Kissinger: 1973, the Crucial Year

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Overview

By any measure, 1973 should have been Henry Kissinger’s year of triumph. But major events—defeat in Vietnam, Watergate, war in the Middle East, the Arab oil embargo—shattered whatever peace and calm America had attained in the early part of the decade. Rather than progressing on all fronts, as he had expected, Kissinger had to confront some of the most critical policy challenges of his career, including the blowup in the Middle East, détente with Russia, and the opening of the door to China.

Kissinger: 1973, The Crucial Year
is the gripping history of one of America’s most enigmatic and influential foreign policy advisers during a pivotal year in the country’s postwar history.

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Editorial Reviews

Jacob Heilbrunn
This authorized portrait offers a comprehensive, penetrating and mostly reliable chronicle that its subject should welcome…Despite his ties to Kissinger, however, Horne has not given us a hagiography.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Oxford University historian Horne (Harold Macmillan) presents a busy snapshot of America's controversial superdiplomat in this admiring biographical study. The year 1973 ran Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon's chief foreign policy adviser, ragged with such watersheds as the Paris Peace Treaty with North Vietnam, the Chileans' overthrow of president Salvador Allende and the Yom Kippur War; he also won the Nobel Peace Prize, was appointed secretary of state and launched détente with the Soviets. Horne's chummyportrait, heavily informed by its ever-accessible subject, dubs Kissinger "the single most powerful man in the world" as his epic negotiations, intricately recounted here, resolved crisis after crisis while a paralyzed Nixon White House dithered over Watergate. Horne defends Kissinger from leftists who accuse him of war crimes and right-wingers who claim he was soft on Russia; he absolves Kissinger of responsibility for the Chilean coup, and blames congressional doves and a "fifth column" of antiwar activists for handing Indochina over to communism. The author's own Cold War conservatism heightens the book's dated tone; he doesn't question the continuing relevance of Kissinger's static, Metternichian balance-of-superpowers vision. His is a simplistic, unreflective account of Kissinger's place in history. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In 1973, Henry Kissinger became secretary of state and the "single most powerful man in the world," claims Horne (How Far from Austerlitz?), a distinguished British military historian. Horne's excellent account, full of informed observations and good humor, was written with Kissinger's cooperation; the author had complete access to Kissinger's papers and conducted several interviews with him. Horne includes several chapters about Kissinger before 1973 and then discusses in detail the momentous events of that year: dA©tente with the Soviets, improved relations with the Chinese, shuttle diplomacy during the Yom Kippur War, the coup in Chile, frustrating talks with the North Vietnamese, and the looming presence of Watergate. Horne maintains that the diplomacy that ended the Yom Kippur War was Kissinger's greatest achievement, while the failure to settle the Vietnam War on terms more favorable to the United States was his greatest disappointment. This sympathetic portrayal of arguably our most controversial and important secretary of state of modern times is not a polemic dismissing all criticism of Kissinger but an illuminating investigation that encourages readers to draw their own conclusions. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/08.]
—Karl Helicher

Kirkus Reviews
Inquisitive look at a year in the life of Henry Kissinger, who said, "I was the glue that held it together in 1973-and I'm not being boastful."After a landslide reelection for Richard Nixon and a U.S. foreign policy that seemed on the verge of peace with honor in Vietnam and an open dialogue with China, 1973 was eventually marked by the Yom Kippur War and Watergate. In addition to providing colorful portraits of the international figures that played Kissinger's foils-Leonid Brezhnev, Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat-historian Horne (To Lose a Battle: France 1940, 2007, etc.) follows the statesman month by frantic month in his dealings with China, Vietnam, the Soviet Union, Chile, Europe and the Middle East. During the year in which Kissinger won a Nobel Prize and became Secretary of State, Nixon's precipitous decline loomed over everything, which was vividly reflected during the Yom Kippur War. Horne grippingly recounts those tense days of international negotiation, all the more dramatic due to the psychological withdrawal of the president. The dynamic between Nixon and Kissinger, so different in personality and background, propels the narrative. The author writes perceptively of the strange bond between the two men-one marked by "a certain extraordinary insecurity" but also by a shared political vision and a conspiratorial secrecy. In a relationship that Kissinger characterized as "ambivalent, compounded of aloofness and respect, of distrust and admiration," Horne provocatively wonders if "Nixon's self-destruction . . . made Kissinger."Occasionally distracting footnotes aside, an admiring treatment of Kissinger and an intriguing examination of the fraught Nixon/Kissinger relationship.
From the Publisher
“A riveting story about one of the country’s most powerful secretaries of state”

—Jonathan Karl, The Wall Street Journal

"[Sir Alistair] tells the story racily and well"

The Economist

"The book bustles with Kissinger’s peripatetic diplomacy and management of a series of crises."

—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

"Horne grippingly recounts those tense days of international negotiation, all the more dramatic due to the psychological withdrawal of the president. The dynamic between Nixon and Kissinger, so different in personality and background, propels the narrative. The author writes perceptively of the strange bond between the two men"

Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743272834
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 6/16/2009
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Alistair Horne, the author of, most recently, Seven Ages of Paris, The Age of Napoleon, and The French Revolution, is a fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford. He was awarded the French Légion d’honneur in 1993 and received a knighthood in 2003 for his work on French history. His books include Back into Power, Small Earthquake in Chile, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, To Lose a Battle: France 1940, The French Army and Politics, 1870–1970, A Bundle from Britain, an d A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954–1962. His latest books are. He lives in Oxfordshire.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
A Very Odd Couple
"The loneliest and saddest Christmas I can ever remember."

— Richard Nixon to David Frost

"If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog."

— Harry S. Truman

Nineteen seventy-two was a year Henry Kissinger was glad to see come to a close. After twelve months of turbulent activity, and nail-biting negotiations with the North Vietnamese, it had ended on an upbeat note of considerable optimism — insofar as the global position of the United States was concerned — yet one of some uncertainty in terms of his own private ambitions. A triumph in which Kissinger could claim to have played some little part, in the presidential elections that November President Richard Nixon had won the second greatest landslide in American history. Forty-seven million Americans had voted for him — and for his and Kissinger's policies — representing more than 60 percent of all the votes cast. It was an impressive endorsement of his strategy of opening the door to China the previous year, and détente with the Soviet Union. Moreover, despite the huge underswell of opposition to the ever-rumbling Vietnam War, it surely indicated that a majority also supported Kissinger's tireless trips to Paris in 1972, endeavoring to wrestle a "peace with honor" out of the granite-faced, unyielding men from North Vietnam.

Yet that strange human being, Richard Milhous Nixon, the strangest — and perhaps the most fascinating if not egregious — of all U.S. presidents, had celebrated his triumph, not with oysters and champagne as had British prime minister Harold Macmillan in a comparable triumph on coming to power in 1957, but with a demand for the resignation of his entire staff.

Christmas 1972 was a lonely time, for Kissinger as well as for his boss, and a period of serious reflection. Kissinger was then a bachelor, enamored of the tall, elegant, but elusive WASP Nancy Maginnes, but still very much a bachelor — Washington's most sought-after bachelor. Each Christmas he would "ask her to marry me; every year she refused — said she 'wasn't ready' — and yet she wasn't seeing anybody else."1 So he continued to live in a cramped bachelor house, two up, two down — one bedroom of which he used as an office — on Waterside, a small road running up from Rock Creek.

