On CBS, Brinkley Pans ‘Anti-Democratic’ Kissinger

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Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley joined Thursday’s installment of CBS Mornings to discuss the death of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his “duality.” On one hand, Brinkley panned Kissinger as someone who “had a bad, anti-democratic record,” but on the other, he praised Kissinger for being the guy who set in motion Israeli-Egyptian peace and tried to argue that is what is needed today with Israel and Gaza, ignoring key differences between the two.

Host Tony Dokoupil inquired, “I want to get to how Kissinger continues to influence both the terms and the strategy of American foreign policy, right now up to this minute, but also, first, address this dual legacy, hated by some, celebrated by others, and sometimes for the very same action around the same instant. Could you explain these two sides to Henry Kissinger’s legacy?”

Brinkley began his response by sending his condolences to Kissinger’s family before noting, “Look, Henry Kissinger, he has more enemies than you can count. It comes out of the academic left. Many people blamed him for the continuation of the war in Vietnam and the expanding of the war into Cambodia and Laos. The anti-war campuses were filled with anti-Kissinger rhetoric. Add to that the fact that Kissinger had a bad, anti-democratic record in dealing with countries like Chile. Writers like Christopher Hitchens would, you know, put Kissinger on trial.”

At the same time, “you can’t study diplomacy in the United States without grappling with Henry Kissinger. He invented the really—the modern concept of realism, or with a hyper-pragmatism if you’d like in foreign affairs, realpolitik as it was called. He was a believer in superpowers, that the United States had to be the most powerful country in the world.”

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Brinkley also tried to claim Kissinger’s legacy on other matters, “And he invented terms we just use, like shuttle diplomacy, like we need somebody now to do diplomacy in what’s going on in Israel and Gaza. It’s Henry Kissinger who really orchestrated the biggest breakthrough imaginable, going to China with Nixon in 1972 and opening up relations between the two countries and, you know, the Yom Kippur War, you know, Kissinger is the one really getting a peace settlement out of it. He won a Nobel prize. So, it’s a duality to Henry Kissinger.”

To compare the current situation with Israel and Hamas to the Yom Kippur War is to try to put a square peg in a round hole. Kissinger knew Egypt’s Anwar Sadat would be willing to deal and change his orientation from Soviet-aligned to American-aligned. The Palestinians, whether that be Hamas or the Palestinian Authority, are prepared to no such things meaning a ceasefire now would be like all the pre-1973 ceasefires.

Here is a transcript for the November 30 show:

CBS Mornings

11/30/2023

8:11 AM ET

TONY DOKOUPIL: I want to get to how Kissinger continues to influence both the terms and the strategy of American foreign policy, right now up to this minute, but also, first, address this dual legacy, hated by some, celebrated by others, and sometimes for the very same action around the same instant. Could you explain these two sides to Henry Kissinger’s legacy? 

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, absolutely and we all want to send our condolences to his wife, Nancy, and his two children. You know, they’re obviously mourning. Look, Henry Kissinger, he has more enemies than you can count. It comes out of the academic left. Many people blamed him for the continuation of the war in Vietnam and the expanding of the war into Cambodia and Laos. The anti-war campuses were filled with anti-Kissinger rhetoric. Add to that the fact that Kissinger had a bad, anti-democratic record in dealing with countries like Chile. 

Writers like Christopher Hitchens would, you know, put Kissinger on trial. On the other hand, you can’t study diplomacy in the United States without grappling with Henry Kissinger. He invented the really—the modern concept of realism, or with a hyper-pragmatism if you’d like in foreign affairs, realpolitik as it was called. He was a believer in superpowers, that the United States had to be the most powerful country in the world. 

And he invented terms we just use, like shuttle diplomacy, like we need somebody now to do diplomacy in what’s going on in Israel and Gaza. It’s Henry Kissinger who really orchestrated the biggest breakthrough imaginable, going to China with Nixon in 1972 and opening up relations between the two countries and, you know, the Yom Kippur War, you know, Kissinger is the one really getting a peace settlement out of it. He won a Nobel prize. So, it’s a duality to Henry Kissinger.  

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