With the death of Henry Kissinger on November 29, 2023, at the age of 100, his biography returned to the forefront again, and the announcement of his death became an occasion to recall his controversial diplomatic legacy. Where he “filled the world and occupied the people,” and since his appearance on the political scene in the late sixties, he has remained a source of intense polarization among political elites in the West and around the world.
Kissinger began his government career as National Security Advisor, then Secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford from 1973 to 1977. His period as Foreign Minister witnessed important political and economic transformations that left their impact on the course of American diplomacy.
Godfather of politics
Kissinger was not an ordinary official implementing the policies of the administrations he worked with. He represented the godfather of many of the policies and strategies that shaped the features of American foreign policy in the Cold War period, until he was described by his supporters as “the giant of American diplomacy,” and the most influential figure in United States foreign policy. .
His policies enabled his country to emerge from the quagmire of the Vietnam War through negotiation, enabled it to open channels of communication with China, and launched diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. He did the same thing in his country's relationship with the Soviet Union. His policies succeeded – according to his supporters – in containing the growing communist influence in various regions of the world and reducing tensions with the Soviet pole.
In contrast to this celebration and reverence, Kissinger's record and political legacy are greatly criticized by his opponents in America and in the rest of the world, as he was a pure pragmatist who did not hesitate to make deals with authoritarian regimes and undermine democracies.
To them, his legacy represents the ugliest embodiment of the United States’ approach to following any means in order to achieve interests and impose influence in the world. Therefore, his critics describe him as a tyrant. For committing many atrocities and crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and many other regions.
We are not here to evaluate the theses that dealt with Kissinger’s legacy, as much as we want to draw readers’ attention to the article by writer James Mann, which was recently published on the “Politico” website, with the title: “The six myths that Kissinger created about himself and how everyone fell into themThrough it, the writer tried to look at Kissinger’s legacy away from the duality of veneration and glorification or defamation and slander.
James Mann, a brilliant American journalist, has worked for more than two decades in the field of journalism, in addition to being an important historian who has published many books about America’s relations with the Middle East and China, most notably his book: “The Rise of the Fire Gods: Bush’s War Ministry.”
What is striking in this article is that he says: Many of the articles that were written after Kissinger’s death, whether they were reverential or indignant articles, were based on narratives that Kissinger wrote down himself or circulated among the media. According to the writer, these narratives include “a wide series of misleading stories and lies that Kissinger constructed about himself throughout the course of his career.”
This is especially true of Kissinger's achievements on the China file. “Much of the reverence that his career has received – even when his destructive policies have been recognized in places like Vietnam and Cambodia – tends to regard him as a statesman, a visionary, and the architect of the idea of openness to China.”
The writer points out that he became aware years ago of the problem of Kissinger's narratives, when, while writing some of his books, he had the opportunity to examine and review secret documents that the courts had lifted the veil of secrecy under the Freedom of Information Act, in addition to reviewing personal memoirs written by those who worked with Kissinger.
The writer admits that “these sources that he consulted reveal many stories that sometimes differ fundamentally from the flattering accounts that Kissinger himself wrote down in his memoirs, or resorted to passing on through friendly opinion columnists.”
With this background, the writer engaged in a task he called: “setting the record straight,” by refuting the six myths that Kissinger created in order to promote himself and create an aura around his achievements.
First: The idea of opening up to China was not Kissinger’s initiative
Kissinger's name was associated in people's imagination as the initiator of the idea of openness to China. But the truth – according to the author – is that President Richard Nixon was the one who actually initiated and was the main driver behind that idea. To refute this common idea, journalist James Mann referred to the memoirs of Alexander Haig, who worked as Kissinger's deputy at that time.
In the memoir, Alexander told the story of Kissinger walking out of a meeting with President Nixon, saying, “Our leader has been out of touch with reality. He thinks this is the right moment to establish relations with Communist China. He has just ordered me to fulfill this far-fetched fantasy flight.” . According to Haig's description of that moment, “Kissinger put his head in his hands and exclaimed in astonishment: 'China!'” According to this account, Kissinger initially ridiculed the idea of establishing relations with China, and this contradicts the common reverential role he plays in the file of US-Chinese relations, as he did not He was neither proactive nor enthusiastic about the idea.
Second: Kissinger lied about the most important and fundamental aspects of his secret trip to China
The writer points out that the accounts that Kissinger included in his memoirs remained for decades the main reference for all information related to his secret trip to Beijing in 1971. The writer describes Kissinger as lying in what he stated in those memoirs, that Taiwan “was only mentioned briefly during his first meeting.” With Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai.
James Mann relies in this on documents related to this subject, especially the minutes of Kissinger’s meeting with Zhou Enlai, which was declassified in 2002, in which it was stated that the Taiwan issue took up the first third of that meeting, in contrast to Kissinger’s statement, which says: Taiwan was “barely mentioned” in the meeting.
What's worse is that Kissinger – according to the new details provided by those documents – made during that meeting, “very important concessions that have continued, from that time to this day, to control and obstruct the course of American policy towards China and Taiwan.”
Evidence of this concession is that the official position of the United States, before Kissinger’s trip to China, was that the issue of sovereignty over Taiwan was an “unsettled issue.” However, in order to make his mission successful, Kissinger promised Zhou Enlai that the United States would not support two Chinese governments (one in Beijing and one in Taipei), and that it would also not agree to a solution of “one China and one Taiwan,” nor would it support independence. Taiwan.
