Henry Kissinger, who served concurrently as the national security adviser and secretary of state under US presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, is 93. But unlike most men of his age receding in the background, Kissinger these days is once again playing the influence game in the US government
It is believed that Kissinger has spent several hours since the election advising Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn and his team. He is also putting his network in place. He recommended his former assistant, K.T. McFarland, to be Flynn’s deputy, and urged Trump to nominate Rex Tillerson, the chief executive officer of ExxonMobil, as his secretary of state. Kissinger is one of the few people in Trump’s orbit who can get him on the phone whenever he wants. Kissinger is also an important man for Trump in the media. When some Republicans questioned Tillerson’s closeness to Russian president Vladimir Putin, Kissinger defended the pick on Face the Nation. Kissinger helped soften the blow of Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president in December before the Committee of 100, which advocates for the US-China relationship. Before that, Kissinger winged his way to Oslo to urge his fellow Nobel laureates to give the next president’s foreign policy a chance.
To many in Washington D.C., it feels like 1975 all over again. Almost all recent US presidents and secretaries of state at one time or another have consulted Kissinger for advice. But in the Obama years, Kissinger was not that influential. After he co-wrote an op-ed critical of the Iran nuclear deal, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed it as “big words and big thoughts” with few specifics. But it also appears strange to many people that Kissinger would have Trump’s ear. To start, he is the author of many of the policies Trump is hinting he will undo. It is not just the one-China policy, which forbids official recognition of Taiwan, even though it allows the US to arm the island. Kissinger is also an architect of arms-control deals that recent Trump tweets suggest may be in jeopardy.
Then there is the matter of how Trump won the presidency. He has warned the American people that for those who control the levers of power in Washington and for the global special interests, they partner with these people who do not have your good Living PERSONALITY It is believed that Henry Kissinger has urged Donald Trump to nominate Rex Tillerson, the chief executive officer of ExxonMobil, as his secretary of state Bashir Ahmed in mind. That is not an unreasonable description of Kissinger’s own consulting firm, which has provided strategic advice to foreign governments and big corporations since 1982. Of course, Kissinger has always contained multitudes. For his supporters, he is compared with Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, the 19th-century Austrian diplomat and scholar who both shaped and explained the geopolitics of his era. It is no coincidence that Metternich was a subject of Kissinger’s first book, published in 1957.
Niall Ferguson, the historian and Kissinger biographer, argues that the reason Trump has turned to Kissinger is that he rightly sees him as the most brilliant and experienced geopolitical theorist and diplomatic practitioner in the United States today. Trump, according to Ferguson, also realizes he could use Kissinger’s advice to sort out his strategic priorities. This is no doubt music to the ears of the Washington and New York foreign policy establishment. For idealists on the left and right, however, Kissinger’s influence on Trump is a red flag. For all of his foreign policy success, Kissinger is also an author of more dubious moments in Cold War history. He helped orchestrate the 1973 coup that toppled Chile’s elected president Salvador Allende. Kissinger devised the strategy to bomb North Vietnamese Army positions in Cambodia, something he kept from Congress. This history earned Hillary Clinton a rebuke from Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary, when he questioned the judgment of anyone who would consider Kissinger to be a personal friend.
But Kissinger is not just a bête noire for the left. He also clashed with neoconservatives when he was Richard Nixon’s national security adviser. Democratic senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson pushed the Nixon administration to adopt sanctions on the Soviet Union tied directly to its treatment of Jewish dissidents. Kissinger famously opposed this policy because it would undermine his own policy to lower tensions with Moscow, known as detente. As Trump prepares to take power, Russia is once again dividing Washington. The Obama administration just last week released a report from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security that concluded Russian intelligence services hacked leading Democrats and leaked the information to the press. Trump and his transition team have cast doubt on the intelligence.
Kissinger has not weighed in on that. But he has been saying for the past few years that it would be smart to find ways to work more closely with Putin. In a speech in February at the Gorchakov Foundation in Moscow, he said that in the emerging multi-polar order, Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States. This perspective meshes nicely with Trump’s own view that a deal can be done with Putin. Ferguson told me that one of the appeals of Kissinger for Trump is that voters were fed up with the approaches of George W Bush and Barack Obama to foreign policy.