Why Henry Kissinger’s career is a masterclass in diplomacy and statecraft

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Revered by many and loathed by some, Kissinger came to personify American power at its peak, casting the long shadow of Pax Americana across the world and becoming synonymous with Cold War America. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger attending an award ceremony honoring his diplomatic career in Washington, D.C., on May 9, 2016. (AFP file)
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US State Secretary Henry Kissinger with Saudi Arabia's King Faisal (R) in Riyadh in 1973. On the left is then Prince Salman, now the King of Saudi Arabia. (AN archive)
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US President Jimmy Carter (R) consults with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on August 15, 1977 at the White House on Middle East peace proposals. (AFP)
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Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meets with French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac (R) at the hotel Matignon on March 26, 1986 in Paris. (AFP)
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US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger walks in the street in Paris on February 19, 1975. (AFP)
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger participating together in "Conversations on Diplomacy, Moderated by Charlie Rose," at the Department of State in Washington on April 20, 2011. (AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2023

Why Henry Kissinger’s career is a masterclass in diplomacy and statecraft

  • Centennial turns spotlight on the imprint of the German refugee turned America’s chief diplomat on the post-war world war
  • The architect of Pax Americana under Nixon continues to wield influence as an informal adviser to the global great and good

LONDON: Anwar Sadat, Mao Zedong, Richard Nixon, and King Faisal are some of the leaders who defined the 20th century. What their stories and legacies have in common is the impact of the efforts of one diminutive but nevertheless immensely consequential figure: Henry Kissinger. German, American, soldier, intelligence officer, Harvard academic, statesman and businessman rolled into one, this geopolitical oracle turns 100 on May 27.

Revered by many and loathed by some, Kissinger came to personify American power at its peak, casting the long shadow of Pax Americana across the world, at times advocating US values and, at other times, snuffing out revolutionary movements and propping up military juntas.

US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Faisal in 1973 in Riyadh. (AFP)

Any article would struggle to summarize such a long and eventful life. Born five years after the abdication of Germany’s last emperor, Kissinger’s own archive material is estimated to consist of 30 tons of documents.

Though he became synonymous with Cold War America, the instantly recognizable Bavarian traces to his gravelly voice gave away his origins. Born to German-Jewish parents on the outskirts of Nuremberg, the young Kissinger displayed an audacity that would later come to embody his swagger on the international stage, as he defied local Nazis to attend football matches and rebelled at their restrictions.

His real mettle, however, began to show when, as a refugee in America in the 1930s, he attended school at night and worked in a shaving-brush factory during the day.

US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meeting with China's Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing on February 17, 1973. (AFP file)

Continuing to work through his senior studies, Kissinger saw his education cut short by the onset of the Second World War. Seeing action at the Battle of the Bulge, his wartime service culminated with the administration and denazification of liberated German sectors under his control.

Kissinger’s enthusiasm for his adopted country was to grow; he later recalled that the experience made the uprooted young man “feel like an American.”

Kissinger’s career is often looked at in detail following his appointment as the US national security adviser in 1969. However, his post-war years as an academic laid the foundation for his later association with, and application, of realpolitik.

US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Cairo in May 1974. (AFP)

Kissinger’s worldview, or weltanschauung, has been typified by sound bites such as “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.” This particular understanding of the world through the prism of empires and great power politics is founded in a 19th century understanding of the world.

It is therefore unsurprising that his Harvard doctoral dissertation was titled “Peace, Legitimacy and the Equilibrium (A Study of the Statesmanship of Castlereagh and Metternich).”

This academic study of the period between 1815 and 1914 is known as the Concert of Europe, when the Great Powers sought to maintain a certain balance of power and supported world peace. Notable for figures like Otto von Bismarck whose political philosophy is frequently inseparable from his own, it is this period that Kissinger sought to mirror, replacing the historical role of Great Britain with the unparalleled superpower of 20th century America.

