April 25, 2013

In Defense of Henry Kissinger

In the
summer of 2002, during the initial buildup to the invasion of
Iraq, which he supported, Henry Kissinger told me he was nevertheless concerned
about the lack of critical thinking and planning for the occupation of a Middle
Eastern country where, as he put it, “normal politics have not been practiced
for decades, and where new power struggles would therefore have to be very
violent.” Thus is pessimism morally superior to misplaced optimism.

I have been a close
friend of Henry Kissinger’s for some time, but my relationship with him as a
historical figure began decades ago. When I was growing up, the received wisdom
painted him as the ogre of Vietnam. Later, as I experienced firsthand the
stubborn realities of the developing world, and came to understand the task
that a liberal polity like the United States faced in protecting its interests,
Kissinger took his place among the other political philosophers whose books I
consulted to make sense of it all. In the 1980s, when I was traveling through
Central Europe and the Balkans, I encountered A World Restored,
Kissinger’s first book, published in 1957, about the diplomatic aftermath of
the Napoleonic Wars. In that book, he laid out the significance of Austria as a
“polyglot Empire [that] could never be part of a structure legitimized by
nationalism,” and he offered a telling truth about Greece, where I had been
living for most of the decade: whatever attraction the war for Greek independence
had held for the literati of the 1820s, it was not born of “a revolution of
middle-class origin to achieve political liberty,” he cautioned, “but a
national movement with a religious basis.”

When policy makers
disparage Kissinger in private, they tend to do so in a manner that reveals how
much they measure themselves against him. The former secretary of state turns
90 this month. To mark his legacy, we need to begin in the 19th century.

August of 1822, Britain’s radical intelligentsia openly rejoiced upon
hearing the news of Robert Stewart’s suicide. Lord Byron, the Romantic poet and
heroic adventurer, described Stewart, better known as Viscount Castlereagh, as
a “cold-blooded, … placid miscreant.” Castlereagh, the British foreign
secretary from 1812 to 1822, had helped organize the military coalition that
defeated Napoleon and afterward helped negotiate a peace settlement that kept
Europe free of large-scale violence for decades. But because the settlement
restored the Bourbon dynasty in France, while providing the forces of
Liberalism little reward for their efforts, Castlereagh’s accomplishment lacked
any idealistic element, without which the radicals could not be mollified. Of
course, this very lack of idealism, by safeguarding the aristocratic order,
provided various sovereigns with the only point on which they could unite
against Napoleon and establish a continent-wide peace—a peace, it should be
noted, that helped Britain emerge as the dominant world power before the close
of the 19th century.

One person who did not
rejoice at Castlereagh’s death was Henry John Temple, the future British
foreign secretary, better known as Lord Palmerston. “There could not have been
a greater loss to the Government,” Palmerston declared, “and few greater to the
country.” Palmerston himself would soon join the battle against the U.K.’s
radical intellectuals, who in the early 1820s demanded that Britain go to war
to help democracy take root in Spain, even though no vital British interest had
been threatened—and even though this same intellectual class had at times shown
only limited enthusiasm for the war against Napoleon, during which Britain’s
very survival seemed at stake.

In a career spanning
more than two decades in the Foreign Office, Palmerston was fated on occasion
to be just as hated as Castlereagh. Like Castlereagh, Palmerston had only one
immutable principle in foreign policy: British self-interest, synonymous with
the preservation of the worldwide balance of power. But Palmerston also had
clear liberal instincts. Because Britain’s was a constitutional government, he
knew that the country’s self-interest lay in promoting constitutional
governments abroad. He showed sympathy for the 1848 revolutions on the
Continent, and consequently was beloved by the liberals. Still, Palmerston
understood that his liberal internationalism, if one could call it that, was
only a general principle—a principle that, given the variety of situations
around the world, required constant bending. Thus, Palmerston encouraged liberalism
in Germany in the 1830s but thwarted it there in the 1840s. He supported
constitutionalism in Portugal, but opposed it in Serbia and Mexico. He
supported any tribal chieftain who extended British India’s sphere of influence
northwest into Afghanistan, toward Russia, and opposed any who extended
Russia’s sphere of influence southeast, toward India—even as he cooperated with
Russia in Persia.

