The only person Henry Kissinger flattered more than President Richard Nixon was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran.
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I once listened to the man who helped prolong the Vietnam War for half a decade declare that its "tragedy" lay in the fact "that the faith of Americans in each other became destroyed in the process." I later took to the (web)pages of the New York Times
to suggest that perhaps "the pain endured by millions of survivors in Vietnam who lost family, the pain of millions who were wounded, of millions who were killed, of millions driven from their homes into slums and [refugee] camps reeking of squalor" was a greater tragedy.
Then there was that book review for the Daily Beast on the forgotten genocide in Bangladesh. Wouldn't you know that Kissinger was completely wrapped up in it? He and his boss President Richard Nixon, in fact, conspired to support "Pakistan's fiercely anti-communist Muslim military ruler in the face of his 1971 mass murder of mostly Hindu Bengalis who were seeking political autonomy and, ultimately, their own independent nation." Frightening as it may seem, during this episode Nixon proved to be the voice of reason as Kissinger apparently pushed to escalate the conflict into a showdown with the Soviets.
Earlier this year, in the pages of The Nation, I found myself writing yet again about the former national security adviser and secretary of state, this time for his role in Rory Kennedy's Oscar-nominated documentary, Last Days in Vietnam:
"Kissinger -- architect of the secret, murderous bombing of neighboring Cambodia and top adviser to a president who resigned rather than face impeachment -- is given carte blanche to craft his own self-serving version of history and to champion another former boss, President Ford, as a humanitarian."
Of course, Kissinger's name and handiwork also show up in my book on American war crimes in Vietnam, Kill Anything That Moves. And here I am again writing about the man, an activity that's starting to look almost obsessive, so let me explain. One day in the early 2000s, I found myself on a street in New York City watching as Kissinger was hustled away amid a sea of roiling vitriol. "War criminal," shouted the protesters. "You've got blood on your hands, Henry." It wasn't quite clear whose blood they were referring to. It might have been that of Cambodians. Unless it was Vietnamese. Or Laotians. Or Chileans. Or Bangladeshis. Or East Timorese. From one corner of the world to another, Kissinger seems to have had a hand in a remarkable number of untoward acts of state.
And as TomDispatch regular Greg Grandin suggests today, that's only the beginning of a grim list of nations. Just as the United States was extricating itself from its long debacle in Indochina, Grandin points out, it was embarking on what would become another festering fiasco. If George W. Bush blew a hole through the Greater Middle East, Henry Kissinger lit the fuse. Today, we're still dealing with the hellacious fallout of Kissinger's in-office foreign policy machinations and out-of-office wise-man advice as the Greater Middle East hemorrhages lives and refugees.
This revelation and a raft of others figure in Grandin's latest book, Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman, which paints a stunning portrait of that consummate political chameleon and offers answers about how and why the world is so destabilized and why so much of it can be traced, at least in part, to the United States and its senior statesman, Henry the K. Andrew Bacevich calls Grandin's book a "tour de force" and Publisher's Weekly says ardent Kissinger foes will be "enthralled," so pick up a copy after you're done reading about the CEO emeritus of Debacle, Inc. Nick Turse
Debacle, Inc. How Henry Kissinger Helped Create Our "Proliferated" World
By Greg Grandin
The only person Henry Kissinger flattered more than President Richard Nixon was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. In the early 1970s, the Shah, sitting atop an enormous reserve of increasingly expensive oil and a key figure in Nixon and Kissinger's move into the Middle East, wanted to be dealt with as a serious person. He expected his country to be treated with the same respect Washington showed other key Cold War allies like West Germany and Great Britain. As Nixon's national security adviser and, after 1973, secretary of state, Kissinger's job was to pump up the Shah, to make him feel like he truly was the "king of kings."
Reading the diplomatic record, it's hard not to imagine his weariness as he prepared for his sessions with the Shah, considering just what gestures and words would be needed to make it clear that his majesty truly mattered to Washington, that he was valued beyond compare. "Let's see," an aide who was helping Kissinger get ready for one such meeting said, "the Shah will want to talk about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, the Kurds, and Brezhnev."