Henry Kissinger and US President Richard Nixon in 1973. (AFP)

As Kissinger became known to power brokers in Washington, his move toward a political career was inevitable. Unlike his peers, his solid academic foundation furnished him with an ability to act as in-house counsel on the political challenges of the day.

If the jet engine came to symbolize US military and cultural dominance in the post-war era, Kissinger employed international travel to the same effect to overhaul American diplomacy. His appointment to secretary of state in 1973 was in many ways merely the formal ratification of an increasingly international role he had been playing.

That year saw Kissinger at the forefront of efforts at shuttle diplomacy to reshape the world to advance American interests. Having already paved the way for the groundbreaking 1972 summit between Nixon, Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao, Kissinger brought China in from the cold, leading to the formalization of relations between the two countries, and crucially brokered an anti-Soviet entente between the two powers.

As US President Richard Nixon (2nd left) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger (3rd left) deals with other Israeli officials in Washington on November 1, 1973. (AFP)

As the world looked on following the Yom Kippur War, Kissinger, directly following his involvement in a coup in Chile the previous month, shuttled between Arab capitals while also organizing an unprecedented airlift of weapons to Israel, tipping the regional balance of power to the point that Israel has never faced an Arab invasion since.

With the year culminating in a pact to end the Vietnam war, Kissinger’s hyper-diplomacy was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize, his international activities becoming a blueprint for American diplomacy to his peers and a stain on his career in the eyes of his detractors.


You can’t make war in the Middle East without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria.

Accept everything about yourself — I mean everything, You are you and that is the beginning and the end — no apologies, no regrets.

Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.

The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Kissinger is often viewed as having been the unsentimental dispenser of American power in the developing world. Though he succeeded in pursuing its interests, his zero-sum worldview — of a vast global jigsaw puzzle consisting of pieces that needed to be moved to fit America’s emergence as the world’s supreme power — did cause controversy.

Having once stated that “I am not interested in, nor do I know anything about, the southern portion of the world” and “What happens in the south is of no importance,” it is now clear that a certain ignorance of the wider world underpinned the more decisive political and military interventions which he supported to extend America’s reach.

Demonstrators gather at the Place des Nations in Geneva on September 10, 2010 to protest against the presence of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his alleged role in the 1973 military coup in Chile. (AFP)

His involvement in the Chilean coup, Bangladesh, Pakistan, East Timor and the bombing of Cambodia continue to be subjects of great debate, summarized in the 2001 treatise by Christopher Hitchens, “The Trial of Henry Kissinger.”

Speaking later in life, Kissinger would argue that the bombing of Cambodia was essential to stopping raids into South Vietnam. Truth be told, the focus on the subsequent widespread US bombing of Khmer Rouge is a lot less controversial now compared with the crimes of the Cambodian regime’s own genocide in the 1970s.

Nevertheless, Kissinger’s intercontinental politicking was true to the Bismarckian mold from which he emerged, faintly masked by his use of the first German chancellor’s famous maxim, “politics is the art of the possible.”

African National Congress President Nelson Mandela (R) greets former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger upon his arrival for their meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, on April 13, 1994. (AFP)

When all is said and done, it is still remarkable that Kissinger, a man who retired 50 years ago, has remained politically relevant. Leading Kissinger Associates, he has continued to have remarkable influence and reach, as the global great and good’s consigliere par excellence.

Kissinger’s long political goodbye has given him the opportunity to have the final say on many of the important moments of his career, a luxury not enjoyed by his late peers. His relevance, however, persists, his advocacy of coexistence with China and detente with Russia making his expertise much sought after amid efforts by one to disrupt America and by the other to altogether displace it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) welcomes former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on June 06, 2006. (AFP)

However, the constant rebalancing of global power is not where Kissinger’s principal interests lie today. He has spent the last decade warning about the rise of artificial intelligence, which threatens to rewrite the diplomatic rulebook, especially for a man who was born at a time when armies still deployed cavalry.

Warning most recently in a book on the issue last year that the AI arms race is a “totally new problem” “with as yet no plausible theories on how states can prevail,” the centenarian continues to turn heads.

