Kissinger ‘frus­trated by state of Sino-US ties’

Bi­og­ra­pher says Obama should have sought ad­vice from leg­endary diplo­mat on im­prov­ing re­la­tions, An­drew Moody re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS -

China’s lead­ers are more likely than United States Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to seek out ad­vice from Henry Kissinger, Niall Fer­gu­son said.

The pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Har­vard Univer­sity, who has re­cently pub­lished the first vol­ume of a bi­og­ra­phy of the former sec­re­tary of state, be­lieves that it is one of the rea­sons US for­eign pol­icy is in such a mess.

“Kissinger has been to the White House, but my un­der­stand­ing is that he has been asked for fa­vors, rather than ad­vice, de­spite the fact that he is clearly highly re­garded by the Chi­nese lead­er­ship and only this year had a one-to-one meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping,” he said.

“It is re­mark­able to my mind that Pres­i­dent Obama thinks he doesn’t need Kissinger’s ex­per­tise, but he ap­par­ently be­lieves he can do grand strat­egy all by him­self.”

Fer­gu­son, 51, was in Lon­don to pro­mote Kissinger: The Ideal­ist, 1923-1968, which takes the for­eign pol­icy guru’s life up to the point he en­tered the White House and wielded po­lit­i­cal power for the first time.

In a re­view for the Financial Times, former Hong Kong gover­nor Chris Pat­ten joked that he hoped Fer­gu­son did not suf­fer the same fate as an­other bi­og­ra­pher, Ro­han But­ler, whose 1,000-word first vol­ume took the life of the French states­man Choiseul only to the point his ca­reer ac­tu­ally be­gun, and then died be­fore he could con­tinue.

“I think this first vol­ume in this case is worth 1,000 pages,” Fer­gu­son said, laugh­ing. “I don’t think you can pos­si­bly see how he be­comes na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to Richard Nixon if you don’t see his evo­lu­tion as a strate­gic thinker and pub­lic in­tel­lec­tual.

“As Kissinger him­self said, you have to live off your in­tel­lec­tual cap­i­tal in of­fice be­cause you don’t have time in gov­ern­ment to ac­quire any more. You ba­si­cally run down what you have learned so far.”

Fer­gu­son, a Scot who is a renowned pub­lic in­tel­lec­tual him­self and who has now lived in the US for 12 years with an aca­demic post at Stan­ford as well as Har­vard, was courted by Kissinger to be his bi­og­ra­pher.

“I met him at a Lon­don drinks party. Not that I was in the habit of go­ing to such par­ties, but as I used to write oc­ca­sion­ally for The Daily Tele­graph (the party was given by then owner Con­rad Black) I had got on the in­vi­ta­tion list for this one.

“He did this thing that was so flat­ter­ing to young aca­demics. He said he had read one of my books and we talked about it and that be­came the be­gin­ning of our cor­re­spon­dence.”

Fer­gu­son said Kissinger was soon di­verted at the party when su­per­model Elle Macpher­son en­tered the room but some months later asked him to write his bi­og­ra­phy.

Fer­gu­son ini­tially de­clined, but Kissinger was able to de­ploy all his fa­mous diplo­matic skill to win him around.

“He wrote back (when Fer­gu­son de­clined) say­ing, ‘ What a pity. I have just found 45 boxes of doc­u­ments that I thought had been lost’, and, of course, I fell for that,” he re­called.

The project was sub­ject to a le­gal agree­ment in 2004 giv­ing Fer­gu­son ed­i­to­rial con­trol; but to what ex­tent was the book au­tho­rized? A pre­vi­ous bi­og­ra­phy by Wal­ter Isaac­son of Kissinger had been par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal of its sub­ject and was cer­tainly not au­tho­rized.

“The term ‘au­tho­rized’ is a dodgy one for me be­cause it im­plies the sub­ject has ed­i­to­rial con­trol over the text. I said to him very clearly at the out­set that if you give me ac­cess to your pri­vate pa­pers I am not go­ing to be bound by you on what I write. That was the com­mit­ment we agreed upon. If you are go­ing to use the term, it def­i­nitely does not mean ap­proved. I know there are parts of the book he doesn’t like.”

