As far as 20th century US politicians go, no one is held in more contempt than Richard Nixon. Nixon has become shorthand for nearly everything reviled about politics. This fact isn’t particularly controversial. Nixon is widely remembered for Watergate, the Southern Strategy and War on Drugs. These three tragedies of US history will forever taint his image. Strangely, this has not applied to a man who was arguably far worse. While Nixon himself is still hated decades after his death, one of his closest advisors is held up as an elder statesman.
Henry Kissinger is the favorite diplomat of the political establishment in both parties. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, becoming only the third Cabinet official or President in history to do so. Gerald Ford kept Kissinger in his Cabinet. George W. Bush appointed him to a 9/11 commission. Barack Obama and John McCain both cited him as an influence while running for President in 2008. Hillary Clinton publicly expressed admiration for the 56th Secretary of State and touted the Republican’s endorsement in a Democratic Primary in the 2016 campaign. Kissinger is one of the only Cabinet Secretaries in history to command such bipartisan praise.
It’s hard to find a man less worthy of these honors. Between Nixon and Kissinger, a strong argument can be made that Nixon was the more altruistic of the two. The disgraced President made many mistakes in foreign policy, but ultimately was the driving force behind moves like opening up China, and was personally committed to peace. His gravestone reads “The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker”. Nixon’s central flaw was delegating too much to Kissinger, who remains almost unrivaled in terms of how many war crimes he actively pursued.
Since leaving his role as Secretary of State, information about Kissinger has come to light that show a penchant for absolute barbarism. They paint the portrait of a man that thinks nothing of committing war crimes and seemingly unbothered by nearly immeasurable amounts of human misery caused by his actions.
The Cambodia Campaign
“The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer”
-Kissinger in 1975 (In diplomatic cables)
Kissinger micromanaged the most brutal international act of the entire Nixon administration. He personally approved the bombing of over 2000 targets in Laos and Cambodia. It was an escalation of bombings that began under Johnson illegally, without any congressional approval. Ultimately, this was done for nothing. The entire bombing campaign happened because Nixon had interfered with peace talks the Johnson administration began in 1968. (A fact not confirmed until 2017). It was to intimidate the Vietnamese in a peace negotiation but had no practical effect on the eventual US withdrawal. The terms that Nixon secured to leave Vietnam were almost the same as the terms Johnson was close to reaching in the run up to the 1968 Presidential election.
The sheer size of the campaign was alarming in itself. The US dropped nearly a million more tons in those 2 countries than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More alarmingly, these were targeted at innocent civilians. The results were absolutely devastating, leaving 30 percent of the country homeless and killing 500,000.
Justifier of Genocide
“If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern”.
-Kissinger in 1973 (On tape)
Various intelligence agencies (including the CIA) have concluded this bombing campaign directly led to dictator Pol Pot’s rise to power. Pol Pot’s ensuing genocide in the region claimed a staggering 2 million lives. Kissinger was not only aware of this fact, but approvingly referred to it in subsequently declassified diplomatic cables.
Documents show Kissinger also expressed covert approval of extrajudicial death squads operating in Argentina that killed 30,000. This fact was also confirmed in 2002, 26 years after Kissinger left office. Kissinger excusing away countless deaths as “diplomacy” is a common theme throughout many of the conversations he had reason to believe would remain private. He applied diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to prevent them from intervening to stop a dictator in Bangladesh. That dictator went on to amass a death toll of anywhere between 300k to 3 million people. Kissinger later joked about it to a Princeton Professor.
“Military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy”.
-Kissinger in 1976 (Recollection of Al Haig)
The US Empire is sustained by the shedding of blood on foreign soil. Every US President has presided over decisions that could be described as War Crimes. Bill Clinton’s administration put sanctions on Iraq that led to the deaths of half a million people-an act that Secretary of State Madeline Albright called “justified”. George W. Bush signed off on the use of depleted uranium to bomb Fallujah in 2003 and authorized torture techniques the Japanese were prosecuted for after WW2. Obama routinely ordered extra judicial killings, including an American citizen who was just a child. Trump continued Obama’s extrajudicial killings and ordered strikes with an 80% civilian death rate.
These international crimes are serious, but none are on the scale of Henry Kissinger. Kissinger’s actions directly led to the deaths of 5.5 million people, a number equivalent to the entire population of Colorado. Kissinger has ever been held accountable for his actions, instead being rewarded with a peace prize. He is held up as an example of a good diplomat.
When war criminals are held up as heroes, it signals that the US is a nation of hypocrisy when it talks about human rights. Every day that Kissinger is lauded we lose what moral credibility we had left.