As usual, the Left has its workers-collective-manufactured panties all up in a bunch over Henry Kissinger. This time, the furor is over rumors that Hillary Clinton may be seeking an endorsement from the former Secretary of State.
But, to be fair, for many people, Henry Kissinger just can’t do anything right these days…or for the last four decades. If it’s not one thing, like backing a coup against the democratically elected Chilean government and ushering in a brutal dictatorship and cutting-edge torture techniques, or extending the Vietnam War by five years, or secretly bombing Cambodia and Laos, it’s another thing, like green-lighting the invasion of East Timor, which killed over 100,000 people, or wiretapping his political opponents, or supporting Pakistan’s military dictatorship, which killed between 200,000 and 3 million Bangladeshis.
We learn more and more about Kissinger’s accomplishments all the time. Earlier this month, newly declassified documents showed that Kissinger was even more supportive of the Argentine dictatorship than we knew. He didn’t merely ignore the government’s killing and/or disappearing as many as 30,000 people between 1976 and 1983; when he visited Argentina for the 1978 World Cup, as a guest of junta leader General Jorge Videla, he lauded the government for doing “an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces.” This praise, according to National Security Council official Robert Pastor, was “the music the Argentine government was longing to hear.”
And on Wednesday, the CIA released 2,500 previously classified President’s Daily Briefs (PDB) from the administrations of Nixon and Ford, both of which Kissinger served.
So, stay tuned for more revelations and more left wing hysteria. The good news is that some cooler heads are trying to prevail, and are making the bold case that Clinton’s wooing of the social butterfly of a war criminal would not be a “big f***ing deal,” to quote Joe Biden on the Affordable Care Act.
Let’s take a look at some of their most persuasive points.
Michael Cohen, known on Twitter as speechboy71, opens his article “How Democrats Can Learn to Stop Worrying and Still Hate Kissinger,” by saying, “Let me make one thing clear at the outset of this piece: I consider Henry Kissinger to be, morally speaking, a monstrous figure.”
Much like the phrase “I’m not racist but,” signals that a racist statement is soon forthcoming, Cohen’s condemnation suggests that a defense is imminent.
He cites Kissinger’s “backing of the Nixon administration’s illegal bombing campaign in Cambodia and the invasion of the country in 1970, along with his support for right-wing coups in Latin America and anti-Communist leaders in sub-Saharan Africa and the Far East, have deservedly defined his sordid legacy. And that’s not even counting perhaps his worst act while in public office—his actions in 1970 in support of the Pakistani genocide of Bengals in what is today Bangladesh.”
But Cohen goes on to say, “Why should we care about the foreign policy legacy of a guy who hasn’t held public office in 40 years? Well, it seems that in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, being pro- or anti-Kissinger has become a foreign policy litmus test for Democrats.” What gives, Dems?
Cohen notes that “the outcry among American liberals” over rumors of Clinton’s Kissinger-courting “was significant.” He deems the “antipathy” from the Left as “completely understandable,” and yet, simultaneously, “more than slightly outsized.” What is totally inappropriate and uncalled for, it should go without saying, is verbal lashing of any sort, especially the ones to which Clinton was subjected. As if we needed any reminding, Cohen takes us on a stroll down a dark and twisted memory lane: “Back in February, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was lacerated by her then-rival Bernie Sanders for saying she considered Kissinger a friend.”
Cohen, is wrong, actually. Clinton in no way referred to Kissinger as a friend. The #HumbleKissingerBrag Clinton dropped during the Feb. 4 New Hampshire debate was professional, not personal: “I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better than anybody had run it in a long time.”
Sanders did not strike back right away. Nebbish predator that he is, he waited until the next debate in Milkwaukee to pounce: “Secretary Clinton… talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger. Now, I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country.”
Of all the sexist “violence” Bernie and his bros unleashed against Hillary Clinton, this ranks among the worst. If Hillary were a man, would Bernie have had the chutzpah to denounce…Henry Kissinger?
Cohen cautions us against judging Kissinger for his war-crime tendencies. After all, we’re all on a spectrum and lots of other political figures have dabbled in human rights violations. With a couple million deaths under his belt, Kissinger is, of course, especially prolific. But, Cohen writes, Kissinger “is hardly the first U.S. foreign policy figure with an odious past.” Cohen then goes through a who’s who list of powerful people with bloodied hands:
“The Eisenhower administration routinely supported anti-communist dictators… John F. Kennedy tried… to have… Fidel Castro assassinated and supported a coup attempt in South Vietnam that led to the death of the country’s president… Lyndon Johnson… initiated the U.S. war in Vietnam that ultimately led to the deaths of more than 1 million Vietnamese… Jimmy Carter, urged on by National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, began American arms shipments to the Afghan mujahedeen, with the clear goal of bloodying the nose of the invading Soviets and prolonging the conflict. The Reagan years saw support for the contras in Nicaragua and a right-wing government in El Salvador under which death squads massacred thousands of civilians.”