Realizing that many
people—and radicals in particular—tended to confuse foreign policy with their
own private theology, Palmerston may have considered the moral condemnation
that greeted him in some quarters as natural. (John Bright, the Liberal
statesman, would later describe Palmerston’s tenure as “one long crime.”)

Yet without his
flexible approach to the world, Palmerston could never have navigated the
shoals of one foreign-policy crisis after another, helping Britain—despite the
catastrophe of the Indian Mutiny in 1857—manage the transition from its
ad hoc imperialism of the first half of the 19th century to the formal,
steam-driven empire built on science and trade of the second half.

Decades passed before
Palmerston’s accomplishments as arguably Britain’s greatest diplomat became
fully apparent. In his own day, Palmerston labored hard to preserve the status
quo, even as he sincerely desired a better world. “He wanted to prevent any
power from becoming so strong that it might threaten Britain,” one of his
biographers, Jasper Ridley, wrote. “To prevent the outbreak of major wars in
which Britain might be involved and weakened,” Palmerston’s foreign policy “was
therefore a series of tactical improvisations, which he carried out with great

Like Palmerston, Henry
Kissinger believes that in difficult, uncertain times—times like the 1960s and ’70s
in America, when the nation’s vulnerabilities appeared to outweigh its
opportunities—the preservation of the status quo should constitute the highest
morality. Other, luckier political leaders might later discover opportunities
to encourage liberalism where before there had been none. The trick is to
maintain one’s power undiminished until that moment.

Ensuring a nation’s
survival sometimes leaves tragically little room for private morality.
Discovering the inapplicability of Judeo-Christian morality in certain
circumstances involving affairs of state can be searing. The rare individuals
who have recognized the necessity of violating such morality, acted
accordingly, and taken responsibility for their actions are among the most
necessary leaders for their countries, even as they have caused great unease
among generations of well-meaning intellectuals who, free of the burden of
real-world bureaucratic responsibility, make choices in the abstract and treat
morality as an inflexible absolute.

Fernando Pessoa, the
early-20th-century Portuguese poet and existentialist writer, observed that if
the strategist “thought of the darkness he cast on a thousand homes and the
pain he caused in three thousand hearts,” he would be “unable to act,” and then
there would be no one to save civilization from its enemies. Because many
artists and intellectuals cannot accept this horrible but necessary truth,
their work, Pessoa said, “serves as an outlet for the sensitivity [that] action
had to leave behind.” That is ultimately why Henry Kissinger is despised in
some quarters, much as Castlereagh and Palmerston were.

To be uncomfortable
with Kissinger is, as Palmerston might say, only natural. But to condemn him
outright verges on sanctimony, if not delusion. Kissinger has, in fact, been
quite moral—provided, of course, that you accept the Cold War assumptions of
the age in which he operated.

of the triumphalist manner in which the Cold War suddenly and unexpectedly
ended, many have since viewed the West’s victory as a foregone conclusion, and
therefore have tended to see the tough measures that Kissinger and others
occasionally took as unwarranted. But for those in the midst of fighting the
Cold War—who worked in the national-security apparatus during the long, dreary
decades when nuclear confrontation seemed abundantly possible—its end was
hardly foreseeable.

forget what Eastern Europe was like during the Cold War, especially prior to
the 1980s: the combination of secret-police terror and regime-induced poverty
gave the impression of a vast, dimly lit prison yard. What kept that prison
yard from expanding was mainly the projection of American power, in the form of
military divisions armed with nuclear weapons. That such weapons were never
used did not mean they were unnecessary. Quite the opposite, in fact: the men
who planned Armageddon, far from being the Dr. Strangeloves satirized by
Hollywood, were precisely the people who kept the peace.Many Baby Boomers, who
lived through the Cold War but who have no personal memory of World
War II, artificially separate these two conflicts. But for Kissinger, a
Holocaust refugee and U.S. Army intelligence officer in occupied Germany; for
General Creighton Abrams, a tank commander under George Patton in World
War II and the commander of American forces in Vietnam from 1968 onward;
and for General Maxwell Taylor, who parachuted into Nazi-occupied France and
was later the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, the Cold War was a continuation
of the Second World War.

