•   Wednesday, 12 Jun, 2024

Henry Kissinger: A Guru of Modern Diplomacy or a War Criminal?

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A top adviser to the US president, on a fact-finding mission abroad, unexpectedly falls ill during a state dinner, attributed to exhaustion and an unfamiliar diet. To recover, his hosts take him to a secluded hillside villa, away from the city and prying press. After a couple of days, he reappears, fully recovered, and resumes his travel plans. This incident was initially reported to have occurred in Pakistan from July 9 to 11, 1971. However, subsequent revelations unveiled a different truth―the envoy had taken a detour that would profoundly alter the course of world history, marking the beginning of improved Sino-US relations in 1972. He had clandestinely entered China, laying the groundwork for future robust diplomatic ties between the two nations. It was Henry Kissinger.

The same Kissinger passed away, concluding a checkered and legendary life, at his own residence in Connecticut on Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023, leaving a void in the sphere of diplomacy. The profound impact of Henry Kissinger, a Harvard University graduate summa cum laude, showcasing his exceptional performance, is clearly evident through his advisory role spanning twelve presidencies. His influential career began with the thirty-fifth president in 1961 John F. Kennedy, and extended to the current President, Joe Biden. From 1969 to 1977, Kissinger found himself comfortably ensconced in the corridors of power, crafting and operationalizing foreign policy. He stands as the sole individual ever to have concurrently served as national security advisor and secretary of state.

The impact of Kissinger in laying the groundwork for robust Sino-US relations is truly commendable. He dedicated half of his life to shaping the dynamics between the US and China, a fact he openly acknowledged. He had travelled to China over a hundred times. A Global Times editorial says, "His passing is undoubtedly a tremendous loss for China-US relations. Whether there will be a 'next Kissinger' is a matter of mixed emotions." His noteworthy contribution to normalizing relations between the two nations is evidently reflected in the remarkable achievements that have been attained. President Xi Jinping, in a message of condolence, expressed his country's commitment to perpetuating the legacy of friendship between the two peoples—a homage that stands as the finest tribute to historical figures such as Kissinger. Earlier this year, he engaged in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. The official statement underscored the imperative for both nations to uphold and advance Dr. Kissinger's strategic vision, political courage, and diplomatic wisdom, not only for the prosperity of China but also for that of the United States and the world.

In 1971, formal diplomatic ties between the US and the People's Republic of China (PRC) were nonexistent despite the PRC's founding in 1949. The Korean War had strained relations, epitomized by the failure of the 1954 Geneva Peace Conference. By the late 1960s, the Communist World showed deep divisions, highlighted by fighting over disputed islands in the Ussuri river between the Soviet Union and China, nearly erupting into a full-scale war. Some sources suggest Soviet generals contemplated even using nuclear weapons. Against this backdrop, the Chinese leadership displayed a willingness to compromise its ideological moorings. Perceiving an opportune moment, the US strategically aimed to wean away China from the Soviet Union, positioning it as a pivotal counterbalance. Collaborating with Pakistan, the diplomatic maneuver sought to create a formidable alliance to offset India's close ties with Soviet Russia.

America's endeavors to strengthen ties with China, however, did not signal an abandonment of the policy to stabilize relations with the Soviet Union. Henry Kissinger played a key role in drawing up a policy aimed at fostering warmer ties with the Soviet Union. His initiatives ultimately led to the resumption of discussions between the two superpowers, with agreements to reduce their nuclear arsenals. In 1972 and 1979, the US and Soviet Russia signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, known as SALT I and SALT II respectively. This initiative is diplomatically termed détente between the two nations.

Kissinger's impact on the world and diplomacy is so profound that a distinct term, "shuttle diplomacy," was coined to capture his role in quelling hostilities during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Kissinger's adept use of shuttle diplomacy in the 1973 Yom Kippur War effectively facilitated the disengagement of the warring sides, also bringing closer Egypt and Israel.

Henry Kissinger, born into a German Jewish family in 1923, emigrated to America at the age of 15 just as Hitler was putting his diabolical design into effect. He became a US citizen five years later in 1943. Richard Nixon, upon winning the elections in 1968,appointed him as the national security advisor a year later, marking him as the first individual born outside of America to hold this office. He lived the life of an academic for more than a decade and a half. In 1977, Gerald Ford, while awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian award, to him, praised him as a brilliant negotiator. Kissinger was a practitioner of realism or realpolitik, a school of thought that emphasizes the use of hard power. He played a pivotal role in negotiating the American withdrawal from Vietnam, an achievement acknowledged by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Le Duc Tho, a North Vietnam's negotiator, who didn't accept the prize.

Yet, his legacy is far from universally celebrated. Henry Kissinger is viewed divergently, hailed by some as a pragmatic statesman and condemned by others as a controversial figure. To some, he's a peacemaker, while to others, a war-monger; praised by some, condemned by others. Criticism centers on his alleged support for anti-democratic measures in Latin America through his perceived inaction, and the substantial bombing campaigns in Cambodia under his watch further contribute to the complexity of his legacy.

