Henry Kissinger: A ‘top diplomat’ for some, a ‘war criminal’ for others

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Henry Kissinger was a statesman for the ages – a scholar and celebrity who once spoke of how he was able to “do things” for a number of presidents.

But while the things he did earned him the moniker “top diplomat” for some, others chose “war criminal”.

As President Nixon’s architect-in-chief on US foreign policy, Kissinger built a relationship with the world based on American self-interest and, in doing so, drafted a legacy that divided opinion.

Supporters hail the “realpolitik”, a pragmatism that underpinned how the Nixon administration interacted with allies and adversaries.

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Kissinger’s proactive engagement with China and diplomatic craft in dealings with the Soviet Union – dialogue, detente and nuclear arms control – is credited with reshaping the course of the Cold War.

His shuttle diplomacy during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war in the early seventies helped to contain the conflict and, in 1973, he shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending American involvement in the Vietnam War.

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 1975 file photo, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, left, and Syrian President Hafez Assad hold talks on peace prospects between Israel and the Arab state in Damascus, Syria. On Nov. 13, 1970, Assad a young career air force officer launched a bloodless coup. Fifty years later, Hafez Assad’s family still rules Syria. The country is in ruins from a decade of civil war that killed around a half million people, displaced half the population and virtually wiped out the e
Henry Kissinger (L) and Syrian President Hafez Assad talk on peace prospects between Israel and the Arab state in Damascus, Syria Pic: AP

FILE - In this Wednesday June 13, 1973 file photo, President Nixon's National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger, left, and Le Duc Tho, member of Hanoi's Politburo, are shown outside a suburban house at Gif Sur Yvette in Paris after negotiation session. Founder of the Nobel Prize Alfred Nobel gave only vague instructions on how to select winners, leaving wide room for interpretation by the prize committees in Stockholm and Oslo. In 1973 U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietname
Kissinger (L) shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending US involvement in the Vietnam War Pic: AP

But critics argue that a diplomatic course hard-wired into the furtherance of US interests placed too high a priority on strategic gain – that democracy and human rights were, too often, casualties of the Kissinger doctrine.

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They point to the Vietnam conflict as a case in point, arguing that the deal he struck on US withdrawal could have been reached years earlier, saving thousands of lives.

He was accused of authorising the carpet bombing of Cambodia during the conflict and of supporting Pakistan’s genocide in Bangladesh in 1971 because Pakistan gave the US a diplomatic back channel to China.

Kissinger was implicated in the overthrow of a legally elected socialist government in Chile and was involved in a 1974 coup that brought down the government in Cyprus.

Presidential advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger tells newsmen at the Western White House in San Clemente, July 6, 1973 that the Cambodia issue is being discussed with Chinese envoy Huang Chen who met with President Nixon on Friday, and that they are ?pushing for the quickest possible settlement? to fighting there. Press Secretary Ron Ziegler is left. (AP Photo)
Kissinger in 1973 Pic: AP

Gen. Augusto Pinochet speaks during his first anniversary as Constitutional President, in Santiago, Chile, in this March,11, 1982 photo. Pinochet, who overthrew Chile's democratically elected Marxist president in a bloody coup and ruled this Andean nation for 17 years, died Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006 of complications following a heart attack. He was 91. (AP Photo/Santiago Llanquin,)
Augusto Pinochet overthrew Chile’s democratically elected president in a coup which Kissinger was implicated in Pic: AP

It is a record that doesn’t read easily.

“His uncommon story was so unique – and so thoroughly American,” said the Nixon family in a statement released upon the death of Henry Kissinger.

It is undoubtedly true of a youngster, born Heinz Alfred Kissinger, who fled Nazi Germany for New York in 1938 and rose, eventually, to high office.

He’s the immigrant to whom America gave a life and, with it, he gave America to the world.

For better and for worse.

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