During another prep, Kissinger was told that "the Shah wants to ride in an F-14." Silence ensued. Then Kissinger began to think aloud about how to flatter the monarch into abandoning the idea. "We can say," he began, "that if he has his heart set on it, okay, but the President would feel easier if he didn't have that one worry in 10,000 [that the plane might crash]. The Shah will be flattered." Once, Nixon asked Kissinger to book the entertainer Danny Kaye for a private performance for the Shah and his wife.
The 92-year-old Kissinger has a long history of involvement in Iran and his recent opposition to Barack Obama's Iran nuclear deal, while relatively subdued by present Washington standards, matters. In it lies a certain irony, given his own largely unexamined record in the region. Kissinger's criticism has focused mostly on warning that the deal might provoke a regional nuclear arms race as Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia line up against Shia Iran. "We will live in a proliferated world," he said in testimony before the Senate. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with another former secretary of state, George Shultz, Kissinger worriedthat, as the region "trends toward sectarian upheaval" and "state collapse," the "disequilibrium of power" might likely tilt toward Tehran.
Of all people, Kissinger knows well how easily the best laid plans can go astray and careen toward disaster. The former diplomat is by no means solely responsible for the mess that is today's Middle East. There is, of course, George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq (which Kissinger supported). But he does bear far more responsibility for our proliferated world's disequilibrium of power than anyone usually recognizes.
Some of his Middle East policies are well known. In early 1974, for instance, his so-called shuttle diplomacy helped deescalate the tensions that had led to the previous year's Arab-Israeli War. At the same time, however, it locked in Israel's veto over U.S. foreign policy for decades to come. And in December 1975, wrongly believing that he had worked out a lasting pro-American balance of power between Iran and Iraq, Kissinger withdrew his previous support from the Kurds (whom he had been using as agents of destabilization against Baghdad's Baathists). Iraq moved quickly to launch an assault on the Kurds that killed thousands and then implemented a program of ethnic cleansing, forcibly relocating Kurdish survivors and moving Arabs into their homes. "Even in the context of covert action ours was a cynical enterprise," noted a Congressional investigation into his sacrifice of the Kurds.
Less well known is the way in which Kissinger's policies toward Iran and Saudi Arabia accelerated the radicalization in the region, how step by catastrophic step he laid the groundwork for the region's spiraling crises of the present moment.
Guardian of the Gulf
Most critical histories of U.S. involvement in Iran rightly began with the joint British-U.S. coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, which installed Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne. But it was Kissinger who, in 1972, greatly deepened the relationship between Washington and Tehran. He was the one who began a policy of unconditional support for the Shah as a way to steady American power in the Persian Gulf while the U.S. extracted itself from Southeast Asia. As James Schlesinger, who served as Nixon's CIA director and secretary of defense, noted, if "we were going to make the Shah the Guardian of the Gulf, we've got to give him what he needs." Which, Schlesinger added, really meant "giving him what he wants."
What the Shah wanted most of all were weapons of every variety -- and American military trainers, and a navy, and an air force. It was Kissinger who overrode State Department and Pentagon objections and gave the Shah what no other country had: the ability to buy anything he wanted from U.S. weapons makers.
"We are looking for a navy," the Shah told Kissinger in 1973, "we have a large shopping list." And so Kissinger let him buy a navy.
By 1976, Kissinger's last full year in office, Iran had become the largest purchaser of American weaponry and housed the largest contingent of U.S. military advisors anywhere on the planet. By 1977, the historian Ervand Abrahamian notes, "the shah had the largest navy in the Persian Gulf, the largest air force in Western Asia, and the fifth-largest army in the whole world." That meant, just to begin a list, thousands of modern tanks, hundreds of helicopters, F-4 and F-5 fighter jets, dozens of hovercraft, long-range artillery pieces, and Maverick missiles. The next year, the Shah bought another $12 billion worth of equipment.
After Kissinger left office, the special relationship he had worked so hard to establish blew up with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the flight of the Shah, the coming to power of Ayatollah Khomeini, and the taking of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran (and its occupants as hostages) by student protesters. Washington's political class is still trying to dig itself out of the rubble. A number of high-ranking Middle East policymakers and experts held Kissinger directly responsible for the disaster, especially career diplomat George Ball, who called Kissinger's Iran policy an "
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.