There is no doubt that Kissinger, for his many faults, remains a public figure who shaped an era. He is, however, an infinitely more complete character than the scheming master of realpolitik that his critics make him out to be.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meeting with US President Donald Trump (R) at the White House in Washington on October 10, 2017. (AFP)

This career of immense achievement and relentless controversy was made possible by a talent who was as brilliantly educated as he was discreet, both qualities that are sadly missing from present-day political life.

It is not unlikely that as just Kissinger plotted the extension of American dominance, as a student of imperial history he also expected to observe its decline. But it is unclear whether this is attributable to the speed with which this has taken place or how long Kissinger has lived. In any case, he probably has the answer.


Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid


Ukraine says Russian shelling targets civilians in Kharkiv region

Updated 8 sec ago

Ukraine says Russian shelling targets civilians in Kharkiv region

  • Ukrainian prosecutors said they were investigating as a potential war crime a Russian air strike on a residential area of the regional capital Kharkiv in which six civilians were wounded

KHARKIV: Ukraine said Russian shelling targeted civilians in two cities in the northeastern region of Kharkiv on Saturday while President Volodymyr Zelensky reported successes by troops fighting a renewed Russian assault there.
Ukrainian prosecutors said they were investigating as a potential war crime a Russian air strike on a residential area of the regional capital Kharkiv in which six civilians were wounded, including a 13-year-old girl, 16-year-old male and an eight-year-old.
Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians but thousands have been killed and injured since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
About 70 km (45 miles) to the northeast in Vovchansk, a city just 5 kilometers (three miles) from the Russian border, prosecutors said Russian shelling killed a 60-year-old woman and injured three other civilians. A 59-year-man was also injured in the village of Ukrainske, they said.
Across the border in Russia’s Belgorod region, Moscow’s defense ministry said its forces shot down a Tochka-U missile fired by Ukraine. A similar missile caused a Belgorod apartment building to collapse last week, killing at least 15 people, Russia said.
Late on Saturday Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said a Ukrainian drone attack injured a woman and a man in the village of Petrovka. They were treated for shrapnel injuries in Belgorod, he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Zelensky said in his nightly video address that Ukrainian forces were on surer footing, particularly in Kharkiv region.
“The occupier is losing its infantry and equipment, a tangible loss, even though, just as in 2022, it was counting on a quick advance on our land,” Zelensky said, referring to Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in February of that year.
However, Russia’s defense ministry said its forces captured the village of Starytsia in the Kharkiv region on Saturday, eight days after a new Russian push in the area began.
Zelensky said his forces repelled an assault farther south in the eastern Donetsk region around Chasiv Yar, a city seen as a key target in Russia’s campaign. “Our soldiers destroyed more than 20 units of the occupier’s armored vehicles,” he said.
Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.
Regional governor Vadym Filashkin credited special units under the HUR military intelligence agency for the battlefield success, which he said took place on Friday.
“There is not a single occupier in Chasiv Yar,” he said on the Telegram messaging app. “They burned armored vehicles and smashed enemy ranks,” he added in comments accompanying a video showing vehicles exploding.
In the village of Stanislav in the southern region of Kherson, governor Oleksandr Prokudin said a Russian drone strike killed a man about 40 years old and injured a woman.

Tunisia recovers bodies of four migrants off its coast, rescues dozens

Updated 14 min 30 sec ago

Tunisia recovers bodies of four migrants off its coast, rescues dozens

  • Tunisia has replaced Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East

TUNIS: Tunisia recovered the bodies of four migrants off the country’s coast on Saturday, the national guard said, amid an increase in migrant boats heading from Tunisia toward Italy in recent weeks.
The force said the coast guard separately rescued 52 migrants. The national guard arrested nine smugglers, and boats were seized.
At least 23 Tunisian migrants were missing after setting off in a boat for Italy, the national guard said earlier on Saturday.
Tunisia is facing a migration crisis and has replaced Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.