The book opens with how the ini­tially idyl­lic child­hood in Furth, Bavaria, of the then Heinz Kissinger, the son of a se­nior staff mem­ber at a pub­lic school, turned into a night­mare with the rise of Hitler. He man­aged to flee with his im­me­di­ate fam­ily to New York in 1938.

“They got out in the nick of time. They avoided by a mat­ter of months the pogrom or­ga­nized against the Jews. It was very vi­o­lent in the town they lived. If he had stayed in Ger­many like the ma­jor­ity of his wider fam­ily, in­clud­ing his grand­mother, he and his brother and par­ents would have been killed like them.”

The bi­og­ra­phy also fol­lows his re­turn to Ger­many with the US Army and wit­ness­ing the hor­rors of the Ah­lem con­cen­tra­tion camp, and de­ploy­ing his Ger­man skills to help in the de­naz­i­fi­ca­tion strat­egy.

“I think this was the most for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of his life, see­ing with his own eyes the hor­rors the Nazis had per­pe­trated.” Af­ter the war, Kissinger took ad­van­tage of the GI Bill and went to Har­vard to study, even­tu­ally be­com­ing one of coun­try’s lead­ing for­eign pol­icy aca­demics. The book ends as he be­comes na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser at 45 to Nixon in 1969.

With his thick Bavar­i­anedged ac­cent, Kissinger was seen as some­thing of an out­sider by some in Wash­ing­ton.

“I think it would be a mis­take to think — as some have sug­gested — there is an af­fec­ta­tion about his ac­cent. I have lived in the US for 12 years now, and al­though I might have a few Amer­i­can­iza­tions in my voice, I still re­tain my ac­cent. It is not so in­com­pre­hen­si­ble you re­tain the ac­cent of your teenage years.”

Kissinger, who had only vis­ited 10 US states by the 1960s, does, ac­cord­ing to the author, see some of his fel­low cit­i­zens as a for­eign race. This was par­tic­u­larly the case when he at­tended the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion in 1964 that nom­i­nated Barry Gold­wa­ter for the pres­i­den­tial race.

“I think he was stunned by Mid­dle Amer­i­can repub­li­can­ism. It was some­thing quite dif­fer­ent to the Euro­pean con­ser­vatism he was at­tracted to,” Fer­gu­son said.

Viet­nam re­mains the defin­ing point in Kissinger’s ca­reer. Some, such as the late Christo­pher Hitchens, have held him re­spon­si­ble di­rectly for hun­dreds of thou­sands of deaths. Fer­gu­son’s book makes clear his ef­forts to stop the war from 1965 on­ward.

“I think that is where the book makes an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion. From that point, Kissinger is try­ing to end the war and ex­tri­cate the US from the mess.” Fer­gu­son said Kissinger feels frus­trated by the cur­rent am­biva­lent state of US-China re­la­tions.

“He be­lieves there is only one way for­ward for th­ese re­la­tions and that is that they need to be close and am­i­ca­ble,” he said.

Kissinger still de­fines the role of the US sec­re­tary of state, ap­pear­ing on the cover of Time no fewer than 15 times and cast­ing a shadow over his suc­ces­sors.

“With all due re­spect to John Kerry, it is hard to imag­ine some­one to­day get­ting that su­per­star sta­tus. He used to be the mir­a­cle worker of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy, es­pe­cially in the Mid­dle East, and, of course with China,” Fer­gu­son said.

“Nowa­days the job is al­most the con­so­la­tion prize for the failed pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, and nei­ther Kerry nor Hil­lary Clin­ton has ex­actly made a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to the the­ory of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.”

Con­tact the writer at an­drew­moody@chi­


Niall Fer­gu­son, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Har­vard, was cho­sen by Henry Kissinger to write his bi­og­ra­phy.

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