It is, essentially, that Kissinger was too dedicated to peaceful coexistence with Communist regimes.
Kissinger's reply is that he did the best he could given the dire circumstances he faced while in office. There is a good deal of merit in this self-defense, but Hanhimaki exposes its inadequacy. Take the issue of South Vietnam. Kissinger has said that the Paris peace accords represented the best deal he could get, and if Watergate had not come along, the United States would have honored its commitment to defend South Vietnam.
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But, as "The Flawed Architect" shows, Kissinger privately told the Chinese and Russians that all he wanted was a "decent interval" before North Vietnam swallowed the South. Kissinger hoped his careful cultivation of Soviet and Chinese leaders would pay off in greater success in handling regional crises, but this did not turn out to be the case. The Communist bosses had no intention of reining in their third world allies, and their continued aggression gradually undermined Kissinger's credibility.
By he had become an electoral liability for President Ford, who had to fight accusations from both left and right that his secretary of state was pursuing an immoral foreign policy. Hanhimaki agrees that Kissinger was guilty of "immoral realpolitik. Kissinger's personal failings, in Hanhimaki's view, made it difficult for him to muster domestic support for his policies.
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Still, Hanhimaki is right to hail Kissinger, for all his flaws, as an outstanding diplomatic tactician. The skill with which he conducted complex negotiations with interlocutors ranging from Anwar el-Sadat to Zhou Enlai has seldom been equaled. The tragedy of Kissinger's tenure, which Hanhimaki only dimly grasps, is that he was brilliant in coming up with new strategies to achieve his ends but strangely stilted in defining those ends.
He could not envision a purpose for all his wheeling and dealing beyond managing the status quo.
The former Harvard professor lacked the vision of a former movie actor who was determined to end the cold war and consign Communism to the "ash heap of history. It turns out it was Kissinger who didn't know what he was talking about.
Max Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Log In.
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