Originally he was to have spent Christmas with Nixon in his Florida hideout at Key Biscayne.2 But the invitation had been withdrawn, or rather curtailed to a two-day working visit from December 20 to 22, to debrief General Alexander Haig (then White House chief of staff) on his recent Saigon trip to see the prickly President Nguyen Van Thieu. The two most powerful men in the United States were undergoing a patch of strained relations. There were various reasons: the Christmas Bombing of Hanoi had led to disagreements among the two over its public image; and, on a more personal level, Nixon had been sorely piqued by a recent interview with the attractive Italian female journalist Oriana Fallaci, where Kissinger had rashly let his hair down. Coupled with Time magazine bracketing the president, and his adviser, as their Man of the Year, it had caused the highly sensitive president, ever seeking a slight, to feel grievously sidelined by his ebullient subordinate. So Nixon spent a solitary Christmas ("the loneliest and saddest Christmas I can ever remember," he told David Frost, "much sadder and much lonelier than the one in the Pacific during the war").

Certainly these glum reflections were not shared by his national security adviser; he had his own.

For Kissinger the business year (as recorded in his immaculate "Record of Schedule"*) ended on December 23 with visits from Admiral Thomas Moorer, the browbeaten chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chief of Staff Al Haig, to discuss the effect of the Christmas Bombing, a session with his close associate, Peter Rodman, in the Map Room, a lunch date with the journalist William Safire, currently a presidential speechwriter; then, at 3:22 p.m., Nancy arrived to collect him from his office. It was a familiar mix, though less intensive than his habitual workday. Christmas Day was spent lunching with Joseph Alsop, his favorite and most trusted among the Washington journalists, at 2720 Dumbarton Avenue in Georgetown, and then dining with Evangeline Bruceà in her grand abode nearby.

Though Washington had closed down for the holidays, the next day, December 26, a key message from Hanoi brought Kissinger racing back to his office. It was the signal the White House had anxiously been awaiting; it was also the day of one of the biggest raids by the giant B-52s. The North Vietnamese had agreed to a resumption of the Paris peace talks as soon as the U.S. bombing stopped, and registered its willingness to settle "the remaining questions with the U.S. side." It looked like the ultimate climb-down by Hanoi. Kissinger observed in his memoirs, "We had not heard such a polite tone from the North Vietnamese since the middle of October."6 He signaled back suggesting a resumption of talks on January 8 (ultimately deferred to the 23rd). The bombing was ceased forthwith. A visit from the White House barber, and at 2:50 p.m. Kissinger took off — alone§ — on a wellearned six-day holiday to Palm Springs in the Southern California desert.

For a man whose mind was never still, it was a time for serious reflection. While strolling down the beach near the San Clemente White House, the weekend before the elections in November 1972, Kissinger had mused gloomily to author Theodore "Teddy" White: "How do you withdraw? How do you get out of a situation where every single crisis around the world gets dumped on us?"

Not since conversing with grandees like George Marshall and Dean Acheson could White recall "the use of American power so carefully explained" as in that conversation. A passerby shook Kissinger by the hand, thanking him "for peace." Kissinger seemed taken aback, exclaiming, "Where else could it happen but in a country like this.... To let a foreigner make peace for you, to accept a man like me — I even have a foreign accent!"

Events had taken a distinctly encouraging upturn since that November stroll, but similar thoughts were not far from the forefront of Kissinger's mind over the Christmas break. The prospects for the coming year looked good, certainly better than they had at the same time twelve months ago. As he apostrophized the coming year of 1973 in his memoirs, it was to begin "with glittering promise; rarely had a Presidential term started with such bright foreign policy prospects."

As his close associate on most of his ventures at that time, Winston Lord, adumbrated these heady days to the author, "U.S. foreign policy was at an absolute peak," with the Nixon-Kissinger team looking "poised to continue to build a structure of peace." Nixon had been reelected in a landslide, the Vietnam War was (or looked to be) over; the Middle East seemed stable; there was the opening to China to build on; and major progress in détente with the Soviet Union. "Now they could continue progress on those fronts while turning to issues that needed more attention; relations with Europe and Japan (especially after the shock of China), Middle East, other regions including our own backyard, 'newer' issues like energy, North-South relations, etc. Congress buoyed by an end to Vietnam War and dramatic summits and progress with two Communist giants."

There was just one small, one very small, blip. It was called Watergate.

Back in the idyllic European peacetime summer of 1870, British foreign minister Lord Granville had been able to discern, justly so it seemed at the time, not "a cloud in the sky." Yet three months later Emperor Louis-Napoleon's Third Empire had collapsed, crushed by a triumphant Prussia, the emperor himself forced to abdicate; the whole European order had been turned upside down. In 1870 the whole balance of power in Europe had changed overnight. In America, though the skies were perhaps not so cloudless, there was certainly no sense of the drama that lay ahead: a major war in the Middle East, but — with far profounder significance — the leader of the free world, successor to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, disgraced and disabled. But, perhaps less than a cloud on the horizon, Watergate was more like a shark circling, as of January 1973 at a respectful distance, still — but slowly out there moving in. Whether, that lonely Christmas of 1972, the ripples in the water figured yet anywhere near the forefront of the mysterious, dark reflections — brooding on thoughts of revenge against his many foes — of Richard Milhous Nixon, will never be known. There were rumblings over the break-in at the Watergate complex the previous summer; but that probably caused the least of disturbance to the slumbers of this secretive man. We'll never know. Yet there was no reason to think they did. Had he not just won one of the most spectacular reelection victories of all time? So why the dark thoughts, the sadness?

Certainly they were unlikely to have featured in those of his national security adviser (he of course had his own worries, but not such torments). In his memoirs Kissinger wrote, "We had begun Nixon's second term imagining that we were on the threshold of a creative new era in international affairs; seldom, if ever, had so many elements of foreign policy appeared malleable simultaneously."

Malleable. However, "Within months we confronted a nightmarish collapse of authority at home and a desperate struggle to keep foreign adversaries from transforming it into an assault on our nation's security." Whereas, from a diplomat's point of view, he saw Nixon's first term having formed "in a sense an adolescence.... Diplomacy in the second term, which ended abruptly in the late summer of 1974, was a rude accession of maturity." As far as his own role was concerned, he summarized, it was to fall "to me to attempt to insulate foreign policy as much as possible from the domestic catastrophe." But "all our calculations were soon to be overwhelmed by the elemental catastrophe of Watergate."

With the full impact of that foolish break-in still imperceptible to him, Kissinger could not help but look toward 1973 in a "mood compounded of elation and relief." This was not, however, how he regarded his own future. "I thought we were then in a superb governmental position — everything seemed to be running well," he told me. "But I had really made up my mind to have left by the latest by the end of 1973. I was thinking of going to Oxford, to All Souls. I had had talks with Isaiah Berlin (the famous philosopher)...the international situation was very strong and I thought, personally, my relations with Nixon could not go on much longer. We had just been made Joint Men of the Year by Time — now this was something impossible for a president to share with another." This surely said something about the curiously insecure jealousy of the most powerful man in the Western world. "Also," continued Kissinger, "I was having a lot of nagging from [Chief of Staff Bob] Haldeman about how many times I was meeting Nixon. I didn't think I could go on juggling the NSC with State."11 There lurked too the steadily worsening relationship between him and his office and the worthy but unimpressive secretary of state, William P. Rogers, a Washington lawyer — a lame, if not a dead, duck secretary of state. Repeatedly Kissinger had urged Nixon to let him take over at State. He was addressing deaf ears. To Kissinger's chagrin, Nixon had consistently refused.

