Niall Ferguson: The Jewish key to Henry Kissinger

Roundup: Historians' Take

To say that Henry Kissinger is the most controversial of twentieth-century American Secretaries of State would be an understatement. No other holder of that office has inspired opprobrium of the sort heaped on Kissinger by journalists such as Seymour Hersh and Christopher Hitchens. The latter’s polemic, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2002), for example, accuses Kissinger of having “ordered and sanctioned the destruction of civilian populations, the assassination of inconvenient politicians, the kidnapping and disappearance of soldiers and journalists and clerics who got in his way”. Hitchens offers no explanation of his subject’s alleged record of “promiscuous violence abroad and flagrant illegality at home”. The reader is merely left to infer that Kissinger must be a terribly wicked man.

Quite apart from the distinctly thin documentary foundation of Hitchens’s footnote-free case for the prosecution – which quotes from little more than a few dozen primary documents, all from US archives – The Trial of Henry Kissinger suffers from a strange absence of historical perspective. It would in fact be much easier to implicate a number of Kissinger’s predecessors in civilian bombings, coups d’état and support for murderous regimes. Unlike the case of Chile, to give a single example, there is no question that the Central Intelligence Agency had a direct hand in the coup that overthrew an elected government in Guatemala in 1954. It also played an active role in the subsequent campaign of violence against the Guatemalan Left. Many more people (around 200,000) died in this campaign than were “disappeared” in Chile after 1973 (2,279). In any case, Richard Nixon was not the first President to seek to influence Chilean domestic politics. Both of his immediate predecessors did so. Yet you will search the bookshops in vain for “The Trial of John Foster Dulles” or “The Trial of Dean Rusk”.

The more books I have read about Henry Kissinger in recent years, the more I have been reminded of the books I used to read about the Rothschild family. When other nineteenth-century banks made loans to conservative regimes or to countries at war, no one seemed to notice. But when the Rothschilds did it, the pamphleteers could scarcely control their indignation. Indeed, it would take a great many shelves to contain all the shrill anti-Rothschild polemics produced by Victorian antecedents of Hitchens and his ilk. Which prompts the question: has the ferocity of the criticism which Kissinger has attracted perhaps got something to do with the fact that he, like the Rothschilds, is Jewish? (Nota bene: this is not to imply that his critics are anti-Semites. Some of the Rothschilds’ most fierce critics were also Jews. So are some of Kissinger’s.)

Jeremi Suri’s Henry Kissinger and the American Century puts Kissinger’s Jewishness centre-stage in an interpretation of his life that stands out among recent books on the subject for the extent and depth of the author’s research. Unlike Hitchens (to say nothing of Robert Dallek and Margaret Macmillan, two other writers who have recently published books critical of Kissinger), Suri has done some real digging before rushing into print. He cites documents from sixteen different archival collections. His sixty-seven pages of notes are a model of academic rigour. I should at this point declare an interest: I am currently researching a biography of Kissinger based (in part) on his own private papers at the Library of Congress, to which Suri did not have access. I hope this lends credence, rather than the reverse, to my positive judgement. Though I do not agree with all Suri’s conclusions, I salute his scholarship. This is surely the best book yet published about Henry Kissinger. (Jussi Hanhimäki’s 2004 study of Kissinger’s foreign policy is more comprehensive on Kissinger’s time in office, but is much less insightful.) Unlike so many previous writers – particularly those journalists steeped in the blood of the Nixon administration – Suri actually makes an attempt to understand his subject in the appropriate historical context rather than simply joining in the never-ending hunt for “smoking gun” quotations....
Read entire article at Times Literary Supplement

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omar ibrahim baker - 6/1/2008

In a way Mr. Kissinger failed to grab the only promising opportunity for a comprehensive Arab/Jewish-Israeli Peace that ever appeared in the by now their almost century long conflict.

Some, with whom I tend to agree, do believe that he consciously and deliberately aborted the occasion that arose immediately at the conclusion of the 1973 war.
Psychologically, for both combatants, that was the opportune moment to launch a "genuine" Peace campaign.

The war had ended, although with a clear American assisted Israeli military victory, with a chastened Israel that had faced, at one point, an unmitigated defeat. And also an Arab camp that had regained a great deal of its, hitherto lost, self confidence and with it the opportunity to negotiate from a, relative, position of non defeat .

Instead of tackling the issue head on as a two sided, Arab/Israeli, conflict Mr. Kissinger opted instead for a “step by step” approach on two separate tracks, the Egyptian then the Syrian, that side stepped the Jordanian/Palestinian side (then one party) .That has only led to where things stand now : a lukewarm , at best, Egypt/Israel and Jordan/Israel peace, a radicalized Syria in alliance with an Islamist Iran and a no less radicalized Palestine!

Short term the Kissinger approach seems to have served Israeli designs well : the marginalization of the Palestinian content of the conflict and by affording Israel another three decades plus for further expansion on Palestinian land through land expropriation, Settlements and Wall building etc and further entrenchment in the Syrian territories of the Golan .All outputs that now constitute the major obstacles to “peace”!

Regionally, those same, post 1973, three decades witnessed the hardening of the positions of both parties with the Israeli Right gaining and substantially maintaining a leading position in Israel and the progressive Islamization of the anti Israel cause with the appearance and ascendancy of Hizb Allah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine and the increasingly decisive roles of both, the Israeli Right and the Islamist camp, in any prospective regional peace seeking effort.

Globally those same three decades led to the present almost total USA identification with an Israel substantially ruled over by the Israeli Right and the emergence of the Iran/Syria/Hizb Allah/Hamas alliance.

Had Kissinger's “Jewish ness” been the reason behind the approach he adopted, and made the USA adopt, to the conflict it would seem that it served the Jewish state well in the short term.
Long term I contend it promises to do both Israel and the region and the USA greater harm that he expected and planned for.