The illicit bombing of Cambodia, condemned by international law, found justification in Kissinger's eyes due to the overarching goal of containing communism, regardless of the tragic loss of hundreds of thousands of Cambodian lives. A total of 3,630 flights over Cambodia dropped 110,000 tons of bombs during a 14-month period through April 1970. The rationale behind this extensive bombing campaign was rooted in the belief that disrupting the Ho Chi Minh trail, a logistical network facilitating support to the Viet Cong and the People's Army of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, would contribute to winning the conflict. It was later revealed that while taking initiatives for peace in Vietnam, he was giving instructions to bomb Cambodia.This is a stark example of the contradictions embedded in American leadership that the world is constantly confronted with.


Similarly, in 1969-70, despite winning elections, Pakistan president Yahya Khan denied power to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Instead, he launched Operation Searchlight in March 1971, resulting in the brutal massacre of around 300,000 Bengalis. American Consul General Archer Kent Blood warned the White House of a genocide in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) urging immediate intervention. However, Nixon and Kissinger ignored the plea, allowing Pakistani army atrocities to persist. Kissinger, indifferent to Pakistani actions, prompted China to attack India during its intervention in Bangladesh. Known for his disdain toward Indian leadership during the 1970s, Kissinger made racist and misogynistic remarks about then-prime minister Indira Gandhi in declassified taped conversations with Nixon. These recordings revealed their strong animosity toward India, with Kissinger oozing contempt. India was labelled as "a scavenging people" and "Soviet stooge." Kissinger's perceptions of the Indian PM were the emanations of a tortured imagination. However, decades later, he expressed regrets over his comments. Kissinger's stance toward India evolved over the years, advocating strong ties between the two nations.

Indo-US relations reached their nadir at the end of 1971. But Nixon made a gesture by way of making amends in his annual report of 1973 to the Congress by saying that "India emerged from the 1971 crisis with new confidence, power and responsibilities.... We are prepared to deal with it in accordance with its new stature and responsibilities on the basis of reciprocity. The United States will not join any group or pursue any policies directed against India."

In Chile, Salvador Allende, a leftist leader aligned with the USSR, won the September 1970 elections. The United States, disapproving of Allende, interfered by providing financial support, orchestrating strikes, manipulating the media against his government, and secretly encouraging the army to topple him. Eventually, on September 11, 1973, Allende's government was overthrown, and Augusto Pinochet assumed power. Allende shot himself dead inside the presidential palace. Pinochet, upon taking control, banned all political parties, muzzled the press, and labeled Communists as the "cancer" of society. Despite reports of atrocities and calls for intervention on October 1, 1973, submitted by the Inter American Affairs Secretary, Kissinger ignored or neglected to take action against Pinochet, asserting that military rule was preferable to the Allende government. Besides, he actively endorsed the 1976 Coup d'état in Argentina and stands accused of unabashedly supporting the heinous apartheid regime in South Africa. Furthermore, he extended unwavering support to the oppressive military regime of Angola.

Also, Kissinger's Nepal connection is integral to his legacy. As a former professor at Harvard, he taught late king Birendra and, in 1985, paid a visit to Nepal. During this trip, he granted an interview titled "Henry Kissinger of World Politics" to CNAS. Interestingly, Shreedhar Khatri, one of the interviewers, is now the Nepali ambassador to the USA. In his renowned book "World Order," Kissinger acknowledges Nepal's diplomatic finesse in balancing relations between China and India, highlighting its historical ability to maintain independence by cultivating special ties with both countries. He notes, "For centuries, Nepal skillfully balanced its diplomatic posture between the ruling dynasties in China and those in India—offering letters and gifts that were interpreted as tribute in China but recorded as evidence of equal exchanges in Nepal, then holding out a special tie with China as a guarantee of Nepal’s independence vis-à-vis India."

Kissinger had been propelled from his professorship at Harvard into a position of immense power. With no prior training or experience in diplomacy, he candidly acknowledged in "A World Restored," 'an intelligent man can make up for the lack of everything except experience.' Former Indian ambassador Maharajakrishna Rasgotra, in his autobiography "A Life in Diplomacy," has quoted Mao as saying, "Kissinger is a university professor who doesn't know anything about diplomacy." Paradoxically, with the passage of time, he turned out to be one of the great diplomats the world has ever known.

He wrote a shelf of books, with his final work, "Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategies", published at age 99 in 2022, establishing him as an oracle of global affairs. Yet,the question looms large: Why was Kissinger not held accountable for alleged crimes? Would the outcome have differed if he were from a smaller African or Asian nation? Criticism arose as he globe-trotted, lecturing on human rights and democracy, but accountability remained elusive. This was primarily due to his American identity which would potentially implicate the entire US establishment if questioned.

It passes understanding how so rational a man like Kissinger, despite having a metaphysical quality to his intellect, lost a historical perspective at times. Viewed by some as a political mastermind and by others as a potential war criminal, the unapologetic realist and major Cold War figure who played a major role in shaping America's foreign policy, passed away, leaving a controversial yet impactful chapter in history.


Source: myRepublica
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