The writer goes on to question the feasibility of Kissinger's concessions expressed in those promises, which still control the American position on Taiwan's independence. Should these concessions have been made in order to continue the initiative to open up to China?
The writer believes that this is not yet clear, although some believe that he did not deserve those concessions. He adds, “We must remember that America's openness to China meant, in return, China's openness to America, especially since China at that time was living in extreme poverty, and in an atmosphere of escalating military conflict with the Soviet Union.”
The author concludes that China desperately wanted to establish a new relationship with the United States. He builds on this conclusion the conclusion that, in retrospect, looking at the issue of the United States’ relationship with China, nothing appears to confirm that Kissinger needed to make such major concessions at that early time in the discussions.
Third: Kissinger deliberately concealed some of the tasks in which his diplomacy towards China failed
The writer emphasizes that Kissinger, after leaving official diplomatic and political work within the United States decades ago, was constantly mentioned in diplomatic literature as the architect of the idea of openness to China, which paved the way for President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. This is a celebration that – according to the writer – ignores Pointing out the tasks in which Kissinger's diplomacy in China failed.
The writer strengthened his argument in this regard with an incident that occurred in 1995, when the Los Angeles Times newspaper – where the writer worked at the time – was able to win a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, allowing it to obtain a study that had been classified as secret, which it conducted. US intelligence services about early US negotiations with China.
One of the most prominent aspects revealed by this study is that Nixon and Kissinger wanted China to help them find a settlement to the Vietnam War. The study shows that in 1972, they actually asked Beijing to do everything in its power “to bring the North Vietnamese negotiating official, Le Duc Tho, to China to hold talks on Chinese territory during Nixon’s historic trip to China. However, China rejected the offer.”
As for the level of embarrassing behavioral behavior, the writer suffices to refer to a statement contained in one of the documents, attributed to Kissinger during Nixon’s visit in 1972, in which he says: “After a dinner of Peking duck, I will agree to anything.”
This statement may be nothing more than a compliment expressing Kissinger's satisfaction with his trip to China, but the writer believes that this statement was the beginning of Kissinger's “fascination with China.” To confirm this fascination, he quotes a secret memo that Kissinger sent to Nixon in 1973, in which he says: “China is perhaps now closest to us in its global outlook. No other world leader has the ability and imagination of Mao and Zhou.”
Fourth: Kissinger imposed himself as a mediator for presidents and world leaders
Obituaries note that after leaving the government, Kissinger served as a mediator between the United States and other countries, especially China. This idea seemed to imply that American officials were asking Kissinger to act as an intermediary.
However, whoever reviews Kissinger's real record discovers that the matter did not happen that way. On the contrary, “Kissinger used to impose himself as a mediator, without being asked to do so, and even when he was not wanted.”
According to the writer, tracking Kissinger’s movements after leaving public office revealed that he was “traveling on his own initiative to China, mostly for commercial purposes. When he had the opportunity to hold meetings with Chinese leaders, he would take it upon himself to tell them what American officials were thinking and declaring in Washington.” “Then, when he returns to the United States, he goes to the White House or the State Department and volunteers to tell American officials what is going on in Beijing.”
The writer goes further, to say: Kissinger did not limit himself to playing the role of a mediator behind the scenes, but also repeatedly tried to return to power after being removed from his position in 1976 (that is, after Jimmy Carter was elected president).
In 1980, he was one of the architects of the Republican Convention deal, under which former President Gerald Ford would be Ronald Reagan's vice presidential nominee and Kissinger's nominee for Secretary of State. However, Reagan's electoral team politely rejected that deal. He repeated the same thing in 1988, When he proposed to George H. W. Bush's team, “that he take over the reins of Soviet diplomacy as the primary envoy of the US administration to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.”
The author concludes – from the above – that Kissinger often imposed himself as a mediator to a greater degree than American presidents wanted.
Fifth: On the Chinese issue, Kissinger was not as realistic as he claimed
Kissinger is often described as a realist in international relations. Therefore, the writer admits that he may indeed have a realistic approach from a philosophical standpoint, especially since he “devoted his projects, in many parts of the world – as his critics accurately noted in his eulogy – according to a strict, sometimes even brutal, realistic approach.”
However, anyone who considers the outcome of Kissinger's actions regarding China will find that he was more romantic than realistic. In this context, the writer recalls information contained in one of Kissinger’s private memoirs that he sent to Nixon regarding China, which he wrote after a visit he made to Beijing in 1973, during which he met with leader Mao Zedong, where he wrote: Mao’s personality “radiates an aura of authority and profound wisdom.” …I was more impressed by the man’s greatness this time than last time. One can easily imagine the strength and intelligence of this man in his prime.” According to the writer, such an assessment could not have been issued by a realistic man.
Sixth: Kissinger’s statements contributed to exaggerating his role in diplomacy with China
Reports prior to Kissinger's death indicated that he played a role in raising the tension between the Biden administration and China, and added that the high-level contacts that the two countries witnessed occurred as a result of a visit by Kissinger to Beijing. Again, the facts say otherwise. If Kissinger traveled to China in mid-July, the Biden administration had previously sent Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to Beijing, and discussions were already underway to arrange the visit of the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to the United States in November. /November. Consequently, Kissinger played no role in this diplomatic matter.