What did Kissinger plan to do among those dreaming spires of Oxford? "Maybe work on my memoirs..." He continued: "David Bruce, whom I hugely admired, also felt I should leave* — so by the end of 1972 I had a period of expecting to leave by the end of '73, and a conviction that Nixon and I had left foreign policy in extremely good shape." As he outlined it in his memoirs, "I intended to stay on long enough in 1973 to see the peace in Indochina established; to launch the new initiative toward the industrial democracies that came to be known as the Year of Europe; and to consolidate the new Moscow-Washington-Peking triangle."

But was he being entirely sincere? There was always something compulsively irresistible about Washington to any outsider who had once sampled its heady embrace; power, Kissinger himself was once quoted as saying, was the "ultimate aphrodisiac."

So, after the Christmas break, the working year of 1973 began on January 3, with a fairly quiet day in the life of the president's national security adviser:

Wednesday, January 3, 1973

8:30 Arrive Office

8:50 General Scowcroft/Col. Kennedy (9:00)

9:05 JCS Briefing (Situation Room) (9:15)

9:30 Ron Ziegler (9:42)

9:45 Christine Nadeau — Interviewee (10:26)

(HAK went to President at 10:00; Julie talked to CN)

10:00 The President — Oval Office (10:50)

10:57 John Ehrlichman/Bob Haldeman — Ehrlichman's office (11:35)

11:40 Ambassador Phuong (12:25)

12:28 Arthur Burns (12:45)

1:20 Lunch — Ambassador Dobrynin (Soviet Embassy) (3:50)

3:58 Larry Eagleburger (4:15)

4:17 The President — Oval Office (5:10)

5:13 Dr. Riland (5:43)

6:20 Depart Office — New York14

On the 7th he set off to Paris, once more, on his seventeenth trip to negotiate with the North Vietnamese.

Any which way you looked at it, by any criterion — and this was not peculiarly related to Henry Kissinger's role in it — 1973 was not an ordinary year. Whole books have been written about it. One most recently, by Andreas Killen, identifies it, for the United States at any rate, as "the decade's pivotal year...a year of shattering political crisis and of remarkable cultural ferment." In it15 Killen saw three major shocks to the United States:

1. Defeat in Vietnam (though it may not have quite seemed so at the time).

2. Watergate, calling, by the year's end, for presidential impeachment.

3. A collapsing economy, caused by Arab oil embargo.

All three were to occur on Henry Kissinger's watch.

Though it may have marked a low point in U.S. history, it was a bountiful year for moviemakers, especially those catering to violent and to pornographic tastes. Last Tango in Paris, Deep Throat, The Exorcist, and The Godfather all contributed to make 1972-74 box office record years. In the fall of 1973, Erica Jong assaulted the last surviving bastions of old-fashioned modesty with her Fear of Flying. Assisted by the new technology, lightweight cameras, and abandon of all inhibition, U.S. TV scored a runaway success through a twelve-part series called An American Family. In a precursor of the horrors of "reality television" three decades later, week by week the American public would hunker down to watch as the Loud family lived their daily lives, and tore themselves apart in Santa Barbara — all for the benefit of the eager media. Amazingly the Louds had actually volunteered for the purgatory that they were submitted to. By the year's end the couple had gotten divorced. Their son, Lance, had been outed as a transvestite. During the series he became successively the darling then the hate-object of the gay community, and was to admit "television swallowed my family." An identical sentiment might just as well have been voiced by the first lady, Pat Nixon. By a curious stroke of fate, the premiere of the Loud family crucifixion took place the very day that Senate Democrats first voted to investigate Watergate — January 11, 1973, while the taping equipment for both the White House and the Loud house had evidently also been installed at about the same time. Equally, in the course of the series, Pat Loud — with extraordinary parallelism to the Plumbers of Watergate — is seen rifling her husband's files for evidence of his infidelity.

Each series was to rival the other for prime time watching as the year went on.

But was 1973 worse than any other year? — or did it just establish a benchmark for the future?

Certainly the media was coming to assume an increasingly dominant role in American public life. As Abigail McCarthy, the wife of defeated presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, bemoaned: "In public life one learns very quickly that everyone wants to be on television. There are very few private people left."18 Looking back from the no less agitated vantage point of 2008, some might even see 1973 as the year the media burst out of Pandora's Box, never to be recaptured, as an unelected power took over from the legitimately elected democratic rulers. Doubtless this was how Richard Nixon saw it.

To an outsider, Washington, D.C., often seems a bizarre place to plant the capital of the world's most powerful nation. With all its mindboggling beauty, cultural richesse, and the vibrant political buzz, over many months spent there I personally have come to love it second only to Paris. But it's still a crazy place to have a capital, and maybe this fundamental craziness has something also to do with the events of 1973. Built in a swamp as a compromise between the mutually hostile North and South, Washington freezes you in winter, and boils you in summer — where its humidity can make you feel hotter than Cairo can. In the good old days the affluent Founding Fathers could take off to run the country from the relative coolness of their estates in Virginia, but even by 1973 the advent of air-conditioning did little more than take the edge off Washington's oppressive summer heat. Tempers fray, judgment wanders. Feeling that modern Turkey was lopsided, in the 1920s Kemal Ataturk moved his capital from Istanbul to Ankara in the dusty heartland of Anatolia; Lenin, in one of his few acts of wisdom, moved from Peter the Great's old capital back to centrally located Moscow (which probably saved the country in 1941). But both St. Petersburg and Istanbul were at least major hubs, great seaports. You could barely ever get a pleasure cruiser up the Potomac to Washington. As the capital of fifty states reaching from Florida to Hawaii, with the decisive fulcrum of voters well to its west, by the late twentieth century, Washington did seem to give the country a politically lopsided appearance.

As of 1973, this lopsidedness received an additional spin (certainly in the eyes of Richard Nixon) within the city from the apparent preeminence of Georgetown, and everything it stood for. An elderly, indigenous, black cabdriver (if you can find one) will reminisce today how his father lived in a worker's house, in the 1920s, off what is now plush 34th Street. Streetcars still clanked down the middle of O Street. Particularly since World War II, Georgetown became progressively gentrified into a tightly packed village. In charming, cozy little Georgian houses of brick surrounded by box hedging, its denizens would gossip and conspire politely in elegant and engaging little dinner parties. The Muffies lived next door to the Buffies, all were the best possible friends (for the most part). They took in, but literally, each other's washing. The trouble is that, all too good friends, they know precisely what you do, and with whom, almost from the moment you think about doing it. No secrets in Georgetown. But that also applies to Washington as a whole, for the city dominated by a regime often known as "government by leak." As of 1973 — and it hasn't changed much — almost everybody in Georgetown is a "liberal," in the oldfashioned sense of the word. They could afford to be. In 1973 you would be hard-pressed to meet a right-wing Republican there, or what later emerged as a neocon.

The collective influence of Georgetown was — and is — immense; though perhaps never quite as much as Nixon believed. But it was a world he hated, and distrusted. In contrast Henry Kissinger loved Georgetown, and envied it, and felt comfortable in the company of its denizens. For Richard Nixon, the Californian who would flee to the farthest reaches of Florida for his time off, this overall geographical lopsidedness may also have had a bearing on the personal issues that were ultimately to destroy him.

Much admired for his statecraft by Kissinger, that supreme opportunist Bismarck once remarked of a statesman: "if ever in the events around him he hears the sweep of the mantle of God, then he must jump up and catch at its hem." Paraphrasing the same thought, while I was writing his official biography, Harold Macmillan once remarked to me of his own life: "Things never turn out quite how you expect, dear boy — but never miss an opportunity."19 It was an aphorism that came to mark his own upward path, from unpromising backbench member of Parliament to prime minister in the space of twenty years. The same might have been said of Henry Kissinger, from being a lonely German refugee, a humble PFC in the U.S. Army of World War II, to the most powerful man in the world in thirty years. Kissinger was certainly never one to pass up an opportunity.