Beyond Eastern Europe,
revolutionary nihilists were attempting to make more Cubas in Latin America,
while a Communist regime in China killed at least 20 million of its own
citizens through the collectivization program known as the Great Leap Forward.
Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese Communists—as ruthless a group of people as the
20th century produced—murdered perhaps tens of thousands of their own citizens
before the first American troops arrived in Vietnam. People forget that it was,
in part, an idealistic sense of mission that helped draw us into that
conflict—the same well of idealism that helped us fight World War II and
that motivated our interventions in the Balkans in the 1990s. Those who
fervently supported intervention in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia yet fail
to comprehend the similar logic that led us into Vietnam are bereft of
historical memory.

In Vietnam, America’s
idealism collided head-on with the military limitations imposed by a difficult
geography. This destroyed the political consensus in the United States about
how the Cold War should be waged. Reviewing Kissinger’s book Ending the
Vietnam War 
(2003), the historian and journalist Evan Thomas implied
that the essence of Kissinger’s tragedy was that he was perennially trying to
gain membership in a club that no longer existed. That club was “the
Establishment,” a term that began to go out of fashion during the nation’s
Vietnam trauma. The Establishment comprised all the great and prestigious
personages of business and foreign policy—all male, all Protestant, men like
John J. McCloy and Charles Bohlen—whose influence and pragmatism bridged
the gap between the Republican and Democratic Parties at a time when Communism
was the enemy, just as Fascism had recently been. Kissinger, a Jew who had
escaped the Holocaust, was perhaps the club’s most brilliant protégé. His fate
was to step into the vortex of foreign policy just as the Establishment was
breaking up over how to extricate the country from a war that the Establishment
itself had helped lead the country into.

Kissinger became
President Richard Nixon’s national-security adviser in January of 1969, and his
secretary of state in 1973. As a Harvard professor and “Rockefeller
Republican,” Kissinger was distrusted by the anti-intellectual Republican right
wing. (Meanwhile, the Democratic Party was slipping into the de facto
quasi-isolationism that would soon be associated with George McGovern’s “Come
Home, America” slogan.) Nixon and Kissinger inherited from President Lyndon
Johnson a situation in which almost 550,000 American troops, as well as their
South Vietnamese allies (at least 1 million soldiers all told), were
fighting a similar number of North Vietnamese troops and guerrillas. On the
home front, demonstrators—drawn in large part from the nation’s economic and
educational elite—were demanding that the United States withdraw all its troops
virtually immediately.

Some prominent American
protesters even visited North Vietnam to publicly express solidarity with the
enemy. The Communists, in turn, seduced foreign supporters with soothing
assurances of Hanoi’s willingness to compromise. When Charles de Gaulle
was negotiating a withdrawal of French troops from Algeria in the late 1950s
and early 1960s (as Kissinger records in Ending the Vietnam War),
the Algerians knew that if they did not strike a deal with him, his replacement
would certainly be more hard-line. But the North Vietnamese probably figured
the opposite—that because of the rise of McGovernism in the Democratic Party,
Nixon and Kissinger were all that stood in the way of American surrender. Thus,
Nixon and Kissinger’s negotiating position was infinitely more difficult than
de Gaulle’s had been.

Kissinger found himself
caught between liberals who essentially wanted to capitulate rather than
negotiate, and conservatives ambivalent about the war who believed that serious
negotiations with China and the Soviet Union were tantamount to selling out.
Both positions were fantasies that only those out of power could indulge.

