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The two faces of Henry Kissinger This nice Jewish boy was a natural liar

Kissinger in 1982 (Getty0

Kissinger in 1982 (Getty0


December 1, 2023   4 mins

In the coming days, many will lavish praise and blame on Henry Kissinger for what he did and did not do. A prime example is the coup in Chile that removed Salvador Allende in 1973, which Kissinger welcomed but did not cause. With thousands of US academics teaching the falsehood of his guilt as truth, Kissinger just had to live with the calumny.

Instead of assigning blame or praise, I will limit myself to personal recollections. Soon after arriving in the US in 1972, to pursue accelerated doctoral studies at Johns Hopkins University (already 27 and married with a child, I had no time to lose), an older London acquaintance, the eminent contemporary historian Walter Laqueur introduced me to his close friend from Berlin, Helmut Sonnenfeldt — then the senior figure on the National Security Council headed by Kissinger. When Kissinger became Nixon’s second Secretary of State in September 1973, Sonnenfeldt became Kissinger’s Counsellor, a role analogous to the “consigliere” of fictional Mafia families (I never heard the term in Sicily, where I grew up). While the job of the Secretary of State is to shield the US from foreign antagonists, the Counsellor’s job is to shield the Secretary of State from his bureaucratic enemies in other departments of government — and, most of all, from his own State department officials.

That Laqueur shared Sonnenfeldt and Kissinger’s uncontrollable passion for the German Bundesliga‘s football teams was an additional bond between the three German Jews, which I failed to share as Laqueur’s sidekick, although I too was a German speaker. While Kissinger didn’t like to hold entire conversations in German, he enjoyed using less translatable German expressions such as Hochstapler, loosely defined as a confidence trickster, and BetrĂŒger, an impostor and deceiver.

That he liked to use those specific words was striking because Kissinger himself was a compulsive liar — a characteristic which does not detract from his huge achievement of “castling” the USSR by turning China from a strategic enemy to strategic ally. Indeed, lying was so much part of Kissinger’s personality that he took no action against Sonnenfeldt when, in a moment of madness, the latter blurted out that Kissinger would lie when he had to, and would keep on lying just to remain in practice for the next occasion when he would have to lie again.

One victim of Kissinger’s lying — all for a good cause, as was most often the case — was James R. Schlesinger, the Rand Corporation strategist who was Nixon’s Secretary of Defense in October 1973, and for whom I soon started working as a day-rate strategist. At the time, a much smaller and weaker Israel was fighting for its life against Egypt and Syria, after being surprised by their simultaneous offensives on 6 October. The badly outnumbered Israelis needed supplies urgently, and Schlesinger promptly ordered the US Air Force’s airlift command to start assembling aircraft and needed the supplies.

But Nixon, fearing an Arab oil embargo, would not give the green light. Instead of arguing Israel’s case with Nixon, as a nice Jewish boy should have done, Kissinger wanted to be a very nice Jewish boy — by holding up the airlift for just a few days, so that Egypt could enjoy its initial surprise attack before Israel’s inevitable counter-offensive. That would, he hoped, improve the chances of the Egyptians agreeing to a “peace of the brave”, instead of more of the bitterness caused by Israel’s crushing 1967 victory.

Kissinger’s calculation proved to be accurate, and the peace he engineered by delaying America’s supplies lasted for half a century. But in those red-hot days of October 1973, it was a huge embarrassment for Kissinger to hold up the airlift, so he circulated the rumour that Schlesinger was to blame. As it turned out, when Nixon finally ordered the airlift after Golda Meir’s entreaties, fully stocked C-5 aircraft took off almost from Dover Air Force base — thus proving that Schlesinger, far from dragging his feet, had ensured that both aircraft and supplies would be ready to go as soon as White House approval arrived. By then, however, Kissinger’s lie had become Washington’s truth.

This had serious consequences, making Schlesinger so unpopular that a small intrigue was enough to persuade President Ford to fire him in 1975. When Laqueur and I wrote an article revealing the truth about who did what in October 1973, Kissinger was not seriously irritated — he just called us “partners in crime”.

But the Kissinger-Schlesinger quarrel was also about something altogether larger than the 1973 airlift: dĂ©tente with the Soviet Union, which was Kissinger’s most important policy creation and which Schlesinger fiercely opposed. He was still in office when it culminated in the Vladivostok Summit Meeting between Secretary General Brezhnev and President Ford in November 1974, in which the two sides finally agreed finally agreed to exact numerical restrictions on each side’s nuclear weapons, and — even more importantly — also agreed to manage all future conflicts jointly, even if that would offend their respective allies.