Henry Kissinger was born Heinz, in May 1923 in the prosperous Franconian town of Fürth in southern Germany. He and his younger brother, Walter, were blessed with two loving parents, to whom they owed not only their genes but their survival through the Holocaust that lay ahead. Fürth had been a thriving community where Jews had traditionally lived in equanimity, and distinction — until Hitler came along. Kissinger's father, Louis, was a much respected schoolteacher, but removed by the Nazis. He never quite got over the indignities and persecution experienced under them. As with Harold Macmillan, it was Henry's mother, Paula, who seems to have been the stronger of the two parents, urging their flight from Germany to the United States in 1938. He was naturalized a United States citizen in 1943, while in military training at Spartanburg, South Carolina. But he would never lose his accent despite all his later years teaching at Harvard. (He used to joke that his brother "learned American as a street vendor, but I kept my accent because I went to Harvard instead!" Walter's riposte was that "I listened to others, Henry did not.")

World War II took Henry back to Europe as an infantry PFC, seeing action in the Battle of the Bulge of 1944, where he came uncomfortably close to the front line, able to hear tracks of the German panzers "grinding out the foxholes of my buddies up front." With that heavy Bavarian accent, he remained more at home with Europeans like Metternich and Kant than Americans like Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain; however, he would never pause in his gratitude for what America meant to him, and what he owed to it. In those formative years, apart from his parents, Kissinger had essentially two — two very disparate — influences.

In the earliest days, it was fellow PFC Fritz Kraemer, and — much later — Nelson Rockefeller. Kraemer was an unusual person, certainly not your run-of-the-mill GI. They met at an army training camp in the sweltering Louisiana summer of 1944. Kissinger had just emerged from boot camp, after he had been naturalized the previous year. Beaten into shape like most recruits, he had done his best to remain inconspicuous, giving this excellent fraternal advice to his younger brother, Walter: "Always stand in the middle because details are always picked from the end. Always remain inconspicuous because as long as they don't know you, they can't pick on you." Yet he was conspicuous to his buddies for always having a book at hand, or a copy of Time in his knapsack on marches — if not for his accent.

Fifteen years older than Kissinger, Kraemer was a German refugee too, but non-Jewish, son of an affluent Prussian family who had fled Hitler on account of their deeply conservative political beliefs. He boasted two Ph.D.'s. That summer of 1944 he too was a simple private, but — eschewing any urge to remain inconspicuous — sported a Teutonic monocle and riding crop. Under instructions from an inspired general to bring home to the troops what the war, morally, was all about, he appeared in front of Kissinger's company, clad in Wehrmacht uniform, and berated it. "For the first time in my life — and perhaps the only one," Kissinger recalled, "I wrote [to tell] a speaker how much he had moved me." Kraemer responded by inviting him to eat in a GI club. "Out of this encounter," Kissinger continued, "grew a relationship that changed my life."

Reaching Europe for the final push on Germany, Kraemer managed to arrange for both to be transferred to G-2, the intelligence section, in which capacity Kissinger reentered the country his family had fled seven years previously. Promoted to sergeant, there he reputedly earned brownie points rounding up former members of the Gestapo, by the simple ruse of advertising in the local press for applicants with "police experience." It seems an extraordinary indictment of the U.S. Army at war that, because of their knowledge of German and intellectual ability, the two had not instantly been picked out for intelligence work. After the war, and for the next few decades, Kraemer, said Kissinger, "shaped my reading and thinking, influenced my choice of college, awakened my interest in political philosophy and history, inspired both my undergraduate and graduate theses." He was profoundly influenced by the way his fellow German "dedicated his life to fighting against the triumph of the expedient over the principled." Kraemer in return modestly denied that he had been "the man who discovered Kissinger." His role, he declared, had simply been "getting Kissinger to discover himself!"

Kraemer became an increasingly ascetic prophet, and prophet-without-honor — an absolutist about the Cold War, divorced from the world of nowism. When Kissinger entered government, the two men split, on a matter of principle; said Kissinger, "He would lecture me on the evils of Communism. It was probably a mistake that I didn't see him more when I was in office. But he wanted constantly to go at me to be tougher with the Russians. It came down to nuclear warfare [author's italics]."

They did not meet, nor would Kraemer speak to him, for thirty years. Kraemer died in 2003.

The army helped toughen Kissinger, gave him an American identity and a hard shell (thought Walter Isaacson). On release from the army, following Kraemer's advice that "a Gentleman does not go to a local New York school," Kissinger applied to Harvard. There he read deeply on German philosophers. He became fascinated by the statescraft of those great nineteenth-century exponents of realpolitik, Metternich, Castlereagh, and Bismarck — who were to become subjects of his two finest books. The European quest for an acceptable and workable balance of power, the status quo as opposed to revolution and disorder, struck a strong chord in an intrinsically conservative mind. As the Cold War grew ever more menacing, Kissinger came increasingly to abhor the potential alternative to status quoism: nuclear warfare. Here he was instinctively at one with Nixon, who, as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president, had been up there on the coal face. His studies at Harvard did not lead him to agree with General Robert E. Lee's "It is History that teaches us to hope." The essential, pessimistic sense of the tragic of the Central European was too strong in him.

Kissinger's was "a quest for a realpolitik devoid of moral homilies," observed his rather more left-wing Harvard colleague, Stanley Hoffmann. Putting into practice, while in office, that principle of realpolitik would earn Kissinger critics and enemies on both sides of the political spectrum. Thoughtful articles in Foreign Affairs and books such as Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (1957) earned him respect — but in a world of limited frontiers. Until the late 1950s and early 1960s, few outside the world of academe had heard of him. Ronnie Grierson, one of his oldest friends, observed how in those days when he came to England "he knew only two people — me and Wayland Young — and was free for every meal!" And not all attendants at his lectures were entranced; a successor at the National Security Council, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was one. New at Harvard in 1950 as a firstyear graduate student, he heard Kissinger give an introductory seminar on political theory. Though initially impressed, after one session of hearing his voice Brzezinski decided to give up the course. "That heavy German accent, the stretching out of Nietzsche — and Spengler, I couldn't take it!"

Allegedly their mutual animosity stemmed from Harvard.

One of those who could listen to, or read, Kissinger was Nelson Rockefeller, then an assistant for international affairs to President Eisenhower. In 1956, the essentially liberal Rockefeller took Kissinger on board as director of a "Special Studies Project." He was to become described as Rockefeller's closest intellectual associate. Through Rockefeller, Kissinger now discovered Washington, and vice versa. For the next twelve years he remained a part-time consultant for Rockefeller, and close to the man, but still teaching at Harvard — though, for reasons of personality, he encountered difficulties in obtaining tenure. He married, and divorced (in 1964), Anneliese Fleischer, a fellow Jewish refugee from Bavaria, by whom he had two children. Loyal to Rockefeller, in the 1960s Kissinger expressed many misgivings about Nixon, once calling him "a hollow man, and evil." In 1968, Rockefeller ran for the Republican nomination in the presidential race. A generous and talented man, but lacking the killer instinct, he lost to Nixon. Kissinger felt at the time that, with Lyndon Johnson withdrawn from the race, Rockefeller was the only candidate "who could unite the country," torn apart as it was by Vietnam, and could not disguise his despair. Then came the call from Nixon's office for Kissinger to come and serve as a foreign policy adviser. Kissinger was unable to refuse, but observed at the time that maybe he could help more "if I work behind the scenes." As of the first Nixon election, Kissinger had met him only once. Following the election, Nixon sent for him to become his national security adviser at the White House, no less. His old mentor, Fritz Kraemer, was horrified; he didn't see how Kissinger could trust Nixon: "the Right will call you the Jew who lost Southeast Asia, and the Left will call you a traitor to the cause." Kissinger was astonished by Nixon's offer, but — after he had outlined his foreign policy views, came away "struck by his perceptiveness and knowledge so at variance with my previous image of him."

