By Greg Grandin at The Nation
Clinton just can’t quit him. Even as she is trying to outflank Bernie on his left, Hillary Clinton can’t help but stutter the name of Henry Kissinger. Last night in the New Hampshire debate, Clinton thought to close her argument that she is the true progressive with this: “I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better than anybody had run it in a long time.”
Let’s consider some of Kissinger’s achievements during his tenure as Richard Nixon’s top foreign policy–maker. He (1) prolonged the Vietnam War for five pointless years; (2) illegally bombed Cambodia and Laos; (3) goaded Nixon to wiretap staffers and journalists; (4) bore responsibility for three genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, and Bangladesh; (5) urged Nixon to go after Daniel Ellsberg for having released the Pentagon Papers, which set off a chain of events that brought down the Nixon White House; (6) pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan; (7) began the US’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran; (8) accelerated needless civil wars in southern Africa that, in the name of supporting white supremacy, left millions dead; (9) supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America; and (10) ingratiated himself with the first-generation neocons, such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who would take American militarism to its next calamitous level. Read all about it in Kissinger’s Shadow!
A full tally hasn’t been done, but a back-of-the-envelope count would attribute 3, maybe 4 million deaths to Kissinger’s actions, but that number probably undercounts his victims in southern Africa. Pull but one string from the current tangle of today’s multiple foreign policy crises, and odds are it will lead back to something Kissinger did between 1968 and 1977. Over-reliance on Saudi oil? That’s Kissinger. Blowback from the instrumental use of radical Islam to destabilize Soviet allies? Again, Kissinger. An unstable arms race in the Middle East? Check, Kissinger. Sunni-Shia rivalry? Yup, Kissinger. The impasse in Israel-Palestine? Kissinger. Radicalization of Iran? “An act of folly” was how veteran diplomat George Ball described Kissinger’s relationship to the Shah. Militarization of the Persian Gulf? Kissinger, Kissinger, Kissinger.
And yet Clinton continues to call his name, hoping his light bathes her in wisdom.
Hillary Clinton’s progress as a public figure and politician can, in fact, be indexed perfectly by her relationship to Henry Kissinger. In 1970 as a law student at Yale before she met Bill, Hillary Rodham, in April and May was at the center of what she called “the Yale-Cambodia madness,” a series of protests that started around the “New Haven Nine” Black Panther trial but escalated when Nixon, on April 30, announced the invasion of Cambodia—an invasion Kissinger was instrumental in planning and executing. On May 1, the day after Nixon’s speech, “Vietcong flags filled the air; gas masks were distributed. Streaming banners and impromptu chants abounded: ‘Seize the Time!’ ‘End U.S. imperialism around the world!’”
Then in the early 1990s, Hillary Rodham Clinton would again be caught up in events related to Kissinger’s actions. Her husband, Bill Clinton, embraced Kissinger, which began Kissinger’s apotheosis into his current incarnation as a bipartisan elder statesman, invoked by politicians who want to appear “serious.”
As first lady, Hillary Clinton spent the early months of her husband’s administration drafting healthcare-reform legislation, only to see it put on the back burner by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Kissinger, in his role as a global consultant, had played a critical role in bringing the various parties who would write that trade treaty together during the previous George H.W. Bush administration. Kissinger continued his NAFTA advocacy with Bill Clinton. As Jeff Faux writes in his excellent The Global Class War, Kissinger was “the perfect tutor” for Clinton, who was “trying to convince Republicans and their business allies that they could count on him to champion Reagan’s vision.”
By September 1993, Hillary’s healthcare bill was ready to be presented to the public and to Congress. But so was NAFTA. All of Kissinger’s allies in the White House, including Mack McLarty, who would soon join Kissinger Associates, pushed Clinton to prioritize NAFTA over healthcare. Clinton did. It was Kissinger who came up with the idea of having past presidents stand behind Clinton as he signed the treaty. Reagan was sick and Nixon still non grata, but “flanked by former presidents Bush, Carter and Ford at a White House ceremony, Mr. Clinton delivers an impassioned speech,” The Wall Street Journal reported. No such presidential backdrop was assembled to help support Hillary Clinton’s healthcare proposal. By August 1994, healthcare was dead.
But whatever Hillary Clinton might have once felt about Kissinger’s invasion of Cambodia or the role he played in sidelining healthcare legislation she worked so hard on, she has made her peace and accepted the elder statesman as her tutor too. Last year, reviewing Kissinger’s World Order for The Washington Post, Clinton said that “Kissinger is a friend” and admitted that she “relied on his counsel” and that he “checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels.” The “famous realist,” she said, “sounds surprisingly idealistic.” Kissinger’s vision is her vision: “just and liberal.”
Over at Salon, Ben Norton and Jared Flanery went through Clinton’s e-mails from her tenure as secretary of state and found that Clinton and Kissinger did, indeed, often “check in” with one another, each flattering the other. One e-mail reveals Clinton worried that her relationship with Obama didn’t quite rise to the inimitable level of Kissinger’s to Nixon: “I see POTUS at least once a week while K saw Nixon everyday,” Clinton wrote. “Do you see this as a problem?”
Clintonism is largely an extension of Kissingerism, so Clinton’s cozy relationship to Kissinger shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both Clintons have excelled at exactly the kind of fudging of their public-private roles that Kissinger perfected. Kissinger, the private consultant, profited from the catastrophes he created as a public figure. Beyond his role in brokering NAFTA, in Latin America his consulting firm, Kissinger and Associates, was a key player in the orgy of privatization that took place during Clinton’s presidency, enriching itself on the massive sell-off of public utilities and industries, a sell-off that, in many countries, was initiated by Kissinger-supported dictators and military regimes. The Clintons, too, both as private philanthropists and private investors, are neck deep in corruption in Latin America (especially in Colombia and Haiti)–corruption made worse, à la Kissinger, by the policies they put into place as public figures, including the free trade treaties and policies that Hillary helped push through, first as senator and then as secretary of state.
When it comes to coups and bombing, too, Clinton follows Kissinger’s lead. Clinton’s role in legitimating the catastrophic 2009 coup in Honduras was pure Machtpolitik, the kind Kissinger deployed in Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina, and elsewhere.
Kissinger, as he often is, was wrong. A case can be made that Reagan’s bombing accelerated regional polarization and radicalization, contributing to blowback. As did Hillary Clinton’s completion of the job nearly three decades later. No matter. “I greatly admire the skill and aplomb with which you conduct our foreign policy,” Kissinger wrote to Secretary of State Clinton in February 7, 2012, letter, not long after Clinton’s bombing of Libya had come to a conclusion and Qaddafi was dead.
Last year, Kissinger, reacting to a question about his role in overthrowing Salvador Allende—the democratically elected president of Chile in 1973—and his illegal, covert bombing of Cambodia—which started in 1969 and continued to 1973—pointed to the Clinton’s bombing in Libya and proposed bombing in Syria.
What’s the difference? he asked.