The Vladivostok summit was Kissinger’s apotheosis. It sealed his dĂ©tente policy with the Soviet Union — and, in the meetings, it was very obvious that Brezhnev relied on Kissinger to guide him more than he relied on his own foreign minister, Gromyko, by then in his 18th year in office and a dried-up prune. It was just as obvious that Ford was out of his limited depth, and that Kissinger was telling him what to do and say every step of the way. Considering that Kissinger was concurrently going in and out of Beijing with as much or as little ceremony as he wanted, in his final days in office he seemed to be more than just the US Secretary of State, but the world’s statesman.

But Vladivostok was also his downfall. Even before Jimmy Carter, the next President, repudiated all his policies by prioritising human rights over dĂ©tente with Moscow or amity with Beijing, his own President Ford had to promise that he would not re-appoint Kissinger if re-elected: the backlash against his conviviality with the world’s most powerful dictators was just too strong.

After that, Kissinger mostly kept in touch by sending me (and many others) every article he wrote. The most recent was from just a week ago: a letter on the dangers and promise of artificial intelligence co-authored with Graham Allison. By contrast, when we did occasionally meet, mostly at Manhattan dinner parties, he avoided any serious conversation. He would invariably turn into the other Kissinger, the gossip-loving society figure, who never talked of his money-making Kissinger Associates or anything else of substance.

That he died at the age of 100 is more extraordinary than many realise: I was in frequent contact with him soon after his quadruple bypass surgery in February 1982. Back then, his surgeon confidently gave him another 10 years.


Professor Edward Luttwak is a strategist and historian known for his works on grand strategy, geoeconomics, military history, and international relations.

ELuttwak

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J Bryant
J Bryant
5 months ago

I will always associate Kissinger with post-WWII America, when the country was by far the dominant power in the world. Kissinger was the clever, ambitious, scheming immigrant who climbed his way to the top, and my impression is his constant worldview, even late in life, was that of super-strategist for the global hegemon.
Sadly, that America has faded. We appear to be in terminal decline. I doubt there’s a place for a new Kissinger. We seem to prefer smiling car salesmen who tell us not to worry, all is well, have another Big Mac.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I always thought of Kissinger as an ambivalent personality who I could never figure out. He was reputed to be a man of immense insight and ability. I cannot say because I did not know him but enough people of substance believed it so it looks like it was true.
However having now seen his enemies self-identify my esteem for him has grown and grown.
With enemies like that he must have been man of enormous talent, integrity and courage.
One thing is for certain he was not driven by BS and virtue signalling

Last edited 5 months ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
5 months ago

Someone who saw it through the gap in a swimming suit said Kissinger had an enormous organ of generation, one reason for his success with the ladies.

Stevie K
Stevie K
5 months ago

Like all human beings he was a ridiculous bundle of contradictions. But, what an extraordinary performance, and it appears for the most part he was on the side of the angels. Most of us would be unbearably arrogant with half his achievements.

Peter Samson
Peter Samson
5 months ago

Among all the grand post-mortem pronouncements about Kissinger it was refreshing to have this wry but sympathetic portrait – neither condemning nor praising – by someone who actually knew the man.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Samson

Thus the origin of term “Kosher Nostra”.

N T
N T
5 months ago

why does his religion figure so prominently in every piece discussing him? are we trying to say something about him, or about his theology?
every time there is some detail that is part of the headline or the subtext, one would think it was really, really important to the story – or that whomever wrote it has some weird fetish about the detail.

Amelia Melkinthorpe
Amelia Melkinthorpe
5 months ago

They need to ensure that the lid is nailed down completely on the ghastly thing. He was never, ever “nice”.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
5 months ago

Kissenger’s life shows that politicians are successful when they lie. Is that unexpected?
His writing shows that he was a great communicator. Maybe he was communicating lies but he did so with great prose.
He was important in an important country and his actions could kill millions. In Britain he would have killed fewer people. Compare Blair and Kissenger perhaps.
Rightly or wrongly, being Jewish probably helped his career, especially when telling about the troubles in Europe.
Knowing what we know, is it surprising that politicians lie and that we blame them for all our ills?

Last edited 5 months ago by Caradog Wiliams
Nardo Flopsey
Nardo Flopsey
5 months ago

If they didn’t lie, they would be replaced with people who told the public the impossible contradictory banalities they wished to hear.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
5 months ago

I liked his German accent.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
5 months ago

He never lost his Upper Bavarian ( Franconia) accent.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

‘A man from Bavaria casts a shadow in the darkest cellar.”

Nardo Flopsey
Nardo Flopsey
5 months ago

Filed for future reference

Greg nagle
Greg nagle
5 months ago

This immediately caught my attention.