And so the waters divided, and would remain divided — rendering Kissinger the most controversial of all Washington public servants. The world then looked more uncertain, if not dangerous, than ever before. The USSR had, for the first time, attained parity with the United States in the arms race, especially rocketry. Its new preeminence had enabled Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to invade Czechoslovakia and crush Alexander Dub­cek's brave Prague Spring with impunity earlier that year. The war in Vietnam dragged on, apparently unwinnable, having destroyed Nixon's predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. Splitting Americans increasingly, it would reach the horrendous point of National Guardsmen shooting down American students at Kent State University in May 1970. Until Vietnam was resolved, the United States was paralyzed in the world at large. Nixon seemed faced with the same conundrum that had faced France's Charles de Gaulle over the Algerian War at the beginning of the decade; France then had to get out of Algeria in order to "marry her age." Nixon determined upon the same course, not to scuttle as de Gaulle had, but to exit Vietnam in a "peace with honor." According to his memoirs, however, Nixon told Kissinger at this first meeting that he was "determined to avoid the trap Johnson had fallen into, of devoting virtually all my foreign policy time and energy to Vietnam, which was really a short term problem." Instead there were "longer-term problems" — such as "the vitality of the NATO alliance," the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and Japan. "Finally," he mentioned "the need to re-evaluate our policy toward Communist China."

Nevertheless, headed by Kissinger, in the utmost secrecy peace talks began with the North Vietnamese in Paris in August 1969, half a year after Nixon's first inauguration, and they would take some twenty more meetings and nearly four years before they would finally come to fruition, as will be seen in a subsequent chapter. At the same time Nixon embarked on an even bolder rethink of basic U.S. foreign policy, and radical deviation from the past. Instead of the principle of aggressive containment of the Soviets and China, such as had ruled since John Foster Dulles and the early days of the Cold War, Washington would seek to persuade Moscow and Beijing that they should no longer regard themselves as revolutionary, expansionist powers. More could be attained through "linkage," the carrot of commercial benefits their ailing economies needed, in return for good behavior. A moratorium by agreement must be sought in nuclear escalation. Most dramatic of all, Nixon would open the door to the unmentionable Chinese, who only two decades earlier had been killing Americans — many of them — in Korea, to bring Beijing into play as a counterbalance to Moscow. These were the themes which would dominate White House policy from 1969 through to the end of the Nixon era — and beyond. But more, in detail, later. It was perhaps no coincidence that this radical Grand Design, the pursuit of a new global balance of power, echoed thoughts put forward by the new national security adviser in his masterly study of how Metternich and Castlereagh achieved a balance of power, resulting in a hundred years of European peace, in A World Restored. One can be sure that this was a book Nixon had read most carefully. From 1969 onward Kissinger would become the chief activist of Nixon's Grand Design. The subtle and discreet backchannel diplomacy that it involved was admirably suited to both his and Nixon's secretive personas. But it would certainly not be likely to suit the secretary of state, Nixon's old friend William Rogers.

Washington's National Security Council is a strange anomaly, both a duplication of, and a rival to, the U.S. State Department. What is its purpose? The anomaly was to become particularly pronounced during the Kissinger-Rogers era, and it still remains unresolved to this day. Historically, it was all to do with the management of U.S. foreign policy. During World War II, issues were clear-cut, and there was never any question of where control resided — in the White House, and the strong hands of FDR personally. Harry Truman, less sure of himself and less trustful of a State Department shaken by leakages and scandals connected with the Alger Hiss revelations, first created the National Security Council in July 1947, at a time when the Soviet threat became manifest. Chaired by the president, with the secretaries of state and defense as its key members, and the director of the newly formed CIA its intelligence adviser, the council was designed to be the president's principal forum for considering national and security problems, and to help formulate speedy decisions. It was in effect a cabinet within a cabinet. Reorganized in 1949, the NSC was then placed firmly inside the executive office of the president, operating from within the heart of the White House, but strongly influenced by Truman's powerful secretary of state, Dean Acheson. Each successive incumbent modified it to meet his own requirements. Because of his training as a soldier, Eisenhower reshaped it along the lines of a military staff system. At the heart of it he appointed Robert "Bobbie" Cutler to be the assistant to the President for national security affairs (1953-55). A Boston lawyer with no political background, but a close personal friend, trusted implicitly, Bobbie* came to act as Ike's "whiskers," and voice.

With the advent of John F. Kennedy, the debacle at the Bay of Pigs in early 1961 , laying both the State Department and the CIA open to much criticism, led to a series of measures aimed at ensuring that the president received better independent advice. Under the vigorous McGeorge Bundy, with incremented powers, the NSC also reentered the arena of monitoring policy implementation. Under Lyndon Johnson, the NSC was allowed to atrophy once more, with the president relying more on the advice of individuals rather than institutional staffs. While within the Eisenhower administration the NSC had the essence of military structure, under Kennedy and Johnson it became chaotic; under Nixon-Kissinger between 1969 and 1974 it once more became highly structured. With the NSC's numbers expanded from twelve to thirty-four, the national security adviser (Kissinger) was appointed chairman of the key Review Group, which was empowered to screen all papers, as well as all outgoing policy signals, before they were presented to the full NSC, chaired by the president. Thus from the very moment of the 1969 inauguration, Kissinger was swiftly able to establish his ascendancy. At the same time, Rogers, Nixon's secretary of state, a not very thrustful New York lawyer, was progressively to lose his. Within the embrace of the NSC were six powerful subcommittees, such as the 40 Committee (charged with clandestine operations) and the Washington Special Action Group (WSAG), summoned to deal with specific crises. Each was chaired by Kissinger.

From the beginning Nixon made it clear that he wanted his national security adviser (Kissinger) to conduct important matters of foreign, and security, policy directly out of his own office in the White House. As Nixon wrote in his memoirs, "From the outset of my administration, [I] planned to direct foreign policy from the White House. Therefore I regarded my choice of a National Security Adviser as crucial." Deeply distrustful of the State Department to deal with sensitive negotiations in a leakproof fashion, Nixon gave Kissinger fullest range for his very special skills as a backchannel operator. In other nations with presidential structures, Kissinger's function would have come close to filling that of prime minister — except that he would not be directly answerable to the floor of the legislature. Special aircraft of the White House Communications Agency would be set at his beck and call. Throughout the first term, it was only Kissinger who took part in Nixon's important discussions with foreign dignitaries.

As of January 1969 onward, the U.S. secretary of state had been William Pierce Rogers. His middle Christian name may well have come from Franklin Pierce, a president not acclaimed with distinction. In the way of the American system, Rogers was a political appointee who had never previously served in any foreign, or State Department, post. He was a decent and respectable East Coast establishment figure, Cornell Law School, etc. — everything that Nixon and Kissinger were not — a lawyer who had started off life prosecuting organized crime in New York City. Ending his wartime career as a navy lieutenant commander in the Pacific, he had advised Nixon on the Hiss case, and had served Eisenhower as attorney general. In this capacity he had helped Nixon out over his "little local difficulty" of the Checkers affair.* He would terminate his public career investigating the disaster of the space shuttle Challenger.

