From Rick Perlstein, The American Prospect <[email protected]>
Subject The Infernal Triangle: Kissinger Revisited
Date February 28, 2024 1:04 PM
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Kissinger Revisited

The former secretary of state is responsible for virtually every
American geopolitical disaster of the past half-century.

Last year, upon agreeing to do this column, I started saving string for
the year ahead-for instance, drafting out an obituary of Henry
Kissinger, just like the newspaper guys do when a public figure starts
showing decrepitude. This past November 29, the Grim Reaper took that
project off my plate.

I've decided to return to it.

Some of the Kissinger obits were

others obsequious
But with only one partial exception
none scooped what I wanted to say, and the most important thing to know
about the man: that his every major geostrategic initiative was a

****on his own terms, each failure seeding a separate epochal ordeal for
American foreign policy, lasting us into the present.

Take the Iranian Revolution. The revolutionaries, shrewd political
semioticians, pursued it by borrowing an Islamic custom: mourning
periods lasting 40 days. Every 40 days following September 8, 1978, they
would stage a violent uprising, weaponizing the memories of the massacre
that September day of dozens of protesters in Jaleh Square in Tehran,
supervised directly by the Shah, sitting up above in a helicopter. By
the fourth 40-day marker, the revolutionaries had won.

February 17 marked 80 days since Henry's passing. Call this essay a
memorial to that.

The Shah's rule, you'll surely know, was a joint British-American
creation brought into being in a 1953 coup staged by the CIA. Iran was a
key American client state in the Cold War because of its roughly
1,000-mile border with the Soviet Union, soon dotted with American radar
and signal-monitoring devices. Some 19 years later, the commitment of
hundreds of thousands of American troops to Vietnam had proved a debacle
the American people would not allow to be repeated. So Nixon and
Kissinger decided to shower proxies with weapons and cash, to do the
work of checking the Reds on our behalf, instead. It was known as the
"Nixon Doctrine"-more accurately, the Nixon-Kissinger Doctrine.

Iran was the keystone. The two men traveled there together in 1972,
winning the Shah's agreement to serve as America's "protector" in
the Persian Gulf-in exchange for all the American weapons he liked.
Forthwith, the Shah "began spending money on U.S. armaments," I wrote in
"like a kid in a candy store."

Except popular anger at an American puppet exploded in Iran. That
brought ever greater repression. Leaders in both American political
parties looked the other way. The dynamic reached an apotheosis with the
toast President Jimmy Carter delivered on New Year's Eve 1977 on a
state visit to Tehran, in which he described Iran as "an island of
stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world."


****is a key Kissingerian term of art. Mark it well as our story

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Jimmy Carter was the one left holding the Kissingerian bag, alas, when
the Shah fell in February of 1979-and then, as you also surely know,
when America was punished for its sins that November by militant
students who held 52 American hostages for 444 days. One of the more
astonishing things I learned researching

**Reaganland**was that the hostage crisis was more Henry Kissinger's
fault than Jimmy Carter's.

Kissinger had been leading a massive bipartisan pressure campaign to
give the Shah refuge in the United States, ostensibly for the
humanitarian reason of receiving medical treatment. (Experts judged he
could have received adequate care where he was, in Mexico.) Carter
thought that a crazy idea, barking to his national-security team, "Does
somebody here have an answer as to what we do if the diplomats are taken

They were silent.

"I gather not. On that day we will all sit here with long, drawn, white
faces and realize we've been had."

They had been had by Henry Kissinger. Us, too.

A brilliant book

by Christian Caryl of The Washington Post argues convincingly that the
Iranian Revolution, with its subsequent successful humiliation of the
U.S. by taking hostages, was a global watershed, catalyzing (along with
the mujahideen resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) the
greatest step backward for world peace and stability in modern history:
the rise of militant Islamism. September 11, ISIS, Iran's current work
spreading chaos-by-proxy across the Middle East-all of it Henry
Kissinger's fault, almost directly.

by their Cold War tunnel vision that the gathering storm of militant
Islamism was completely ignored. It was an index of the awesome
influence this ghoul retained among movers and shakers in both parties
that his reputation survived that. Indeed, had he died in his sixties
instead of his dotage, we would have seen almost

**all**obsequious obits. They'd resemble the opening chapter of The
Making of the President 1972
where one of the most obsequious elite agenda-setting political
journalists of them all, Theodore White, wrote:

Nixon had come into office, said Kissinger, with that necessary new
concept, which he, Kissinger, shared: "What the world needed was a
self-regulating mechanism" ... Not since I had talked with George
Marshall long ago, and Dean Acheson during the dynamic days of American
hegemony, had I heard the use of American power so carefully explained
... We came off the beach after a three-mile walk, climbing up the
eroded duneland, and Kissinger began to notice that people were waving
at him ... A middle-aged man with gray fuzz on his chest asked if he
could shake Kissinger's hand-he wanted to say simply he was grateful
for peace. Kissinger became very boyish and shy ... He had come to the
United States a refugee ... Under the GI Bill he had gone through
Harvard, where he studied the structure of American power ... and then
he had helped a President use that power as well as it had ever been
used in the world.

Bad timing. In The Atlantic, Gary Bass marked Kissinger's passing by
wondering "how many of his eulogists will grapple with his full record."
Bass listed a series of human rights horrors, from the carpet-bombing of
Cambodia to Bangladesh, the subject of his own scouring study The Blood
Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide
Except Bass was wrong: All these horrors were thoroughly rehearsed, for
example in David Sanger's

**New York Times**obituary

But still: nothing on the smoking ruins of his entire geostrategic
project, as judged on its own terms.

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"Stability"; the "self-regulating mechanism": These were supposed to be
the hallmarks of Kissinger's diplomatic framework. By setting force
against force, perfect equipoise could be achieved, controlled by us,
simultaneously achieving America's desired strategic aims. The opening
to China, alongside simultaneous détente with the Soviet Union, was to
be this model's apotheosis. It was supposed to set off a rivalry in
which China and the USSR raced to impress America by becoming the first
to withdraw their sponsorship of the Communist belligerents in Vietnam,
which would in turn allow America to settle the war on militarily
favorable terms.

The plan had been gestating in Kissinger's mind for a long time: "In a
subtle triangle with Communist China and the Soviet Union," as Kissinger
wrote for his then-patron Nelson Rockefeller in 1968, "we can ultimately
improve our relations with each, as we test the will for peace of both."

Instead, America lost in Vietnam. Then, the entire region fell to nearly
anarchic instability, a genocide
and two regional wars
within four short

Meanwhile, on the China side of the ledger, if you believe the entirety
of the American foreign-policy establishment
economic rivalry with China is just about the most dangerous long-term
challenge America now faces-well, maybe blame Henry for that, too.

Just like with the missed rise of militant Islamism, it owes to his
incredible narrowness of vision: To Kissinger, economic considerations
were a matter of complete indifference. Advisers would try to warn him
of the danger of Arab nations using their control of petroleum reserves
as a strategic weapon. He would grow downright hysterical
"Don't talk to me about barrels of oil. They might as well [be]
bottles of Coca-Cola." Likewise, negotiating in China on the terms of
America's future relationship, he just skipped trade and commerce
altogether :
"The maximum amount of bilateral trade possible between us, even if we
make great efforts, is infinitesimal in terms of our total economy."

At the time, even

**New Yorker**cartoonists knew enough to trump America's wizard of
geostrategy when it came to that. As one fat cat says to another in a
1972 doodle
"I'm as aware of the evils of Communism as anyone, but good God, when
you think of eight hundred million Chinese in terms of

**franchises ...**"

When it comes to the Soviet Union, the very reason Kissinger believed
America could afford to make concessions in arms talks was the
determination that the Bolshevik foe had matured from a "revolutionary"
to a "status quo" power. A double whammy of wrongness there. That meant,
first, that Russia need no longer be seen as dangerously
expansionist-a notion that rather came a cropper in 1979 when the USSR
invaded Afghanistan. Second, that its internal politics and human rights
record were irrelevant when it came to strategic terms, because the
Soviet empire would always be there, and never, in the foreseeable
future, could change.

Another great call. By the end of Kissinger's tenure in government, a
human rights revolution within the USSR was already sowing the seeds of
its demise.

It caused quite a stir

when Biden administration officials Jake Sullivan, Kissinger's
successor as national-security adviser, and Samantha Power, the USAID
administrator, feted Kissinger at one in a series of 100th birthday
parties. Also Hillary Clinton, a successor secretary of state, was

with him. One hopes this admiration from the Democratic foreign-policy
elite does not owe to Kissinger's remarkable ability to cause the
deaths of millions without any visible remorse-statecraft being an
ugly business and all. But really, beyond that, there's just not all
that much there to grab onto.


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