CEO Morning Brief

Henry Kissinger, American Diplomat and Nobel Winner, Dead at 100

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Publish date: Fri, 01 Dec 2023, 09:03 AM
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TheEdge CEO Morning Brief
While many hailed Kissinger for his brilliance and broad experience, others branded him as a war criminal for his support for anti-communist dictatorships.

WASHINGTON (Nov 29): Henry Kissinger, a diplomatic powerhouse whose roles as a national security adviser and secretary of state under two presidents who left an indelible mark on US foreign policy and earned him a controversial Nobel Peace Prize, died on Wednesday at age 100.

Kissinger died at his home in Connecticut, according to a statement from his geopolitical consulting firm, Kissinger Associates Inc. 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 had been active late in life, attending meetings in the White House, publishing a book on leadership styles, and testifying before a Senate committee about the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. In July 2023, he made a surprise visit to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

During the 1970s, in the midst of the Cold War, he had a hand in many of the epoch-changing global events of the decade, while serving as national security adviser and secretary of state under then Republican president Richard Nixon.

The German-born Jewish refugee's efforts led to the US diplomatic opening with China, landmark US-Soviet arms control talks, expanded ties between Israel and its Arab neighbours, and the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam.

Kissinger's reign as the prime architect of US foreign policy waned with Nixon's resignation in 1974, amid the Watergate scandal. Still, he continued to be a diplomatic force as secretary of state under Nixon's successor, then president Gerald Ford, and to offer strong opinions throughout the rest of his life.

While many hailed Kissinger for his brilliance and broad experience, others branded him as a war criminal for his support for anti-communist dictatorships, especially in Latin America. In his latter years, his travels were circumscribed by efforts by other nations to arrest or question him about past US foreign policy.

His 1973 Peace Prize was awarded for ending American involvement in the Vietnam War but it was one of the most controversial ever. Two members of the Nobel committee resigned over the selection, as questions arose about the secret US bombing of Cambodia. North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho was selected to jointly receive the award but declined it.

Ford called Kissinger a "super secretary of state" but also noted his prickliness and self-assurance, which critics were more likely to call them paranoia and egotism. Even Ford said, "Henry, in his mind, never made a mistake".

"He had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew," Ford said in an interview shortly before his death in 2006.

With his dour expression and gravelly German-accented voice, Kissinger possessed an image of both a stuffy academic and a ladies' man, squiring starlets around Washington and New York in his bachelor days. Power, he said, was the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Voluble on policy, Kissinger was reticent on personal matters, although he once told a journalist that he saw himself as a cowboy hero, riding off alone.

Harvard faculty

Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born in Furth, Germany, on May 27, 1923, and moved to the United States with his family in 1938, before the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jewry.

Anglicising his name to Henry, Kissinger became a naturalised US citizen in 1943, served in the Army in Europe in World War Two, and attended Harvard University on a scholarship, earning a master's degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1954. He was on Harvard's faculty for the next 17 years.

During much of that time, Kissinger served as a consultant to government agencies, including in 1967, when he acted as an intermediary for the State Department in Vietnam. He used his connections with President Lyndon Johnson's administration to pass on information about peace negotiations to the Nixon camp.

When Nixon's pledge to end the Vietnam War helped him win the 1968 presidential election, he brought Kissinger to the White House as national security adviser.

But the process of "Vietnamisation" — shifting the burden of the war from the 500,000-troop US forces to the South Vietnamese — was long and bloody, punctuated by massive US bombing of North Vietnam, the mining of the North's harbours, and the bombing of Cambodia.

Kissinger declared in 1972 that "peace is at hand" in Vietnam but the Paris Peace Accords reached in January 1973 were little more than a prelude to the final Communist takeover of the South two years later.

In 1973, in addition to his role as national security adviser, Kissinger was named secretary of state — giving him unchallenged authority in foreign affairs.

An intensifying Arab-Israeli conflict launched Kissinger on his first so-called "shuttle" mission, a brand of highly personal, high-pressure diplomacy for which he became famous.

Thirty-two days spent shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus helped Kissinger forge a long-lasting disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In an effort to diminish Soviet influence, Kissinger reached out to its chief communist rival, China, and made two trips there, including a secret one to meet with then premier Zhou Enlai. The result was Nixon's historic summit in Beijing with then chairman Mao Zedong, and the eventual formalisation of relations between the two countries.

Former US ambassador to China, Winston Lord, who served as Kissinger's special assistant, saluted his former boss as a "tireless advocate for peace," telling Reuters, "America has lost a towering champion for the national interest".

Strategic arms accord

The Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to resign barely grazed Kissinger, who was not connected to the cover-up and continued as secretary of state when Ford took office in the summer of 1974. But Ford did replace him as national security adviser, in an effort to hear more voices on foreign policy.

Later that year, Kissinger went with Ford to Vladivostok in the Soviet Union, where the president met Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and agreed to a basic framework for a strategic arms pact. The agreement capped Kissinger's pioneering efforts at detente that led to a relaxing of US-Soviet tensions.

But Kissinger's diplomatic skills had their limits. In 1975, he was faulted for failing to persuade Israel and Egypt to agree to a second-stage disengagement in the Sinai.

And in the India-Pakistan War of 1971, Nixon and Kissinger were heavily criticised for tilting toward Pakistan. Kissinger was heard calling the Indians "bastards" — a remark he later said he regretted.

Like Nixon, he feared the spread of left-wing ideas in the Western hemisphere, and his actions in response were to cause deep suspicion of Washington from many Latin Americans for years to come.

In 1970, he plotted with the CIA on how best to destabilise and overthrow the Marxist but democratically elected then Chilean president Salvador Allende, while he said in a memo in the wake of Argentina's bloody coup in 1976 that the military dictators should be encouraged.

When Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, in 1976, Kissinger's days in the suites of government power were largely over. The next Republican in the White House, Ronald Reagan, distanced himself from Kissinger, whom he viewed as out of step with his conservative constituency.

After leaving government, Kissinger set up a high-priced, high-powered consulting firm in New York, which offered advice to the world's corporate elite. He served on company boards and various foreign policy and security forums, wrote books, and became a regular media commentator on international affairs.

After the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, then president George W Bush picked Kissinger to head an investigative committee. But outcry from Democrats who saw a conflict of interest with many of his consulting firm's clients, forced Kissinger to step down from the post.

Divorced from his first wife Ann Fleischer in 1964, he married Nancy Maginnes, an aide to then New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, in 1974. He had two children by his first wife.

Source: TheEdge - 1 Dec 2023

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