London: Anwar Sadat, Mao Zedong, Richard Nixon and King Faisal are some of the leaders who defined the twentieth century. What their stories and legacies have in common is the impact of the efforts of a small but nonetheless very important person: Henry Kissinger. German and American, soldier and intelligence officer, Harvard academic, statesman and entrepreneur merged, and this geopolitical revelation will turn 100 this weekend.

Revered and loathed by some, Kissinger was the personification of American power at its peak, casting a long shadow over American peace around the world, at times defending American values ​​and at other times putting down revolutionary movements and supporting military councils.

US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meets King Faisal in 1973 in Riyadh. (AFP)

Any article would struggle to sum up such a long and eventful life. Kissinger was born five years after the last emperor abdicated. It is estimated that the Kissinger archive materials consist of 30 tons of documents.

Although he has become synonymous with the Cold War in America, the instantly recognizable Bavarian traces of his mellow voice betray his origins. Born to German Jewish parents on the outskirts of Nuremberg, Kissinger displayed a daring that later came to exemplify his stride on the international stage, as he defied local Nazis to soccer matches and rebelled against the restrictions placed on them.

However, his true strength began to emerge 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 Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing on February 17, 1973 (AFP file)

Continuing to work through his graduate studies, Kissinger saw his education cut short with the onset of World War II. Seeing action in the Battle of the Bulge, his wartime service culminated with the administration and demilitarization of the liberated German sectors under his control.

Kissinger’s enthusiasm for his adopted country was on the rise. He later recalled that the experience made the uprooted youth “feel like an American.”

Kissinger’s career is often seen in detail following his appointment as National Security Adviser of the United States in 1969. However, his postwar 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 cosmic theory, was characterized by tracks 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 established in the nineteenth century worldview.

Therefore, it is not surprising that his doctoral dissertation at Harvard was titled “Peace, Legality, and Equilibrium (A Study of the Statesmanship of Castlereagh and Metternich)”.

Known as the Concert of Europe, this academic study of the period between 1815 and 1914, when the great powers sought to maintain a certain balance of power and upheld world peace. Noteworthy for figures such as von Bismarck whose political philosophy is inseparable from his own, this is the period that Kissinger sought to reverse, replacing the historical role of Great Britain with the unparalleled superpower of twentieth-century America.

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

As Kissinger became known to Washington’s power brokers, his move toward a political career was inevitable. Unlike his peers, his strong academic foundation provided him with the ability to act as an inside advisor on the political challenges of the day.

If the jet engine symbolized the military and cultural dominance of the United States in the postwar era, Kissinger used international travel to the same effect to overhaul American diplomacy. His appointment as Secretary of State in 1973 was in many ways merely a formal endorsement of the growing international role he was playing.

That year saw Kissinger at the forefront of efforts in 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 succeeded in bringing China out of the cold, formalizing relations between the two countries, and decisively brokering an anti-Soviet alliance between the two powers. .

As US President Richard Nixon (second from left) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger (third from left) interacts with other Israeli officials in Washington on November 1, 1973.

As the world looked on following the Yom Kippur War, Kissinger, immediately after his involvement in a coup in Chile the previous month, shuttled between Arab capitals while also orchestrating an unprecedented airlift of arms to Israel, tipping the regional balance of power to the point. That Israel has not faced any Arab invasion since then.

As the year ended with an agreement to end the Vietnam War, Kissinger’s excessive diplomacy was recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize, and his international activities became a blueprint for American diplomacy for his peers and a blot on his career in the eyes of his critics.


You cannot wage war in the Middle East without Egypt and you cannot make peace without Syria.

Accept everything about yourself – I mean everything, you are you and this is the beginning and the end – no apologies, no regrets.

Ninety percent of the politicians gave the other ten percent a bad name.

Illegal we do immediately. Unconstitutional work takes a little longer.

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Kissinger is often seen as the unemotional distributor of American power in the developing world. Although he succeeded in pursuing her interests, his zero-sum worldview—about a massive global jigsaw puzzle made up of pieces that must be moved around to fit America’s emergence as the world’s superpower—stirred controversy.

Having once stated that “I am not interested in and know nothing about the southern part of the world” and “what happens in the South is of no importance”, it is now evident that there is a certain ignorance of the wider world that has supported the most decisive political and military interventions it has supported to expand America’s influence .

Demonstrators gather at Place des Nations in Geneva on September 10, 2010 to protest 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 remains the subject of much debate, summed up in Christopher Hitchens’ 2001 treatise, “The Trial of Henry Kissinger.”

Speaking later in life, Kissinger would argue that the bombing of Cambodia was necessary to stop the raids on South Vietnam. Truth be told, the focus on the subsequent widespread US bombing of the Khmer Rouge is less controversial now than it was on the genocidal crimes of the Cambodian regime in the 1970s.

Yet Kissinger’s intercontinental political style was true to the Bismarckian mold from which he emerged, dimly disguised 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 as he arrives for their meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, on April 13, 1994. (AFP)

After all was said and done, it is still remarkable that Kissinger, a man who retired 50 years ago, has remained relevant in politics. As a leader in the Kissinger Associates organization, he went on to have remarkable influence and reach, as the great global collaborator and philanthropist par excellence.

Kissinger’s long political farewell gave him the opportunity to have the final say on many key moments in his career, a luxury his late peers did not enjoy. However, his importance persisted, and his call for coexistence with China and détente with Russia made his expertise much needed amid efforts by one to disrupt America and the other to dislodge it completely.

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 6, 2006. (AFP)

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

More recently, in a book on the issue last year, warning that the AI ​​arms race is an “entirely new problem” “with no plausible theories yet of how states can prevail,” Muammar continues to turn heads.

There is no doubt that Kissinger, for his many mistakes, remains an epoch-making public figure. Yet he is an infinitely more complete figure than the cunning master of realpolitik his critics have made him.

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

This career of enormous achievement and tireless controversy was made possible by a talent that was as brilliantly educated as he was reserved, both qualities sadly missing from current political life.

It is not inconceivable that Kissinger, as a student of imperial history, only planned to expand American hegemony, and also expected to notice its decline. But it is not clear whether this is due to the speed with which this happened or to how long Kissinger lived. Anyway, he might have the answer.


Zaid Belbagi is a political commentator and advisor to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid

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