Further complicating
Kissinger’s problem was the paramount assumption of the age—that the Cold War
would have no end, and therefore regimes like those in China and the Soviet
Union would have to be dealt with indefinitely. Hitler, a fiery revolutionary,
had expended himself after 12 bloody years. But Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev
oversaw dull, plodding machines of repression that were in power for decades—a
quarter century in Mao’s case, and more than half a century in Brezhnev’s.
Neither regime showed any sign of collapse. Treating Communist China and the
Soviet Union as legitimate states, even while Kissinger played China off
against the Soviet Union and negotiated nuclear-arms agreements with the
latter, did not constitute a sellout, as some conservatives alleged. It was,
rather, a recognition of America’s “eternal and perpetual interests,” to quote
Palmerston, refitted to an age threatened by thermonuclear war.

In the face of liberal
capitulation, a conservative flight from reality, and North Vietnam’s
relentlessness, Kissinger’s task was to withdraw from the region in a way that
did not betray America’s South Vietnamese allies. In doing so, he sought to
preserve America’s powerful reputation, which was crucial for dealing with
China and the Soviet Union, as well as the nations of the Middle East and Latin
America. Sir Michael Howard, the eminent British war historian, notes that the
balance-of-power ethos to which Kissinger subscribes represents the middle
ground between “optimistic American ecumenicism” (the basis for many
global-disarmament movements) and the “war culture” of the American Wild West
(in recent times associated with President George W. Bush). This ethos was
never cynical or amoral, as the post–Cold War generation has tended to assert.
Rather, it evinced a timeless and enlightened principle of statesmanship.

two years, Nixon and Kissinger reduced the number of American troops in Vietnam
to 156,800; the last ground ­combat forces left three and a half years after
Nixon took office. It had taken Charles de Gaulle longer than that to end
France’s involvement in Algeria. (Frustration over the failure to withdraw
even quicker rests on two difficult assumptions: that the impossibility of
preserving South Vietnam in any form was accepted in 1969, and that the North
Vietnamese had always been negotiating in good faith. Still, the continuation
of the war past 1969 will forever be Nixon’s and Kissinger’s original sin.)

That successful troop
withdrawal was facilitated by a bombing incursion into Cambodia—primarily into
areas replete with North Vietnamese military redoubts and small civilian
populations, over which the Cambodian government had little control. The
bombing, called “secret” by the media, was public knowledge during 90 percent
of the time it was carried out, wrote Samuel Huntington, the late Harvard
professor who served on President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council. The
early secrecy, he noted, was to avoid embarrassing Cambodia’s Prince Norodom
Sihanouk and complicating peace talks with the North Vietnamese.

The troop withdrawals
were also facilitated by aerial bombardments of North Vietnam. Victor Davis
Hanson, the neoconservative historian, writes that, “far from being ineffective
and indiscriminate,” as many critics of the Nixon­-Kissinger war effort later
claimed, the Christmas bombings of December 1972 in particular “brought the
communists back to the peace table through its destruction of just a few key
installations.” Hanson may be a neoconservative, but his view is hardly a
radical reinterpretation of history; in fact, he is simply reading the news
accounts of the era. Soon after the Christmas bombings, Malcolm W. Browne
of The New York Times found the damage to have been “grossly
overstated by North Vietnamese propaganda.” Peter Ward, a reporter for The
Baltimore Sun
, wrote, “Evidence on the ground disproves charges of
indiscriminate bombing. Several bomb loads obviously went astray into civilian
residential areas, but damage there is minor, compared to the total destruction
of selected targets.”

The ritualistic
vehemence with which many have condemned the bombings of North Vietnam, the
incursion into Cambodia, and other events betrays, in certain cases, an
ignorance of the facts and of the context that informed America’s difficult
decisions during Vietnam.

