Thursday February 29, 2024

Kissinger — a towering diplomat, notorious war criminal — dies

Kissinger served as secretary of state, NSA under Presidents Nixon and Ford, positions that allowed him to direct Vietnam War

By News Agencies & News Desk
December 01, 2023
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger waves after receiving an award during a ceremony at the Pentagon honoring his diplomatic career May 9, 2016 in Washington, DC. — AFP
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger waves after receiving an award during a ceremony at the Pentagon honoring his diplomatic career May 9, 2016 in Washington, DC. — AFP

NEW YORK: Henry Kissinger — who as a top American foreign policy official oversaw, overlooked and at times actively perpetrated some of the most grotesque war crimes the United States and its allies have committed — died Wednesday at his home in Connecticut. He was 100 years old, according to a statement from his geopolitical consulting firm, Kissinger Associates Incorporated.

No mention was made of the circumstances. It said he would be interred at a private family service, to be followed at a later date by a public memorial service in New York City.

Kissinger served as secretary of state and national security adviser under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, positions that allowed him to direct the Vietnam War and the broader Cold War with the Soviet Union, and to implement a stridently “realist” approach that prioritized U.S. interests and domestic political success over any potential atrocity that might occur. The former led to perhaps the most infamous crime Kissinger committed: a secret four-year bombing campaign in Cambodia that killed an untold number of civilians, despite the fact that it was a neutral nation with which the United States was not at war.

During his time in charge of the American foreign policy machine, Kissinger supported the 1973 military coup that overthrew a democratically elected socialist government in Chile, gave the go-ahead to Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor, and backed Argentina’s repressive military dictatorship as it launched its “dirty war” against dissenters and leftists in 1976. His policies during the Ford administration also fueled civil wars in Africa, most notably in Angola. Even the most generous calculations suggest that the murderous regimes Kissinger supported and the conflicts they waged were responsible for millions of deaths and millions of other human rights abuses, during and after the eight years he served in the American government.

Kissinger never showed remorse for those misdeeds. He never paid any real price for them either. He maintained a mocking tone toward critics of his human rights record throughout his life and remained a member in good standing of elite Washington political society until his death. Kissinger’s acolytes argue that honors like these are more than deserved. His accomplishments, including an opening of relations with China and detente with the Soviet Union, outweigh any abuses that helped make them possible.

At the request of ex-President Nixon, former Pakistan President Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan acted as a go-between the United States and China to promote the normalisation of their relations as they did not have formal diplomatic ties.

Washington then recognized the so-called “Republic of China” as the government of all China. That regime was set up by Chiang Kai-shek, whose troops fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese Revolution. Since then, there was great a deal of hostility between Beijing and Washington and the US portrayed China as its enemy. Nixon chose Pakistan for the task as Islamabad was on good terms with both China and the United States. The whole operation was carried out by Gen Yahya Khan, who had earned the trust of President Nixon and Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, with military precision, secrecy and deception.

When Kissinger landed in Pakistan in July 1971, he feigned a stomach problem and claimed he needed a few days to recuperate and was supposedly taken to Nathiagali, buying him the time he needed to get to China undetected. So secret was the operation that the then Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Sultan Mohammad Khan personally drove Kissinger in a Volkswagen Beetle to Rawalpindi’s Chaklala Airport at 3:30 am for the flight in a PIA Boeing-707 to Beijing. The pilot Captain M.T. Baig was told about the destination of his VVIP flight once the plane was airborne.

Kissinger and his team were unsure about how they would be treated in China, but when everything went well and the Chinese leadership extended an invitation to President Nixon, he sent a one-word cable to the White House “Eureka”. Not even Nixon’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Alexander Haig, could understand what the coded cable meant, but the president knew -- he just smiled.

On Kissinger’s return from Pakistan, Nixon broke the news about the breakthrough in the relations with China, saying he would pay a state visit in February 1972. President Yahya was assisted by a two-man team of his top diplomats, Foreign Secretary Sultan Khan and Pakistan Ambassador to the US, Agha Hilaly.

Kissinger also gained some infamy for his reported warning to Pakistan against developing nuclear weapons following the atomic test carried out by India in May 1974. The warning, which was accompanied by an offer to provide top-of-the-line military equipment, was conveyed at his October 1974 meeting with former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The offer was rejected by Bhutto.

Brilliant, abrasive and ruthlessly ambitious, Henry Kissinger towered over post-World War II US foreign policy like no one else and shaped a fateful new course for the world’s relationship with China.

Kissinger was a master tactician whose intellectual gifts were begrudgingly acknowledged even by his many critics, who nevertheless faulted his disregard for human rights and democracy in the Vietnam War and elsewhere.

Instantly recognizable for a sharp-witted monotone that never lost a touch of his native German as well as his bookishly thick glasses, Kissinger -- the author of several weighty tomes -- became viewed by the public as the epitome of an international power-broker, an image he capitalized upon as a consultant for decades after leaving office.

The name Kissinger is often paired with “realpolitik” -- diplomacy based on power and practical considerations.

Elsewhere Kissinger negotiated America’s exit from the disastrous Vietnam War, sharing the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho for a ceasefire agreement that year. Nearly two years later, Nixon’s self-described ‘peace with honour’ collapsed with the fall of Saigon to the Viet Cong during the administration of President Ford.

Kissinger also crafted the détente policy that thawed the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Through his shuttle diplomacy, he wrung out agreements between Israel and Egypt in the wake of the Arab countries’ surprise launch of the 1973 War.

In 1974, at the pinnacle of his power and a decade after his first marriage ended, Kissinger wedded the former Nancy Maginnes, the strikingly tall former aide to Rockefeller. She survives him, as do two children from his first marriage, David and Elizabeth.

Kissinger was kept at arm’s length when the Republicans returned to power under Ronald Reagan, who began with a more ideological bent.

But Kissinger rarely passed up opportunities to dispense advice, readily shuttling from his Manhattan penthouse to Washington when leaders called.