Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton receive the Germany Freedom Award in 2009.
Hillary Clinton often plays the hawk card: She voted for the Iraq war, dissed President Barack Obama for not being tough enough on Syria, and compared Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. This is to be expected from a politician who has angled for a certain title: the first female president of the United States. Whether her muscular views are sincerely held or not, a conventional political calculation would lead her to assume it may be difficult for many voters to elect as commander-in-chief a woman who did not project an aggressive and assertive stance on foreign policy. So her tough talk might be charitably evaluated in such a (somewhat) forgiving context. Yet what remains more puzzling and alarming is the big wet kiss she planted (rhetorically) on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger this week, with a fawning review of his latest book, World Order.
Sure, perhaps there is secretary's privilege—an old boy and girls club, in which the ex-foreign-policy chiefs do not speak ill of each other and try to help out the person presently in the post. Nothing wrong with that. But former-Madam Secretary Clinton had no obligation to praise Kissinger and publicly participate in his decades-long mission to rehabilitate his image. In the review, she calls Kissinger a "friend" and reports, "I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state. He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels." She does add that she and Henry "have often seen the world and some of our challenges quite differently, and advocated different responses now and in the past." But here's the kicker: At the end of the review, she notes that Kissinger is "surprisingly idealistic":
Even when there are tensions between our values and other objectives, America, he reminds us, succeeds by standing up for our values, not shirking them, and leads by engaging peoples and societies, the sources of legitimacy, not governments alone.
Kissinger reminds us that America succeeds by standing up for its values? Did she inhale?
Kissinger, who served as secretary of state for President Richard Nixon and then President Gerald Ford, is a symbol of the worst of US foreign policy. Though he guided the United States through détente with the Soviet Union and initiated the historic opening to China, he engaged in underhanded and covert diplomacy that led to massacres around the globe, as he pursued his version of foreign policy realism. This is no secret.
- Chile: Nixon and Kissinger plotted to thwart the democratic election of a socialist president. The eventual outcome: a military coup and a military dictatorship that killed thousands of Chileans.
- Argentina: Kissinger gave a "green light" to the military junta's dirty war against political opponents that led to the deaths of an estimated 30,000.
- East Timor: Another "green light" from Kissinger, this one for the Indonesian military dictatorship's bloody invasion of East Timor that yielded up to 200,000 deaths.
- Cambodia: The secret bombing there during the Nixon phase of the Vietnam War killed between 150,000 and 500,000 civilians.
- Bangladesh: Kissinger and Nixon turned a blind eye to—arguably, they tacitly approved—Pakistan's genocidal slaughter of 300,000 Bengalis, most of them Hindus.
And there's more. Kissinger's mendacity has been chronicled for years. See Gary Bass' recent and damning book on the Bangladesh tragedy, The Blood Telegram. There's Seymour Hersh's classic, The Price of Power. In The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens presented the case against Kissinger in his full polemical style. As secretary of state, Kissinger made common cause with—and encouraged—tyrants who repressed and massacred many. He did not serve the American values of democracy, free expression, and human rights. He shredded them.
Once upon a time, Hillary Clinton protested the Vietnam War. She attended the 1968 GOP convention in Miami to join the effort to draft Nelson Rockefeller in order to prevent Nixon from winning the party's presidential nomination. She served on the staff of the House judiciary committee, which voted to impeach Nixon; one of the articles of impeachment drafted by the staff (but which was not approved) slammed Nixon for covering up the bombing in Cambodia. She knows what Kissinger has done. She knows what Kissinger represents. There's none of that in her self-serving review. Instead, she hails him as a champion of a values-driven foreign policy. Maybe when he's typing in front of a computer these days—but not when he wielded power. Clinton lets him off the hook and participates in the long-running pretense that Kissinger is a grand old statesman who deserves respect rather than scorn.
Democrats uneasy with Clinton as their party's standard-bearer have often wondered if there is a limit to what she might say or do to win the White House. Embracing Kissinger in this manner shows how low she can go. It likely will cause cringing among not-there-yet Democrats who can only fear that, with plenty of time before the campaign truly starts, Hillary Clinton is not yet done disappointing them.