Secretary Rogers was also not accountable to the House of Representatives. (Nor, for that matter, would Kissinger be, either in his NSC capacity, or later as secretary of state.) A leading conservative journalist declared acidly that Rogers could not, so it was said, "find the State Department in broad daylight with a flashlight," while Nixon's opinion of the State Department was roughly summed up in his remark: "If the Department of State has had a new idea in the last 25 years, it is not known to me." He had "given" Rogers the State Department partly as a "grace-and-favor" job, for his unquestioning loyalty, and partly because he reckoned that, with Rogers, he could run his own foreign policy without let or hindrance. From 1969, progressively and systematically the honorable, but unhappy, Rogers found himself sidelined, indeed humiliated, with Kissinger repeatedly pressing Nixon for his job. The "special relationship" which sprang up between Kissinger and Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin completely bypassed Rogers; he was kept out of the loop on the sensitive negotiations with the Chinese, which preceded Nixon's world-shaking visit there in 1971, and — pointedly — was not even allowed to appear on TV being greeted by the welcoming Chinese. As Kissinger once remarked, he was left "dealing with Ghana and suchlike important affairs of State!" It remains a puzzle why, in view of his studied downgrading by Nixon and Kissinger — which redounded to the credit of neither — Rogers did not resign before he was pushed. His loyalty was probably the answer.

As suggested earlier, to those habituated to other political systems, it may seem a strange way to run a railroad: to have one huge, cumbersome, and expensive apparatus, the State Department, operating out of its oft derided base in Washington's Foggy Bottom; then duplicate it with another vast apparatus, the National Security Council — with neither always singing from the same hymn sheet. But this is all part of the fabric of checks and balances inherent in the American system.

To a remarkable extent, Nixon's genius operated by instinct. It was one of the features that drew the two odd bedfellows together, with the historian's training of Kissinger complementing the sometimes erratic, but frequently brilliant, instinct in foreign affairs of the president. When he summoned Kissinger in 1968 he admitted that he had been "uncharacteristically impulsive," and had "a strong intuition about Henry Kissinger" — perhaps surprisingly so, given that he would almost certainly have been aware of Kissinger declaring repeatedly, while he was working with Rockefeller in committed opposition to the drafting of Nixon during the primaries, that "The man is unfit to be president." But here Nixon had not been acting out of pure impulse; he knew more about his man. Three works by Kissinger would have made a powerful impact on the well-read president, striking as they did chords with his own thinking. The first, written while Kissinger was still a little known academic at Harvard, was his 450-page Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, which, for all its density, had — quite surprisingly — become a best-seller when published in 1957. In it he expressed most strongly his abhorrence of the notion of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and the necessity of exploring every possibility of limited warfare, and all other diplomatic options. (Kissinger himself was astonished by his success, remarking with that self-deprecating sense of humor that it had to be "the most unread best-seller since Toynbee.") But, no, Nixon had certainly read it, and digested its message. That same year of 1957 Kissinger had also published a refined version of his doctoral thesis for Harvard, under the ponderous title of A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812-1822. It was a fascinating book, the arguments superbly presented, but not something to be digested at a sitting. Most important, a careful reading discloses a remarkable blueprint of how Kissinger would conduct policy once empowered to do so. "Under the impact of Napoleon," wrote Kissinger in A World Restored, "there disintegrated not only the system of legitimacy of the 18th century, but with it the physical safeguards which, to contemporaries at least, seemed the prerequisite of stability."

In prevailing mid-twentieth-century terms, the same might almost have been written about Mao Zedong or Joseph Stalin. Diplomacy, the essence of commerce between civilized nations, Kissinger saw as being "possible only in 'legitimate' international orders." After the upheaval produced by Napoleon, "what is surprising is not how imperfect the settlement emerged, but how sane...the period of stability which ensued was the best proof that a 'legitimate' order had been constructed." The two most important words in Kissinger's vocabulary were "legitimacy" and "stability." With Metternich he agreed that "No peace is possible with a revolutionary system, whether with a Robespierre who declares war on chateaux or a Napoleon who declares war on Powers."

In contemporary terms, what was essential was to impose "legitimacy" on systems such as the USSR's and Red China's, which considered themselves "revolutionary."* Then you could do business with them, via diplomacy. As regards techniques of diplomacy, he thoroughly endorsed the wily Metternich's view that "to show one's purpose is to court disaster; to succeed completely is to invite disintegration." Here was backchannel diplomacy. At the same time, and this would be a helpful hint when dealing with a president like Nixon, "A man who has been used to command finds it almost impossible to learn to negotiate, because negotiation is an admission of finite power."

Writing admiringly of his subjects, Metternich and Castlereagh, Kissinger summed up: "Their goal was stability, not perfection, and the balance of power is the classic expression of the lesson of history that no order is safe without physical safeguards against aggression." He cautioned: "The statesman is inevitably confronted by the inertia of his material, by the fact that other powers are not factors to be manipulated but forces to be reconciled"; then continuing in what reads almost like a forecast of events a decade and a half in the offing: "The requirements of security differ with the geographical location and the domestic structure of the powers. His instrument is diplomacy, the art of relating states to each other by agreement rather than by exercise of force by the representation of a ground of action which reconciles particular aspirations with a general consensus."

If read carefully, the young Kissinger's treatise of 1957 comprises a revealing blueprint of how his thought processes would operate when in office a decade and a half later. Then, toward the end of 1968, and thus well before the announcement of Kissinger's first appointment to the NSC, a distinguished British foreign official, Robert Wade-Gery*, recalled being excited by Kissinger's delivery of a lecture on U.S. Vietnam policy. In it he laid out with astonishing precision, and openness, exactly how he would handle negotiations if, by any remote chance, he were to find himself in a position of power in Washington (which, at the time, he was certainly not expecting, since he was still working with Rockefeller). The lecture was closely based on a major article in Foreign Affairs, which, although dated January 1969, had been written the previous August, and actually appeared in print at the beginning of November; i.e., before Nixon's election, and well before Kissinger could have had any intimation of the call which was to come. He began with remarking how the peace negotiations then underway in Paris "had been marked by the classic Vietnamese syndrome; optimism alternating with bewilderment; euphoria giving way to frustration," and continuing "we must realize that a civil war which has torn a society for twenty years and which has involved the great powers is unlikely to be settled by a single dramatic stroke."

He then went on to explore past U.S. failures in seeking a purely military solution in Vietnam, and the political problems facing both North and South regimes, and how the Tet Offensive of 1968 had overthrown all "assumptions of American strategy": "The choreography of how one enters negotiations, what is settled first and in what manner is inseparable from the substance of the issues." He torpedoed any thoughts of realizing a coalition government between "parties that have been murdering and betraying each other for 25 years," while at the same time hinting at the importance of backchannel diplomacy with the other main, outside players — Russia and China. He closed with the recommendation "We should continue to strengthen the Vietnamese army to permit a gradual withdrawal of some American forces" while giving strong emphasis to the key words, "ending the war honorably [author's italics]." Even the Washington Post praised it as a "remarkable analysis...free from the myths and prejudices of the past."