This is true. And yet… a bit apples and oranges in a few different ways. On a technical level, five of the six examples offered by Cohen are presidents, not the major foreign policy makers. Also, the whole “routinely support[ing] anti-communist dictators” is hardly unique to the presidency of Eisenhower. It was kind of a Cold War thing.
Sure, Eisenhower, LBJ, JFK, and Reagan all have some blood on their hands. You know what else they have in common? They’re dead. And, with all due respect to the dead, ghosts aren’t as easy to find and prosecute as the full-bodied, still-living Henry Kissinger. The human rights violations committed by our dearly departed lack the urgency of those committed by a man who has never apologized for a single crime against humanity and yet continues to be revered, respected, quoted, awarded, published, and invited to conferences, lecture halls, and fabulous parties.
What Michael Cohen seems most outraged by, ironically enough, is the lack of outrage at people who are way worse than Kissinger.
All of this is not to say it’s wrong to loathe Kissinger. Indeed, I count myself among those who view him with contempt. But there are far worse people to get upset about when it comes to endorsing—and counseling—Clinton, many of whom have escaped the wrath of liberals now up in arms over her alleged outreach to the former secretary of state.
What’s odd is that nowhere in the entire piece does Cohen point to anyone “far worse,” who has or might endorse Clinton. You’d think this would be a good thing to include.
The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky chose a headline so cavalier it makes Cohen’s look like it was written by a relative of a desaparecido: “Clinton Has Not Sought Henry Kissinger’s Support. But So What if She Had?”Tomasky wants readers to know there isn’t that much truth behind the rumor about Clinton’s seeking a Kissinger endorsement. “First things first: A source close to the Hillary Clinton campaign tells me that there has been no outreach to Henry Kissinger.” Like Cohen, Tomasky includes the obligatory “I get it. This guy has his issues” disclaimer about Kissinger. Using the whimsical tone that befits discussions of human rights violations and genocides, Tomasky writes:
Granted, Kissinger occupies a, ah, unique position. He’s a war criminal. Not convicted of course, but in my view and the view of millions. And although he has never faced the bar of international justice over East Timor or Chile or his sabotaging of the Paris Peace Talks, he is very careful about where he travels and lives with the ignominy of knowing that when The New York Times posts his obituary, there are going to be some well-earned negative adjectives in the very first paragraph.
This guy’s got some major negative adjectives coming to him… once he’s dead.
While Tomasky is adamant that Kissinger deserves every tepid insult that can fit into a New York Times obit, he sees being endorsed by a war criminal as kind of meaningless: “
“An endorsement? They just don’t mean that much. They don’t imply reciprocity in most cases.”
Tomasky’s piece is less thesis-driven, it turns out, than dialectical spit-balling. Right after saying that endorsements don’t matter, he says, “That’s especially true this year, when many Republican national-security and foreign-policy types are so appalled by Donald Trump that some may back Clinton. And she should go after their support!”
Whoah! What’s happening here? Tomasky is on fire. As you read his words, you can almost see him shouting them in front of the mirror:
Take Condi Rice. She falls short of being a Kissinger, but she helped make and sell the worst military decision in American history… She was one of the worst offenders on that mushroom cloud nonsense. So—she lied. Some of what she did was unforgiveable. And yet—it would be a coup if Clinton got her endorsement.
Of course, Tomasky is using coup in the “great achievement” sense and not in the “Kissinger-backed overthrow and murder of Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet on Chile’s own September 11th (1973)” sense. Tomasky then wonders about why people don’t really hate Condi even though her lies helped lead the country into a war which killed millions of people and gave birth to present-day ISIS, who nobody seems to like: “For whatever reason, Americans more broadly don’t seem to blame her for Iraq, probably on the presumption that she was only following orders”
What else could it be? Tomasky asks. The fact that “she likes football, and she plays classical piano, and she has that incredibly precise diction that impresses people, and she just doesn’t look like a war-monger.”
Rice lacks that war-monger crimes-against-humanity-encouraging je ne sais quoi that Kissinger rocks so effortlessly.
