, Kissinger’s foreign policy for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford meant the end of between three and four million people. Over 500,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Cambodia between 1969-73, killing between 50,000 and 150,000. Another 1.7 million were killed after Pol Pot took over a destabilized Cambodia. Likewise in Chile, after the murder of Salvador Allende, his tormentor, Pinochet, killed 3,000 protesters and incarcerated 80,000 others.”
Kissinger also assented to Indonesia’s bloodshed in East Timor and Pakistan’s ruthless assault on the citizens of the breakaway state of Bangladesh. A Khmer Rouge official brought to trial in 2009 on charges of war crimes himself blamed the “killing fields” on Kissinger. “Mr. Richard Nixon and Kissinger allowed the Khmer Rouge to grasp golden opportunities,” he said.
Writing in his 2001 memoir, the late Anthony Bourdain said of Kissinger: “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands.”
Along with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, he was awarded the Nobel prize in 1973 for plotting out an end to the Vietnam War. His critics, however, said he should have been brought before the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity instead. Even so, the Vietnam War continued for another two years.
The master of “Realpolitik,” he convinced President Nixon that the massive bombings of Cambodia and North Vietnam would bring an early end to the war. Compared to Kissinger, America’s worst convicted mass killer, Timothy McVeigh, was only an amateur. McVeigh detonated a devastating bomb at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168, including 19 children.
McVeigh killed less than 200. Kissinger killed over two million. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection in June 2001. President Obama awarded Kissinger the Distinguished Public Service Award in 2016.
IRON FIST DIPLOMACY
Furthermore, Kissinger kept a number of political leaders in the Caribbean on their toes, warning them to steer clear of Castro’s Cuba or face a shorter term in office than they might have planned for. Jamaica’s left of center prime minister Michael Manley was one of these targets in 1975. According to Newsday reporters Ernest Volkman and John Cummings, the CIA embarked on a covert program to undermine the Jamaican economy in December 1975 when Manley ignored a warning from then-Secretary of State Kissinger to stop being so friendly toward Fidel Castro’s Cuba, among other things.
“The CIA later approved a plan to assassinate Manley, and three schemes were devised, one on July 14, 1976, when Manley’s jeep was stopped by a roadblock: then on a scheduled Manley visit to Canada in September, 1976, and finally last Dec. 15, the night of the Jamaican elections,” the reporters said. But because of sheer luck or divine intervention, according to the article, “all the plans went awry before shots were fired.” Manley nevertheless went on to lose the office in 1980 to CIA-backed Edward Seaga, the white leader of Jamaica’s Labor Party.
After the obvious loss in Vietnam, Kissinger turned his attention to the civil war that was brewing in Angola. Determined to kick the dominant pro-socialist MPLA out of office, Kissinger teamed up with two of the most despised leaders of Africa – in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) and South Africa.
“Kissinger thought he could rack up an easy win in Angola,” historian Mitchell said. “And he lost. Kissinger teamed up with the apartheid government of South Africa and one of Africa’s most notorious dictators, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, to defeat Angola’s left-leaning rebels. But those rebels enjoyed popular support and…the help of thousands of Cuban troops — a twist Kissinger had failed to predict.
“Kissinger was thinking arrogantly that this is Africa. It’s a simple situation, that he could master it,” Mitchell said. “He left a total mess.”
Chalk Angola up as another loss for Kissinger’s “Realpolitik” in his growing string of failures.
Kissinger’s last move in Africa was to try to undermine the victory of Black rebels over the losing white colonialist Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. He failed there also, as Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army swept on to victory and independence in December 1979. The entire white population of Zimbabwe was expelled to their European motherlands of England, Holland, and Germany.
“Kissinger mostly stayed away from Africa after that,” says Jeffrey Gettleman, international correspondent for the New York Times. “He is now viewed as having a narrow-minded perspective on African affairs and being far too cozy with racist white regimes. In 1969, when he was national security adviser for President Richard Nixon, he essentially put this in writing: ‘The whites are here to stay.”
South African political scientist Peter Vale believes that Kissinger had some “astonishing diplomatic achievements” in the Europe and the Asia of his day. “But his track record in the global south – especially in Africa – is dismal. Kissinger just didn’t understand the popularity – and power – of the Black liberation movements.”