Thus, in marked contrast to Secretary of State Rogers, with Kissinger at the helm of the rival NSC, Nixon could rest well assured that "his" foreign policy would be executed, with maximum efficiency. For all the contrast in their backgrounds and personalities, on essentials of policy — as well as technique — they spoke the same language, a fact that manifested itself very soon after the 1969 inauguration and Kissinger's arrival at the White House. Yet, in all the history of U.S. government, could there ever have been an odder couple, a more contrasting couple, than Richard Milhous Nixon and Dr. Henry Alfred Kissinger? Aged respectively sixty and not quite fifty as of January 1973, the Quaker and the Jewish refugee. One, the poor California boy, son of a grocer, whose parents couldn't afford to fulfill his dreams by sending him to a chic Eastern college, but to unsmart local Whittier instead. There followed a World War II career as a naval officer of no great distinction in the Pacific, then to Washington, where as a young lawyer on the Hill he made his name, and earned the hatred of many good liberals, for his prosecution of Alger Hiss*. Then came a lifetime in politics; defeated for the presidency in 1960, by JFK, by the narrowest of margins. Finally, becoming president in 1969.

If Kissinger and Nixon were drawn together by shared doctrine in foreign policy, and ambition — the desire to establish a place in history — there was also one human characteristic that bound the two together. That was a certain, extraordinary insecurity — or so it seemed to me. Given that here was a man who had scaled every summit, received every blessing life can bestow, Henry Kissinger's own insecurity never ceased to surprise me. Not least, it manifested itself, repeatedly, in his anxiety as to what his biographer might be proposing to say about him! Once, over the whiskey in his lair at Kent, Connecticut, when he had been expounding at length on this deep insecurity of Richard Nixon, I dared venture to observe on his own, unexpected, sense of insecurity: "But aren't you too very insecure?" With the gentlest of smiles, he replied: "Well, you can say that, I can't!"

Nixon's insecurity, largely socially based, was apparent in almost everything he did or said; Kissinger's, as defined by his longtime friend Arthur Schlesinger, was "his refugee's desire for approval." It was an aspect that was also affirmed by Lawrence Eagleburger, one of Kissinger's close associates and friends, himself Jewish too, who observed: "You can't understand Henry unless you understand his insecurity — his Jewishness — the anti-anti-Semitism of the Jew — and the background of Germany."

If there were contradictions between Nixon and Kissinger, they were as nothing compared with those residing in the bosom of the president himself. Many books have been written analyzing them. To John Freeman, British ambassador (1969-71) under Harold Wilson, who had many meetings with Nixon, and possibly knew him better than most of his own entourage, he remains America's "greatest undiscovered U.S. president." Passionately, pathetically, Nixon wanted to be loved; but even more than that, he wanted to remain undiscovered. This was one of the many paradoxes about Nixon. While Kissinger was gregarious to a fault, loving the hubbub of social life, cultivating friendships in all walks of life, Nixon was a paid-up misanthrope. He had, it seems, only two close friends, Bebe Rebozo, a Cuban exile who had made a fortune banking in Florida, and Bob Abplanalp, who had made a killing in aerosols. Inseparable from and totally loyal to Nixon, they were curious soul-mates for a president. Their intellectual, and political, input was virtually nil. With Abplanalp, renowned for his foul language, the dirty — often anti-Semitic — jokes would flow. Vacationing in their Key Biscayne hideout, Rebozo would often sit with Nixon in total silence for hours on end. Kissinger, however, could understand, and sympathize with, Nixon's need for such comrades: "It was that terrible claustrophobia induced by the White House — impossible to have normal friends; and neither of them had any demands to impose on Nixon." Like Kissinger, Nixon was not averse to hearing gossip; but it had to be political — he was not interested in the social and sexual tidbits that amused the man of Harvard. He would talk meaningfully, but in grandiose abstractions, about the working class — yet he cherished absolutely no contact with men-of-toil. The arm-pressing, backslapping hail-fellow-well-met manner essential to your average American politician was completely alien to Richard Nixon.

Meanwhile, as part and parcel with his misanthropy went an obsession for secrecy, to an extent shared with no other previous U.S. president, and which would provide the fatal flaw, destroying Nixon in the end. Another curious flaw, of notable relevance to 1973, was that he could not take any measure of alcohol. Even loyal colleagues such as Al Haig would assert that "one drink, and he'd slur...two and he was out. But he was very disciplined." "Two martinis, and he'd change...he couldn't hold his liquor," confirmed Brent Scowcroft. It was a phenomenon that would manifest itself at various times, and to varying degrees, under the pressures of Watergate. John Freeman continued: "If he trusted you, you were in forever; and Henry was one of those."* Like his old boss, Eisenhower, Nixon found it hard to sack anyone — but not easy to work with them either. Said Peter Rodman, who worked with both Nixon and Kissinger in the 1970s, "He basically hated people. He would much rather communicate by written memos than in any kind of discussion. A loner, but his comebacks after one defeat after another — right to the end — were truly amazing." Stephen Ambrose comments on how Nixon's "mind never rested," and how, even at sixty (on January 9, 1973), his formula for living remained — "never slow down."

Back in 1968, Nixon was determined that, if reelected, he intended to run foreign policy from the White House, and not through the State Department. From study of the underlying documents, it is abundantly clear that the original thinking, the initiatives, notably the opening to China and détente with Russia, came from the unceasingly restless brain of Richard Nixon, and not from Henry Kissinger. Though he never resisted others doing so over the years, Kissinger did not aver it was otherwise. The joint chord that Nixon struck with Kissinger was a bold belief in realpolitik, which he felt a great power like the United States could enter into in reality, and not just contemplate from the pages of historians — like Kissinger's fellow eggheads at Harvard. When asked during the 1968 election how he would most like to be remembered, Nixon answered, revealingly: "as having made some contribution to the kind of a world in which we can have peace in the last third of this century...the greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker."

With all those years of experience wrangling on the Hill, Nixon had achieved the reputation of being an unsurpassable political operator. Haig, who served under seven presidents and was himself subsequently a secretary of state, could declare also that "Nixon had no peer in foreign affairs." Certainly one should never try to take away the brilliance, the essential greatness of Nixon. Some lapidary words of advice given to me, before embarking on this project, by friend and neighbor Lord Carrington, former foreign secretary, was: "Never underrate Richard Nixon." Advice I would never forget, nor ever find wanting.

From a dramatist's point of view, Nixon might well seem the more interesting character than Kissinger. He conformed so closely to the principles of tragedy as defined by Aristotle: the human being of great stature who plunges from the highest position to the very depths, and essentially through a fatal flaw in his own character. Kissinger was never a tragic figure; he never fell from a great height. As Brent Scowcroft observed, Nixon was "a very complex, tortured figure, always playing roles." To author Garry Wills, he was "the least authentic man alive." And who could tell which was the real Nixon? Certainly no more complex, tortured, and fascinating human being ever sat in the Oval Office. What most tortured him was his list of hates. It comprised the whole bureaucracy, especially those of the State Department, and the CIA (which he would knock at every turn — a recurrent theme). In his own memoirs, Kissinger observed: "He felt it imperative to exclude the CIA from the formulation of policy; it was staffed by Ivy League liberals.... They had always opposed him politically." The long list continued: East Coast intellectuals and college professors, all Republicans east of the Ohio, all Democrats who were not from the South, and most members of his own cabinet. High on the list came the collectivity of Georgetown. But above them all stood the media. It was an astonishingly long list. "Nixon hated them all," concludes Stephen Ambrose. He might have added the Jews, if one were to judge from the anti-Semitic* tone of much of Nixon's table talk.