New Caledonia ‘under siege’ as French troops bid to restore order

Updated 52 min 18 sec ago

New Caledonia ‘under siege’ as French troops bid to restore order

  • The unrest has been blamed on economic malaise, social tensions and — above all — a political fight between mostly Indigenous pro-independence activists and Paris authorities
  • New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s

NOUMEA, New Caledonia: French Pacific territory New Caledonia was “under siege” Saturday, the mayor of its capital Noumea said, after another person was killed, bringing the toll to six in six days of unrest.

Two other men were wounded in Saturday’s deadly incident, which occurred in the archipelago’s northern Kaala-Gomen area, General Nicolas Mattheos said.
Hundreds of heavily armed French soldiers and police patrolled the debris-filled streets of Noumea Saturday.
But Philippe Blaise, vice president of the territory’s southern province, said: “Today, the rule of law, security for citizens, are not back in place everywhere in (New) Caledonia.”
And Noumea mayor Sonia Lagarde told news channel BFMTV: “We’re far from getting back to calm.”
Anger is still high over a contested voting reform, even after the arrival of hundreds of military and police reinforcements.
AFP reporters in the city’s Magenta district saw vehicles and buildings torched, with riot police on the scene trying to reassert control.
Overnight, residents reported hearing gunfire, helicopters and “massive explosions” — seemingly gas canisters blowing up inside a burning building.
For days, Helene, 42, has been guarding makeshift barricades in shifts with neighbors as they waited for hundreds of French security forces to be flown in to restore order.
“At night we hear shooting and things going off,” she told AFP. “Helicopters and military planes landing — which is sweet music to our ears.”

Economic malaise

For almost a week, the usually calm oceanside city has been convulsed with violence.
Two gendarmes and three other people, Indigenous Kanaks, have also been killed.
The unrest has been blamed on economic malaise, social tensions and — above all — a political fight between mostly Indigenous pro-independence activists and Paris authorities.
French officials have accused a separatist group known as the CCAT of being behind the riots and have placed 10 of its activists under house arrest.
CCAT on Friday called for “a time of calm to break the spiral of violence.”
Annie, an 81-year-old Noumea resident, said the week’s violence had been worse than that seen during the tumultuous 1980s: a time of political killings and hostage-taking referred to as “The Events.”
“At the time, there weren’t as many weapons,” she said.

Google map showing the location of New Caledonia.

Seeking independence
New Caledonia has been a French territory since the mid-1800s.
Almost two centuries on, its politics remains dominated by debate about whether the islands should be part of France, autonomous or independent — with opinions split roughly along ethnic lines.
The latest cycle of violence was sparked by plans in Paris to impose new voting rules that could give tens of thousands of non-Indigenous residents voting rights.
Pro-independence groups say that would dilute the vote of Indigenous Kanaks, who make up about 40 percent of the population.
French authorities have called for talks and insist the situation is now “calmer” and being brought under control.
Around 1,000 security forces began reinforcing the 1,700 officers on the ground from Thursday.
Efforts to negotiate peace have so far stumbled, although French President Emmanuel Macron had begun contacting pro- and anti-independence officials individually on Friday, his office said.

'Azerbaijani actors'
A local business group estimated the damage, concentrated around Noumea, at 200 million euros ($217 million).
The damage to the islands’ reputation may cost even more.
Tourism is a big earner for New Caledonia, but an estimated 3,200 tourists and other travelers have been stranded inside or outside the archipelago by the closure of Noumea’s international airport.
The unrest has also pushed organizers to cancel plans to bring the Olympic flame through New Caledonia on its journey from Athens to Paris — where the summer Games will begin in late July.
“I think everyone understands, given the current context, the priority is consolidating a return to public order and then appeasement,” French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said on Saturday.
On Friday, French government agency Viginum said it detected a “massive and coordinated” online campaign pushing claims that French police had shot pro-independence demonstrators in New Caledonia.
Paris pointed to the involvement of “Azerbaijani actors” in the campaign, deepening a diplomatic spat between the two countries.
Azerbaijan has denied accusations of interference in New Caledonia.

