Henry Kissinger, dangerous fraud: Why he’s as responsible for Iraq and the Middle East as VietnamRoundup
tags: Henry Kissinger
Two weeks ago, a mini-scandal rocked the New York literary world. Gawker revealedthat Andrew Roberts, the New York Times Book Review’s choice to review the authorized biography of Henry Kissinger, had in fact been Kissinger’s original choice to write the authorized biography.
Roberts also was a long-time friend of Niall Ferguson, the man who Kissinger wound up choosing to write his authorized biography. Roberts and Ferguson had even written a lengthy chapter together in a volume of essays edited by Ferguson. Worse yet: Roberts had revealed almost none of these involvements — with Ferguson, with Kissinger — to the New York Times when it asked him to write the review.
So unseemly were these entanglements, and the lack of transparency about them, that Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times public editor, felt called upon to rap the paper’s knuckles. Which prompted a further back and forth between Sullivan and Pamela Paul, the editor of the Times Book Review. While the back-scratching world of book reviews in the New York Times is an old topic — unlike other publications, the Times purports to be objective and untainted by personal connections, and its reviews help promote or kill books — this scandal brought it into especially sharp relief.
The person who revealed the scandal in Gawker was Greg Grandin, an NYU historian and winner of multiple academic and literary prizes. Grandin has his own book out on Kissinger, “Kissinger’s Shadow,” which was reviewed by the Times the same day that Ferguson’s bio was.
By coincidence, I was scheduled to interview Grandin at the Brooklyn Public Libraryon the day his review came out. I was thrilled by the prospect. (Full disclosure: Grandin and I are long-time friends. Just in case you thought the personal dimensions of this story couldn’t get any gummier.)
A lot of Kissinger commentary focuses on a simple-minded opposition between two traditions of U.S. foreign policy: the realist tradition, which is hard-headed about power, human rights, and America’s ability to do good in the world; and the idealist tradition, which believes the U.S. should promote freedom and democracy around the globe.
Grandin shows how irrelevant that debate is. His Kissinger is neither a realist nor an idealist; his Kissinger is a “political existentialist.” And where sentimentalists look back on Kissinger’s reign as a time when wise men governed, Grandin shows that there’s a direct link between the insanity of Bush’s Iraq War — and Obama’s endless wars — and Kissinger’s insanity in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Beyond the novel interpretation Grandin offers of Kissinger, his book is a literary triumph, a marriage of style and substance that’s rare in books on U.S. foreign policy. Grandin’s chapter on the deeply troubled and personal relationship between Kissinger and Daniel Ellsberg reads like the opening act of a John Adams opera. Grandin manages to take a serious topic — the fantastically strange, and unnerving, worldview of Henry Kissinger — and make it funny. Kissinger’s Shadow is like Dr. Strangelove, but on paper. It shows you how scary Kissinger’s reign truly was, but never lets you forget the farce that was the man.
What follows is an edited transcript of our interview at the Brooklyn Public Library.
There’ve been many books about Henry Kissinger, including critical treatments by Christopher Hitchens and Seymour Hersh. Why do we need another book?
Kissinger is an outsized personality, and in these other books, he tends to outstrip the context. You learn much about Kissinger, but not so much about the national security state that he exemplifies. My book sees in Kissinger the workings of the larger system, the longer arc of post-war U.S. foreign policy.
But I want to also take on the notion that Kissinger is a foreign policy realist, that he’s opposed to the idealist strain of U.S. foreign policy. Kissinger is supposed to think the U.S. should only get into battles it knows it can win, and should only do so in defense of its interests, not its ideals. That notion of Kissinger the realist is often juxtaposed with the adventurism of the neoconservatives who drove us into Iraq. I think that’s a misrecognition of Kissinger, and my book shows how. ...
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