The troop withdrawals
that Nixon and Kissinger engineered, while faster than de Gaulle’s had been
from Algeria, were gradual enough to prevent complete American humiliation.
This preservation of America’s global standing enabled the president and the
secretary of state to manage a historic reconciliation with China, which helped
provide the requisite leverage for a landmark strategic arms pact with the
Soviet Union—even as, in 1970, Nixon and Kissinger’s threats to Moscow helped
stop Syrian tanks from crossing farther into Jordan and toppling King Hussein.
At a time when defeatism reigned, Kissinger improvised in a way that would have
impressed Palmerston.

Yes, Kissinger’s record
is marked by nasty tactical miscalculations—mistakes that have spawned whole
libraries of books. But the notion that the Nixon administration might have
withdrawn more than 500,000 American troops from Vietnam within a few months in
1969 is problematic, especially when one considers the complexities that
smaller and more gradual withdrawals in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan later
imposed on military planners. (And that’s leaving aside the diplomatic and
strategic fallout beyond Southeast Asia that America’s sudden and complete
betrayal of a longtime ally would have generated.)

Despite the North
Vietnamese invasion of eastern Cambodia in 1970, the U.S. Congress
substantially cut aid between 1971 and 1974 to the Lon Nol regime, which had
replaced Prince Sihanouk’s, and also barred the U.S. Air Force from helping Lon
Nol fight against the Khmer Rouge. Future historians will consider those
actions more instrumental in the 1975 Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia than
Nixon’s bombing of sparsely populated regions of Cambodia six years earlier.

When Saigon fell to the
Communists, in April of 1975, it was after a heavily Democratic Congress
drastically cut aid to the South Vietnamese. The regime might not have survived
even if Congress had not cut aid so severely. But that cutoff, one should
recall, was not merely a statement about South Vietnam’s hopelessness; it was a
consequence of Watergate, in which Nixon eviscerated his own influence in the
capital, and seriously undermined Gerald Ford’s incoming administration.
Kissinger’s own words in Ending the Vietnam War deserve to
echo through the ages:

of us could imagine that a collapse of presidential authority would follow the
expected sweeping electoral victory [of Nixon in 1972]. We were convinced that
we were working on an agreement that could be sustained by our South Vietnamese
allies with American help against an all-­out invasion. Protesters could speak
of Vietnam in terms of the excesses of an aberrant society, but when my
colleagues and I thought of Vietnam, it was in terms of dedicated men and
women—soldiers and Foreign Service officers—who had struggled and suffered
there and of our Vietnamese associates now condemned to face an uncertain but
surely painful fate. These Americans had honestly believed that they were
defending the cause of freedom against a brutal enemy in treacherous jungles
and distant rice paddies. Vilified by the media, assailed in Congress, and
ridiculed by the protest movement, they had sustained America’s idealistic
tradition, risking their lives and expending their youth on a struggle that
American leadership groups had initiated, then abandoned, and finally

diplomatic achievements reached far beyond Southeast Asia. Between 1973
and 1975, Kissinger, serving Nixon and then Gerald Ford, steered the Yom Kippur
War toward a stalemate that was convenient for American interests, and then
brokered agreements between Israel and its Arab adversaries for a separation of
forces. Those deals allowed Washington to reestablish diplomatic relations with
Egypt and Syria for the first time since their rupture following the Six ­Day
War in 1967. The agreements also established the context for the Egyptian-­Israeli
peace treaty of 1979, and helped stabilize a modus vivendi between Israel and
Syria that has lasted well past the turn of the 21st century.

the fall of 1973, with Chile dissolving into chaos and open to the Soviet
bloc’s infiltration as a result of Salvador Allende’s anarchic and incompetent
rule, Nixon and Kissinger encouraged a military coup led by
General Augusto Pinochet, during which thousands of innocent people were
killed. Their cold moral logic was that a right-wing regime of any kind would ultimately be better for Chile and
for Latin America than a leftist regime of any kind—and would also be in the
best interests of the United States. They were right—though at a perhaps
intolerable cost.