1m march in London to mark 76 years of Nakba

Updated 19 May 2024

1m march in London to mark 76 years of Nakba

  • 2-km march led by Gazan photojournalist Motaz Azaiza

LONDON: About 1 million people peacefully marched in London on Saturday to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the Nakba (Catastrophe), which saw the expulsion of nearly 800,000 Palestinians from their homeland when Israel was established in 1948.

Regular Saturday marches in London since the Gaza war began last October have drawn hundreds of thousands of participants.

pro-Palestinian protesters march by Trafalgar Square in London to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba. (AN Photo)

Crowds gathered at the BBC headquarters for a 2-km march led by Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza and a group of young British Palestinians carrying large lock keys, which symbolize their inalienable right to return to their homes under international law.

Azaiza’s Instagram following has surged to over 18 million as he documented the daily realities of Israel’s invasion and relentless bombardment of Gaza. 

Since January, the 24-year-old has been traveling worldwide to advocate for a ceasefire and an end to the Israeli occupation.

“I didn’t believe that I’d stay alive to stand today here in London in front of the people. You saw me there under the bombing,” he told the crowd.

“You made me hope that there was hope. I didn’t believe in anyone, but … today, the moment I saw you all I thought there’s hope. The hope is in the people, not in the governments.”

Several pro-Palestinian organizations across the UK organized the march, calling on the British government to halt arms exports to Israel and restore funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

“Today, we reflect on the reality that this Nakba couldn’t be sustained by Israel without the enduring complicity of Western powers, including successive UK governments,” said Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

“Today, even in this darkest moment, we also march to celebrate and affirm the refusal of the Palestinian people to succumb to erasure. We won’t stop, we won’t rest, until the Palestinian people finally achieve their liberation.”

A young girl holds a placard reading "Stop Killing Children" at a pro-Palestine march in London on May 18th, 2024. (AN Photo)

The rally was met with a much smaller counter-protest carrying Israeli flags. There were only eight arrests reported by the London Metropolitan Police.


Parts of northern India scorched by extreme heat with New Delhi on high alert

A roadside vendor sells iced lemonade in New Delhi, India, Saturday. (AP)
Updated 18 May 2024

Parts of northern India scorched by extreme heat with New Delhi on high alert

NEW DELHI: Parts of northwest India sweltered under scorching temperatures on Saturday, with the capital New Delhi under a severe weather alert as extreme temperatures strike parts of the country.
India’s weather department expects heat wave conditions to persist across the north for the next few days, and has put several states on high alert. On Friday, parts of New Delhi reported up to 47.1 degrees Celsius. The nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan also saw temperatures soar and are likely to stay high over the next few days, said Soma Sen Roy, a scientist at the India Meteorological Department.
Roy cautioned people against going outdoors under the afternoon sun, drink lots of water and wear loose-fitting clothes while those who are especially vulnerable like the elderly should stay indoors.
The extreme temperatures in northern India coincide with a six-week-long general election, with experts worried that the heat wave could increase health risks as people wait in long lines to cast their vote or candidates campaign aggressively in the outdoors. One minister fainted due to heat last month while addressing an election rally in Maharashtra state.
Satish Kumar, a 57-year-old rickshaw driver in the capital, said his work was suffering because of the heat. “People are not coming outside, (markets) are nearly empty,” he said.
Pravin Kamath, a 28-year-old who runs a cart selling cold drinks, complained that it was so hot he could hardly stand being outdoors. “But I must work. What can I do? I am poor so I have to do it.”
The main summer months — April, May and June — are always hot in most parts of India before monsoon rains bring cooler temperatures. But the heat has become more intense in the past decade and is usually accompanied by severe water shortages, with tens of millions of India’s 1.4 billion people lacking running water.

A study by World Weather Attribution, an academic group that examines the source of extreme heat, found that a searing heat wave in April that struck parts of Asia was made at least 45 times more likely in some parts of the continent by climate change.