Henry Kissinger’s “mad and illegal” bombing: What you need to know about his real history — and why the Sanders/Clinton exchange matters

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tags: Hillary Clinton, election 2016, Henry Kissinger, Bernie Sanders



Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University and the author of "Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman."  Thumbnail Image - Henry Kissinger by David Shankbone - David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0

Vote Hillary, get Henry. That seemed to be the message Hillary Clinton wants to send; she’s spoken highly of Kissinger in her last two debates with Bernie Sanders. Last night, Sanders fired back at Clinton for seeking foreign-policy wisdom from the Vietnam-era secretary of state. “I find it rather amazing,” Sanders said, “given that I happen to believe that Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country. I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.”

Maybe Kissinger will be the Dick Cheney of this campaign, angling for a shot at a dark-lord VP, you know, like Cheney himself. I doubt it. Though, at 92 and still a congenital publicity seeker, he must be enjoying himself.

In my most recent book, “Kissinger’s Shadow,” I tried to use Kissinger as a window onto both the collapse of the national security state, brought about by Vietnam, its reconstruction on new footings reading to meet the challenges of 1970s and beyond. It is in that reconstruction, in which Kissinger was key, that one can find the beginning of the militarization of the Persian Gulf – that is, the seeds sprouting the catastrophe we now find ourselves in.

As I wrote a few months ago for TomDispatch:

“Similarly, each of Kissinger’s Middle East initiatives has been disastrous in the long run. Just think about them from the vantage point of 2015: banking on despots, inflating the Shah, providing massive amounts of aid to security forces that tortured and terrorized democrats, pumping up the U.S. defense industry with recycled petrodollars and so spurring a Middle East arms race financed by high gas prices, emboldening Pakistan’s intelligence service, nurturing Islamic fundamentalism, playing Iran and the Kurds off against Iraq, and then Iraq and Iran off against the Kurds, and committing Washington to defending Israel’s occupation of Arab lands. Combined, they’ve helped bind the modern Middle East into a knot that even Alexander’s sword couldn’t sever.”


At last night’s debate, Bernie went on the offensive. He not only called Kissinger one of the most destructive secretaries of state in our modern history, he explained some of the history. “In fact, Kissinger’s actions in Cambodia, when the United States bombed that country, over — through Prince Sihanouk, created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in who then butchered some 3 million innocent people – one of the worst genocides in the history of the world.”

I have no doubt that the fact-checkers are going to mangle Sanders’ claims here, but he is pretty much right. Kissinger didn’t create the Khmer Rouge, but his mad and illegal bombing of Cambodia created the conditions where the most genocidal, militant faction of a broad and diverse insurgency could seize control of first the insurgency and then the state. ...




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