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Tags: henry kissinger | policies | wrong | china | soviet union | ukraine | russia

Kissinger Was Monumental, but His Policies Were Often Wrong

By    |   Wednesday, 06 December 2023 10:42 AM EST

It is profoundly telling of Henry Kissinger's influence that his death late last month has spawned renewed discussions about not his legacy, but America's.

The immigrant son of Jewish refugees from Germany rose to such a powerful position in American history that his impact defined U.S. policy for generations. It's a legacy we are still contending with.

Kissinger was a monumental and influential statesman. But he was not a lion or a Churchillian character.

He was often on the wrong side of things and was a highly controversial figure for more than 50 years. Arguably, no single statesman in recent history has been as scrutinized, reviled, or pilloried as Kissinger. But he remained relevant and revered in some circles because he was a bureaucratic insider who knew how to play the world stage and the media.

Kissinger's tenure as secretary of state and, indeed, his entire diplomatic legacy has been defined by his pragmatic approach to public policy, focusing on what is instead of what should be.

He made this policy evident in his earliest dealings with China.

In 1969, the Communist revolution was two decades old. America maintained no diplomatic relationship with the Chinese Communist Party and recognized the Republic of China, located in Taiwan, and the legitimate government of China in exile.

While history remembers Kissinger as the man who helped open up China to the West, it was neither his idea nor his intention.

According to historian Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, Kissinger opposed a potential alliance with China. In his memoir, "White House Years," Kissinger wrote that he was concerned any normalization with China could jeopardize U.S. relations with Taiwan. He was also an aggressive anti-communist who believed that diplomacy with communist powers would give them an implied legitimacy that he opposed on principle.

It was only at Nixon's insistence that Kissinger acceded to the plan.

Kissinger also, alongside Nixon, enacted his much-touted détente policy with the Soviet Union.

During the Nixon administration, the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, and the Threshold Test Ban Treaty were all signed by Nixon as a result of Kissinger's diplomacy and negotiations. Kissinger continued these efforts into the Ford Administration.

Beyond détente, a willingness to turn a blind eye to unfathomable human suffering was a key component of Kissinger's foreign policy.

For example, Kissinger's much-celebrated secret messages with China in 1971 were exchanged through the Pakistani diplomatic office. But in exchange for the Pakistani government aiding Kissinger on his trip to China, both Kissinger and Richard Nixon agreed to overlook the "selective genocide" the Pakistani military was carrying out against its own people.

In early talks with China, Kissinger tacitly agreed that the U.S. would abandon all relations with Taiwan once the Vietnam War concluded and China and the West normalized relations.

During the Yom Kippur War, with Israel running critically short of essential munitions, Kissinger intentionally stalled the delivery of war material.

"It was Henry himself who stalled the airlift … I do not mean to imply that he wanted Israel to lose the war; he simply did not want Israel to win decisively," U.S. Navy Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., wrote in his book "On Watch." "He wanted Israel to bleed just enough to soften it up for the post-war diplomacy he was planning."

Nixon alone decided to resupply Israel, a move that is credited with saving the nation.

Yet no betrayal of an American ally would be as profound and resounding as his policy towards the South Vietnamese.

A key promise of Nixon's presidential campaign was to end the war in Vietnam with "honor." The war had become increasingly unpopular, and with no exit strategy in sight, the American people yearned for a peaceful resolution. Kissinger saw the war as a "distraction."

Kissinger helped negotiate The Paris Peace Accords and in doing so was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Under the agreement, the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, the North Vietnamese released all American prisoners, and there was an intent to establish an ongoing peace between North and South Vietnam.

Yet, just over a year after the deal was signed, the North invaded, toppling South Vietnam. Despite pleas for aid, America abandoned a critical ally in its most desperate moment. In the ensuing years, millions of Vietnamese would be killed while others were sent to "reeducation camps" under the new communist leadership.

Kissinger, then serving as secretary of state for President Gerald Ford, declined to press Nixon's successor to support America's ally.

Many believe that while negotiating the peace deal, Kissinger assured his counterpart from North Vietnam that, if he signed the agreement, the U.S. would not send troops back into Vietnam should the North invade its neighbor.

Even many of Kissinger's most hard-line liberal critics applaud his work on détente. Publications from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times have referred to it as a critical step towards easing global tensions and putting the Soviet Union on a path to peaceful disarmament.

Yet during Kissinger's tenure, despite the signing of multiple treaties, the Soviet Union continued to expand its nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, the international treaties and agreements gave communists in the Soviet Union and China the ability to whitewash the brutal subjugation of their citizens and those from other nations.

Détente did not deter Soviet reprisals in Hungary, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, or the deployment of military "advisers" to battlefields across the world.

Perhaps Kissinger's most enduring foreign policy success was an unintended consequence of his actions: the populist conservative backlash to the policies of détente.

Conservative leaders didn't see normalizing relations with communist powers as a step towards peace but an endorsement of the perpetual Cold War. From this group, Ronald Reagan stepped onto the national stage.

A key component of Reagan's foreign policy was the rejection of détente, as decades of Kissinger-inspired treaties had done little to eliminate the threat of nuclear war.

Kissinger, of course, was a vocal critic of Reagan's approach. In a 2015 interview, Kissinger acknowledged that he was extremely "skeptical' and opposed to Reagan's style of rhetoric.

"Détente ended the day Reagan was elected," Reagan biographer Craig Shirley said.

After the Berlin Wall fell, due in large part to Reagan's policies, Kissinger would recontextualize détente as a necessary stepping stone. In doing so, he said, it paved the way for Reagan to succeed.

Kissinger in recent decades had been an apologist for China and its worst abuses, from Tiananmen Square on. Last summer, Chinese President Xi Jinping even feted Kissinger in Beijing.

Kissinger had also been close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, following the unprovoked Russian invasion of Crimea, Kissinger published an op-ed asserting that Ukraine should "abandon" its claim to Crimea. Instead, he stated, "to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country."

And he urged "wise Ukrainian leaders" to acquiesce to Putin and announce a "policy of reconciliation between the various parts of their country."

Such rhetoric, alongside the Obama administration's failure to hold Russia accountable, is believed to have emboldened Putin to launch his full invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

In true Kissinger fashion, he reversed his earlier stance and applauded Ukrainian leadership for opposing Putin, even encouraging the nation's NATO aspirations.

Perhaps this, above all else, is the defining characteristic of Kissinger.

As a consummate pragmatist, his opinions and actions were always enslaved to the status quo — a perception of the world as it is, not as it could be. This made him an incredibly adept and effective diplomat, but also denied him the strategic vision to see what was beyond the black and white of an incurrent day.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

It is profoundly telling of Henry Kissinger's influence that his death late last month has spawned renewed discussions about not his legacy, but America's.
henry kissinger, policies, wrong, china, soviet union, ukraine, russia, richard nixon
Wednesday, 06 December 2023 10:42 AM
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