Kissinger, U.S. imperialist war criminal, dead at 100
Henry Kissinger with a mural in the background that depicts some of his death-dealing exploits around the world. | Courtesy of Morning Star

Henry Kissinger, the U.S. diplomat associated with some of the worst crimes of the Cold War, has died at the age of 100. He packed his worst offenses against humanity into just six of those hundred years, when he served as national security adviser or secretary of state, and sometimes both, to Presidents Nixon and Ford from 1969 to 1975.

A Metternich of the 20th century, Kissinger was a practitioner of cynical realpolitik in the service of the interests of U.S. imperialism. Even after leaving office, he retained considerable influence for decades, advising successive U.S. administrations and various private clients on world affairs.

He is above all associated with the murderous bombing of Cambodia and the first outreach of Washington to socialist China, as well as support for the fascist coup in Chile in 1973, the pursuit of detente-through-strength with the USSR, and “shuttle diplomacy” during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Arab states.

Kissinger was born in 1923 in Germany, fleeing with his family in 1938 as Jewish refugees from Nazism, eventually arriving in the U.S. After military service in the Second World War, he pursued an academic career while at the same time offering himself to the FBI as an undercover agent.

His studies in diplomacy inclined him towards a “realism” approach to foreign policy, which prioritized balance-of-power politics and international agreements over considerations of justice or, more plainly, right and wrong.

Frustrated with a purely academic role, Kissinger began to play a part in the political scene as an adviser to Republican candidates in the 1960s. This was, of course, the height of the Cold War confrontation between the USSR and the U.S.

It was also the peak of Washington’s global power, at least until the 1990s. This shaped Kissinger’s outlook on foreign policy, which centered on advancing U.S. interests at whatever human cost while reaching pragmatic accommodations with other global powers, which mainly meant the USSR and China.

He was in that sense rather different than subsequent neoconservatism, which draped often reckless foreign policy adventures, like the Iraq war, in spurious ethical and democratic rhetoric.

His ascent to maximum influence began with the election of Richard Nixon as U.S. president, taking office in 1969. Initially Nixon’s national security adviser, he came to entirely overshadow Secretary of State William Rogers, nominally the figure in charge of U.S. diplomacy.

Nixon and Kissinger were well-matched, both marinated in cynicism and with a penchant for secret backroom operations while sharing a broad strategic pragmatism. This was reflected in their handling of the Vietnam War, an aggression they inherited from previous administrations which was then proving militarily unwinnable while bitterly dividing U.S. society.

Kissinger continued to support the puppet regime in the south of Vietnam on the grounds that this was necessary to maintain Washington’s global power while covertly exploring grounds for a peace settlement in parallel to official talks.

These eventually bore fruit and an agreement was worked out between Kissinger and Communist Party of Vietnam politburo member Le Duc Tho allowing for the ending of direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

In a ludicrous misjudgment, the Nobel Peace Prize committee gave their award for 1973 to Kissinger and Tho jointly, even though peace had not in fact broken out.

Declines to accept award

Tho declined to accept the award, but Kissinger did, with some apparent reluctance. In 1975 Vietnam was finally reunited as a socialist country with the puppet regime in Saigon—now Ho Chi Minh City—swept away.

Kissinger claimed that this was due to the U.S. Congress’s failure to approve sufficient military aid to the regime.

En route, Nixon and Kissinger extended the war into Cambodia with a lawless bombing campaign that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Kissinger was subsequently indulgent towards the murderous Khmer Rouge regime which held power from 1975 until removed by Vietnam in 1979, killing millions of citizens.

Kissinger also opened secret channels to the government of the People’s Republic of China, with which the U.S. had no formal relations at the time. He calculated that Washington’s interests in pressurizing the USSR and Mao Zedong’s fear of war with Moscow would provide a basis for agreement.

So it proved. Kissinger’s backstairs diplomacy with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai opened the way to Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972 and the beginning of a de facto anti-Soviet alliance, although full relations were not agreed upon until 1979.

This did not prevent Kissinger and Nixon also pursuing agreements with the Soviet government, on arms control in particular. These years proved to be the high point of East-West detente and a relative lull in the Cold War, which was to crank up again full blast with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Kissinger was essentially uninterested in changing the internal order in the USSR, unlike Reagan, but very much concerned with curbing the worldwide influence of the USSR and socialism generally.

In 1971, Washington gave full support to Pakistan’s military dictator Yahya Khan in his war to prevent Bangladeshi independence. Kissinger dismissed critics of this policy as those who “bleed” for “dying Bengalis” and fired State Department officials who described Pakistan’s conduct as “genocidal.”

Kissinger’s attitude was again largely predicated on anti-Sovietism since he feared an extension of Indian influence—Indian intervention finally ended the war with Bangladesh at a time when India was friendly towards Moscow.

He was also fully involved in organizing U.S. support for the coup by fascist General Pinochet against the Allende socialist government in Chile in September 1973, the same month that Nixon finally fired Bill Rogers and appointed Kissinger secretary of state in his place, while retaining the national security role.

He later canceled a formal letter from the U.S. government warning the Chilean military junta against conducting assassinations. Orlando Letelier, one of Allende’s ministers, was subsequently the victim of a car bomb attack in Washington carried out by Chilean secret services.

Still involved in crime

After leaving offic,e he was still involved in obstructing efforts to bring those guilty of Letelier’s murder to justice. Kissinger retained his leadership of U.S. diplomacy after Nixon’s resignation and replacement by Gerald Ford, and his policy did not change.

He backed the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974 and the even more murderous Indonesian invasion of East Timor the next year, which led to the deaths of a quarter of the population. He was also central to organizing opposition to the Portuguese revolution in 1974, seeking to obstruct its development in a socialist direction.

Broadly, there was no regime so obnoxious, no tyrant too murderous, for Kissinger’s blessings to be withheld, provided only it upheld U.S. strategic interests and stood firm against the USSR.

Nevertheless, Kissinger became unpopular with certain sections of the U.S. establishment because of his pragmatic approach — the sections which later powered Reagan’s rise to power. He lost his role as national security adviser in November 1975 and left office altogether after Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election.

In the course of a very long retirement, Kissinger pursued profitable business interests, including in China and Indonesia, as well as serving as a foreign policy guru to U.S. administrations and politicians. He continued to promote the pragmatic advance of U.S. interests but shared in the stupidity of those who championed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, even though he speedily admitted that military victory was not possible. He opposed Ukraine joining NATO.

Kissinger remained a feted figure in China as one of the architects of U.S.-Chinese reconciliation and met President Xi Jinping in Beijing this year, marking his centenary.

At his death, many lauded him as a diplomatic genius, but his place in history will ultimately be defined by the war crimes he initiated or endorsed, the millions of lives destroyed, and the amoral cynicism of his worldview.

Henry Kissinger served his adoptive imperialism, working the darker side of that shady street.

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Andrew Murray
Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray is a British trade union and Labour Party official and activist. He was an adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, from 2018 to 2020. He contributes to Morning Star, the social daily in the U.K. His latest book: "Is Socialism Possible in Britain?" published by Verso.