“I don’t know what her favorability numbers are; I looked and couldn’t find anything recent. But I bet they’re high,” Tomasky writes of Rice. And now he has a real epiphany, and plugs his “bet” into a three-part formula for endorsing endorsers. “That’s the point of an endorsement: Is the endorser popular; is the endorser surprising in some way; does the endorsement move any votes. In the case of Rice, the answer to all three questions is clearly yes.”
But what does his formula mean for a Kissinger endorsement for Clinton? Tomasky, who in theory would have figured this out before writing the piece, does some more betting and guessing:
I would bet, my fellow liberals, that Kissinger’s favorable numbers are fairly high too, though not as high as Rice’s… I’d guess that your average quasi-informed swing voter has heard some chatter about Kissinger doing bad things, but whether it has sunk through to this voter that his bad things are worse than any other high-level diplomat’s bad things, I don’t think we can say with confidence.
OK, so Kissinger meets the first part of the formula. But what about the other two? Tomasky writes:
I’m not sure about the other two. It wouldn’t be as surprising as Rice would be, and I doubt he’d move many votes in her direction and in fact would probably do the opposite: It’s not as if there’s some massive Henry the K fan club out there, and really the only people who care whether Kissinger endorses Clinton are the people who hate Kissinger, so it would probably cost her votes.
So, now where are we?
Of course, what really matters aren’t symbolic endorsements but policies and ideas. Tomasky reassures us (himself?) that,
The whole thing is a non-issue (if Kissinger wants to endorse her of his own volition, she of course can’t stop that). But what is an issue is what kind of foreign-policy president she’s going to be. And let’s make this directly about Kissinger. Would she green-light the deaths of 100,000 innocents, as Kissinger—and Gerry Ford—did in East Timor? Secretly bomb a country with whom we are officially at peace, as Kissinger and Richard Nixon did in Cambodia? I really don’t think so.
To be fair, Tomasky acknowledges Clinton’s role in the 2009 Honduran coup, which ousted the democratically elected president Mel Zelaya and ushered in so much violence it earned the country the title of “murder capital of the world.” Most Clinton supporters don’t know, pretend not to know, or just don’t care about this recent chapter but Tomasky, to his credit, writes, “Probably the worst thing she did as secretary, not condemning the ouster of President Zelaya in Honduras as a coup, had a whiff of Henryism about it.”
The good news, though, is that “she didn’t make the coup happen, as Kissinger did in Chile.” Clinton merely refused to call the coup a coup, and pressured Latin America to recognize the coup government instead of wait for the return of the president. Clinton’s role was incriminating enough that she removed a part of its description which was published in the hard cover version of her book Hard Choices, when she published it in soft cover.
Again, the issue is what Clinton will do, not whose endorsement she gets. Vox’s Matt Yglesias distinguishes Hillary Clinton from the aggressive hawkish foreign policies of Kissinger and the neocons: “She’s a wonky mainstream Democrat who has a lot of respect for America’s military and diplomatic professionals, who sees foreign policy as about trying to use the full range of tools to advance a wide range of objectives in a complicated world.” Range of tools, which may include but hardly be limited to regime change, coup support, and the likes.
Yet in their Vox piece, “Why Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be a foreign policy hawk as president,” Jeremy Shapiro and Richard Sokolsky argue that Clinton is indeed a hawk but will cease to be one as president. For some reason, Clinton will learn something about force she was unable to understand as a mere senator or secretary of state: “As president, she will find that the use of force abroad will offer precious few opportunities for making a difference, and will come at a considerable political cost at home.” In other words, “She will no longer be a senator, or the secretary of state, or a presidential candidate. She will be president. And that means that her priorities will be very different… She wants to make her mark in domestic policy.” Wow. This makes Hillary sound like a very slow learner and/or someone who was happy to sabotage the president under which she served. It insults the intelligence of Clinton, Vox readers or, most likely, both.
The truth is, a Kissinger endorsement of Hillary Clinton would be outrageous, insensitive and shameful. But it’s already happened. Kissinger didn’t merely praise Clinton. She thought it would be appropriate to cite this praise during a debate… between Democrats. And even worse, the fawning is reciprocal. When Clinton reviewed Kissinger’s 2014 book World Order for the Washington Post, she glowed:
Kissinger is a friend, and 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. Though we have often seen the world and some of our challenges quite differently, and advocated different responses now and in the past, what comes through clearly in this new book is a conviction that we, and President Obama, share: a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.
Another thing Kissinger and Clinton share has been quality time vacationing at the Punta Cana beachfront villa of the late Oscar de la Renta. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to be on good terms. The personal is political. And that’s a very scary thing, when talking about Henry Kissinger.