While much of the rest
of Latin America dithered with socialist experiments, in the first seven years
of Pinochet’s regime, the number of state companies in Chile went from 500 to
25—a shift that helped lead to the creation of more than 1 million jobs and the
reduction of the poverty rate from roughly one-­third of the population to as
low as one-tenth. The infant mortality rate also shrank, from 78 deaths per
1,000 births to 18. The Chilean social and economic miracle has become a
paradigm throughout the developing world, and in the ex­-Communist world in
particular. Still, no amount of economic and social gain justifies almost two
decades of systematic torture perpetrated against tens of thousands of victims
in more than 1,000 detention centers.

real history is not the trumpeting of ugly facts untempered by historical
and philosophical context—the stuff of much investigative journalism. Real
history is built on constant comparison with other epochs and other parts of
the world. It is particularly useful, therefore, to compare the records of the
Ford and Carter administrations in the Horn of Africa, and especially in
Ethiopia—a country that in the 1970s was more than three times as populous as
Pinochet’s Chile.

In his later years,
Kissinger has not been able to travel to a number of countries where legal
threats regarding his actions in the 1970s in Latin America hang over his head.
Yet in those same countries, Jimmy Carter is regarded almost as a saint. Let’s
consider how Carter’s morality stacks up against Kissinger’s in the case of
Ethiopia, which, like Angola, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan, was among the
dominoes that became increasingly unstable and then fell in the months and
years following Saigon’s collapse, partly disproving another myth of the
Vietnam antiwar protest movement—that the domino theory was wrong.

As I’ve
written elsewhere, including in my 1988 book, Surrender or Starve, the left-leaning
Ethiopian Dergue and its ascetic, pitiless new leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam,
had risen to power while the U.S. was preoccupied with Watergate and the fall
of South Vietnam. Kissinger, now President Ford’s secretary of state, tried to
retain influence in Ethiopia by continuing to provide some military assistance
to Addis Ababa. Had the United States given up all its leverage in Ethiopia,
the country might have moved to the next stage and become a Soviet satellite,
with disastrous human-­rights consequences for its entire population.

and Kissinger were replaced in January of 1977 by Jimmy Carter and his
secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, who wanted a policy that was both more attuned
to and less heavy-handed toward sub-Saharan Africa. In the Horn of Africa, this translated
immediately into a Cold War disadvantage for America, because the
Soviets—spurred on by the fall of South Vietnam—were becoming more belligerent,
and more willing to expend resources, than ever.

With Ethiopia torn
apart by revolutionary turmoil, the Soviets used their Somali clients as a
lever against Addis Ababa. Somalia then was a country of only 3 million nomads,
but Ethiopia had an urbanized population 10 times that size: excellent
provender for the mechanized African satellite that became Leonid Brezhnev’s
supreme objective. The Soviets, while threatening Ethiopia by supplying its
rival with weapons, were also offering it military aid—the classic carrot-­and-­stick
strategy. Yet partly because of the M-­60 tanks and F­-5 warplanes that
Mengistu was still—largely thanks to Kissinger—receiving from the United
States, the Ethiopian leader was hesitant about undertaking the disruptive task
of switching munitions suppliers for an entire army.

the spring of 1977, Carter cut off arms deliveries to Ethiopia because of its human-rights record. The Soviets
dispatched East German security police to Addis Ababa to help Mengistu
consolidate his regime, and invited the Ethiopian ruler to Moscow for a
week-long state visit. Then Cuban advisers visited Ethiopia, even while tanks and other equipment arrived
from pro-Soviet South Yemen. In the following months,
with the help of the East Germans, the Dergue gunned down hundreds of Ethiopian
teenagers in the streets in what came to be known as the “Red Terror.”

Still, all was not
lost—at least not yet. The Ethiopian Revolution, leftist as it was, showed
relatively few overt signs of anti-­Americanism. Israel’s new prime minister,
Menachem Begin, in an attempt to save Ethiopian Jews, beseeched Carter not to
close the door completely on Ethiopia and to give Mengistu some military
assistance against the Somali advance.