Lutwak said this,
“In the coming days, many will lavish praise and blame on Henry Kissinger for what he did and did not do. A prime example is the coup in Chile that removed Salvador Allende in 1973, which Kissinger welcomed but did not cause. With thousands of US academics teaching the falsehood of his guilt as truth, Kissinger just had to live with the calumny.”

Regarding the US role in the 1973 coup in Chile, I asked ChatGPT to give me a summary of US involvement in the coup.

How was the US and CIA involved with the 1973 coup in chile.?

ChatGPT
ChatGPT
The United States, particularly through the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), played a role in the 1973 coup in Chile that resulted in the overthrow of President Salvador Allende. The U.S. involvement in the coup included both overt and covert actions. Here are key aspects of how the U.S. and CIA were involved:
Funding and Support for Opposition Groups:The U.S. government, under President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, directed financial support to opposition groups in Chile. This support included funding for political parties, media organizations, and labor unions that were actively working against President Allende’s government.Economic Pressure:The U.S. exerted economic pressure on Chile to create economic instability. This involved influencing international institutions and organizations to limit financial assistance to Chile and restricting loans. The goal was to exacerbate the economic difficulties faced by Allende’s government.Propaganda and Psychological Warfare:The CIA engaged in a propaganda campaign to undermine Allende’s government and shape public opinion against him. This included influencing media outlets, disseminating anti-Allende narratives, and creating a negative image of the socialist government.Covert Operations and Assistance to Military Plotters:The CIA, through its Special Activities Division, provided covert support to Chilean military officers and intelligence operatives who were plotting a coup against Allende. This assistance included training, funding, and logistical support.Project FUBELT (Track II):The CIA operated a covert program known as Project FUBELT, or Track II, which aimed at destabilizing Allende’s government and supporting efforts to facilitate a coup. The agency worked with Chilean military officials who were discontented with Allende’s presidency.Awareness and Approval at High Levels:President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were aware of and approved the efforts to destabilize Allende’s government. Declassified documents and recordings reveal conversations between Nixon and Kissinger expressing a desire to prevent Allende’s reelection and discussing the use of covert means to achieve this goal.On September 11, 1973, the Chilean military, led by General Augusto Pinochet, staged a coup. President Allende died during the coup, and Pinochet assumed power. The military junta that followed implemented repressive measures, leading to widespread human rights abuses and political persecution.
The U.S. involvement in the Chilean coup remains a subject of historical scrutiny and controversy, and it had profound and lasting effects on Chilean politics and society.

Last edited 5 months ago by Greg nagle
Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
5 months ago

I think the best Kissinger story is this from La Wik:
“During the American advance into Germany, Kissinger, though only a private (the lowest military rank), was put in charge of the administration of the city of Krefeld because of a lack of German speakers on the division’s intelligence staff. Within eight days he had established a civilian administration.”
Krefeld is a town of about 250,000 near Duisburg and DĂŒsseldorf.

Last edited 5 months ago by Christopher Chantrill
Jane Davis
Jane Davis
5 months ago

Only two?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

He was “a dried-up prune?” Such weak-minded characterizations discredit your argument and dignity all the way around.

Alix Daniel
Alix Daniel
5 months ago

I do hope Kissinger’s death signals the end of an era, where diplomacy has only promoted disputes between religions, wars and dictatorships all around the world.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
5 months ago
Reply to  Alix Daniel

Bizarre remark!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

Do we really need another essay on this man? Surely everything was said yesterday?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago

In contrast to Alistair Dowling and Shane McGowen, I did not see his death mentioned on the main news bulletins

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

Much more important has been the lack of coverage of the recent death*of Colonel Derek Wilford, OBE, formerly Commanding Officer of the First Battalion,The Parachute Regiment.
Wilford commanded the Battalion during the disturbances in Londonderry, sometimes referred to as Bloody Sunday, in January 1972. An outstanding officer he career was be wrecked by the supine behaviour of HMG which continues until the present day.

(*24th November last.)

Amelia Melkinthorpe
Amelia Melkinthorpe
5 months ago

Exactly the right amount of coverage, then.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
5 months ago

Right, let’s get back to Harry and Meghan.

D Walsh
D Walsh
5 months ago

Wow, Henry Kissinger was Jewish, I never would have guessed

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Watch out or you will have Ms Jane Davis ‘on your back’!

Jane Davis
Jane Davis
5 months ago

Yes, Charles, he will

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
5 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

You said the secret quiet bit out loud. Leftists are keen to state that they are not anti semitic in the slightest.

Stevie K
Stevie K
5 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Are we grown up enough to have an adult conversation about cultural propensities and the actual need for skilful deceptiveness as the essential lubricant of those brittle relationships between various borderline psychos who by dint of perennial human nature will always be well represented in the peaks of power. I somehow doubt that we are. Such an exquisitely beautiful and measured article.