Henry Kissinger, the highly polarising US diplomat, died at the age of 100 yesterday. An academic who became a celebrity diplomat, Kissinger fled Nazi Germany for the US as a child and went on to become the US secretary of state and a political celebrity.
Kissinger served as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under US Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the 1970s. He was instrumental in pioneering the Cold War strategy of détente with the Soviet Union, engaging in historic diplomacy with China, and ending the Vietnam War, a fact which won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.
However, Kissinger has remained an extremely controversial figure for his involvement in various covert interventions abroad.
He has been dubbed a “warmonger” and a “War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class”. For many he will go down in the annals of infamy for orchestrating illegal bombing campaigns in Cambodia and using the CIA to overthrow Chile’s democratically-elected socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973. As a key architect of US foreign policy during this period, he also faced accusations of war crimes.
An ardent Zionist, Kissinger’s Middle East legacy centres around backing Israel unequivocally while securing oil interests through alliances with anti-communist Arab dictatorships. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, he oversaw the massive airlift of US arms to aid Israel, beginning decades of staunch US support. At the same time, Kissinger struck deals to build ties with Iran’s authoritarian Shah and the Saudi royal family.
Detractors condemned Kissinger for enabling oppressive regimes in the name of American imperialism. They argued that his ruthless pragmatism undermined democracy and human rights, as evidenced by support for atrocities in Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Chile and Argentina. He will be remembered as a skilful yet enormously controversial diplomat whose policies strengthened American geopolitical power regardless of ethical concerns.
In recent conflicts Kissinger has been critical of the US and the West in general. He has emphasised the importance of recognising Russia’s historical significance in discussions about European security frameworks. Regarding Crimea’s annexation, he said that Ukraine should not join NATO and suggested it should have a status comparable to Finland during the Cold War, not formally aligned but conducting its foreign policy in a way that does not threaten Russia.
In his final interview he warned that Israel’s genocidal bombardment of Gaza could become a regional war. “The Middle East conflict has the danger of escalating and bringing in other Arab countries under the pressure of their public opinion,” said Kissinger, while pointing to the lessons learned from the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria attacked Israel.
Henry Kissinger: born 27 May, 1923, Furth, Germany; died 29 November, 2023, Kent, Connecticut, USA.