Begin’s plea went unheeded. The partial result of Carter’s in­ action was that
Ethiopia went from being yet another left-leaning regime to a full-­fledged
Marxist state, in which hundreds of thousands of people died in
collectivization and “villagization” schemes—to say nothing of the hundreds of
thousands who died in famines that were as much a consequence of made-­in-­Moscow
agricultural policies as they were of drought.

should have been so lucky as to have had a Pinochet.

The link between
Carter’s decision not to play Kissingerian power politics in the Horn of Africa
and the mass deaths that followed in Ethiopia is more direct than the link
between Nixon’s incursion into a rural area of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge
takeover six years later.

In the
late 19th century, Lord Palmerston was still a controversial figure. By the
20th, he was considered by many to have been one of Britain’s greatest foreign
ministers. Kissinger’s reputation will follow a similar path. Of all the
memoirs written by former American secretaries of state and national­-security
advisers during the past few decades, his are certainly the most vast and the
most intellectually stimulating, revealing the elaborate historical and
philosophical milieu that surround difficult foreign-­policy decisions.
Kissinger will have the final say precisely because he writes so much better
for a general audience than do most of his critics. Mere exposé often has a
shorter shelf life than the work of a statesman aware of his own tragic
circumstances and able to connect them to a larger pattern of events. A
colleague of mine with experience in government once noted that, as a European-­style
realist, Kissinger has thought more about morality and ethics than most self­-styled
moralists. Realism is about the ultimate moral ambition in foreign policy: the
avoidance of war through a favorable balance of power.

Aside from the
successful interventions in the Balkans, the greatest humanitarian gesture in
my own lifetime was President Richard Nixon’s trip to the People’s Republic of
China in 1972, engineered by Kissinger. By dropping the notion that Taiwan was
the real China, by giving China protection against the Soviet Union, and by
providing assurances against an economically resurgent Japan, the two men
helped place China in a position to devote itself to peaceful economic
development; China’s economic rise, facilitated by Deng Xiaoping, would lift
much of Asia out of poverty. And as more than 1 billion people in the Far East
saw a dramatic improvement in living standards, personal freedom effloresced.

Pundits chastised
Kissinger for saying, in 1973, that Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union
was “not an American concern.” But as J. J. Goldberg of The Jewish
Daily Forward
 was careful to note (even while being very critical of
Kissinger’s cynicism on the subject), “Emigration rose dramatically under
Kissinger’s detente policy”— but “plummeted” after the 1974 passage of the
Jackson­-Vanik amendment, which made an open emigration policy a precondition
for normal U.S.­Soviet trade relations; aggrieved that the Americans would
presume to dictate their emigration policies, the Soviets began authorizing
fewer exit visas. In other words, Kissinger’s realism was more effective than
the humanitarianism of Jewish groups in addressing a human­-rights concern.

is a Jewish intellectual who recognizes a singular unappealing truth: that the
Republican Party, its strains of anti-Semitism in certain periods
notwithstanding, was better able to protect America than the Democratic Party
of his era, because the Republicans better understood and, in fact, relished
the projection of American power at a juncture in the Cold War when the
Democrats were undermined by defeatism and quasi-­isolationism. (That
Kissinger-­style realism is now more popular in Barack Obama’s White House than
among the GOP indicates how far today’s Republicans have drifted from their
core values.)

unlike his fellow Republicans of the Cold War era—dull and practical men of
business, blissfully unaware of what the prestigious intellectual journals of
opinion had to say about them—Kissinger has always been painfully conscious of
the degree to which he is loathed. He made life-­and-death decisions that affected millions, entailing many messy
moral compromises. Had it not been for the tough decisions Nixon, Ford, and
Kissinger made, the United States might not have withstood the damage caused by
Carter’s bouts of moralistic ineptitude; nor would Ronald Reagan have had the
luxury of his successfully executed Wilsonianism. Henry Kissinger’s classical
realism—as expressed in both his books and his statecraft—is emotionally
unsatisfying but analytically timeless. The degree to which Republicans can
recover his sensibility in foreign policy will help determine their own
prospects for regaining power.