The U.S. media responded by giving Nixon the worst press of any president in the twentieth century. Widely he was regarded as "Tricky Dick," with even his best motives constantly under suspicion. Well before the election of 1972, the battle lines were drawn. Nixon declared that October that he would not hesitate to "give the knife"67 to journals and journalists that had been proved unfriendly. Many times he was recorded in his desire to "destroy" or "kill" his enemies. Progressively a kind of "stockade mentality" — a stockade "in the midst of rebellion and siege" as David Frost in his Nixon interviews saw it — grew up around the White House. Since Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam above all had drawn a line between the media and the executive. Hostilities were supported, on both sides, by a new art form — the calculated leak. On one side there were the Pentagon Papers leaked to the media; on the other, the "reliable journalists" to whom the White House would leak tidbits beneficial to its policy. This latter was an art form of which Kissinger would prove himself a master.

It was all part of Nixon's distrust of the world which distrusted him, and his urge for "revenge" against it that lay behind his extraordinary decision to celebrate his landslide electoral victory of November 1972 by requesting the resignation of his entire cabinet.

Within a very short space of time, certainly well before the new term began in 1973, Nixon and Kissinger had achieved a remarkable degree of symbiosis. As Nixon himself admitted, "The combination was unlikely — the grocer's son from Whittier and the refugee from Hitler's Germany, the politician and the academic. But our differences made the partnership work." Rarely meeting socially, their worlds did not overlap. Leonard Garment, a White House aide and himself Jewish, noted how Kissinger was treated "as an exotic wunderkind — a character, an outsider." His colleagues laughed at his thick Mitteleuropa accent. He had to endure, said Garment, "the railings against Jewish power which were part of the casual conversation among Nixon's inner circle." As Stephen Ambrose quotes Garment: "You can't begin to imagine how much anti-Semitism there is at the top of this government — and I mean at the top."

David Frost agreed: "Henry must have heard him [Nixon] on more than one occasion say something like 'those Yids.' " Probably he turned a deaf ear.

Scanning the style, rather than content, of the telcoms of Kissinger telephone conversations, the casual reader gains the impression of obsequiousness, almost to excess. "When I'd be talking to Henry," a friend of Nixon's remembered, "and the President would telephone, his voice would shake; the whole tone of his voice would change." "It was not a pretty scene," Ambassador Arthur Hartman remarked, referring to the grosser side of Nixon, "to see HK and RN together, RN known for his anti-Semitism, and yet HK would nod assent, not protest." In her excellent book, Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World, Professor Margaret MacMillan observes how Kissinger "was prepared to sit for hours, if necessary, while Nixon, as was his way, worked out his ideas in rambling conversations. As he told a journalist, 'If I'm not in there talking to the President, then someone else is.' In Kissinger, Nixon had found someone who was his intellectual equal, who understood his policies and who could carry them out."

Yet was this excessive deference to the president really egregious? One has to recall the relations between Franklin Roosevelt and George Marshall, close associates over many years, but always on a basis of "Mr. President." There is something unique about the freezing formality of the White House, whoever the occupant, that reminds you immediately on entry that here is the office of the most powerful man on earth, a monarch as well as a mere prime minister, like the court of the Great Mogul, or Kublai Khan; it is a combination of Buckingham Palace and No. 10 — but also the Temple whence orders go out that affect the entire world. Even the fearless Bob Woodward was struck by "awe" when he first visited it. When I was received by President George W. Bush in the Oval Office in 2007, I noted that even in the outer lobby people whisper. The sheer grandeur of White House protocol forbids anything less; and Henry Kissinger, had he himself not once been subject to the hierarchical discipline of the U.S. Army? Was he not, after all, a junior officer in the presence of a general, and the highest-ranking general of them all? There was also something about Nixon too that repulsed any degree of informal chumminess. As Kissinger once remarked to Peregrine Worsthorne, "Only professors think that Presidential aides ever flatly contradict Presidents. That is not how it happens in the real world."

Though Kissinger came around to finding Nixon "a good, warmhearted man," he never shared such generous views about the White House staff. In the early days, to John Freeman, Harold Wilson's ambassador in Washington, he confided that, though he found the JFK entourage "unattractively narcissistic, they were idealists. [But] these people are real heels," and "I have never met such a gang of self-seeking bastards in my life." He was presumably referring to John Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman.

Under Nixon-Kissinger, cabinet meetings would be rare. Richard Helms, director of the CIA, was startled to be informed by Kissinger that all intelligence reports were henceforth to be passed through the national security adviser. So it was across the board, with Kissinger the essential sieve for all matters that went up to the president. Many in the executive entourage, not least the discountenanced and sidelined Rogers, did not like at all what they encountered. Between Nixon and Kissinger, in their own separate "degrees of paranoia," so Lawrence Eagleburger, a close associate of Kissinger's who later became secretary of state under President George H. W. Bush (1992-93), observed to Walter Isaacson, "They developed a conspiratorial approach to foreign policy management." Out of hearing (and often not very far) Nixon would frequently make opprobrious remarks*. But Kissinger's input, however, was to become invaluable to Nixon — so much so that it would be hard for historians subsequently to distinguish whether the original input was Nixon's or Kissinger's. What truly bonded Kissinger and Nixon, thought Kissinger's biographer, Walter Isaacson, was "an appetite and affection and feel for foreign policy." And by the application of covert means, rather than State Department-style diplomacy, zohit was the kind of realpolitik diplomacy that Bismarck would have understood.

Inside his own office (initially in the basement of the White House, then upgraded to be down the hall from the president in 1970), Kissinger had acquired a reputation as something of a slave-driver. Certainly he was a perfectionist. "He stretched everyone beyond what they thought was their limit," said Al Haig. "In the process he sharpened their wits on assessments, and in underlings brought out ideas that they thought they would never have...he was first and foremost a teacher." To Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to both Gerald Ford and the first Bush, Kissinger had "the finest strategic mind I have ever come across. He could balance a whole lot of disparate issues and interrelate them all a year or two on. That was very rare. Several years later all the strands would come together." In dealing with equals, as well as with his staff, "He would play on each person's characteristics...often telling the same story quite differently to each person — not lying, but just deploying what was most suited to his interlocutor."

With his staff, "He thought he got the best out of people by terrorizing them...some ran in terror, or in disgust. There were those who didn't appreciate his manner of operating, but there were those who stayed and became lifelong friends and supporters."

"Devious?" I asked Lawrence Eagleburger.

"No, but very close-mouthed. He doesn't let everybody know what he is doing."

Arthur Hartman, former ambassador in Moscow, was rather more forthright: "He could be hugely dishonest," he said with a chuckle. "He will look at a person he is talking to, and tailor to him what he said — then he would say some pretty dreadful things!...But it was a very good team — and, I love him! [author's italics]"

Jan Lodal, keeper of the memcons and expert on figures, found Kissinger's "short fuse and secrecy" irritating; he had to have "water-tight compartments...he didn't trust Nixon and the 'Germans' — therefore he wanted everything recorded, demanding that his staff also keep verbatim notes of conversations." But he was "the most amazing man; there was not a subject he did not know a lot about."

Taping, as the president was to discover to his cost in 1973, was strictly illegal; so Kissinger introduced batteries of slave-driven secretaries, transcribing conversations and meetings, thus providing an unprecedented bonus both for posterity, and his biographers — and those who had the staying power to wade through the yards, and tons, of documentation.

Rosemary Niehuss, Kissinger's archivist of thirty years, recalled his meticulous standards of drafting: "He would alter a letter, even if it was just 'the' to 'a,' as a matter of principle." This was confirmed by Jan Lodal: "As a university professor, he insisted that these accounts would be absolutely accurate. He probably expected that they would never be released. So I would lock myself up immediately after the meeting...lock the door, let no one in, and write the report absolutely verbatim...It then went straight to the president and was never doctored. Thus they are totally reliable." "He pushed you very hard, but he knew which skills to push," commented Winston Lord. Lord went on to confirm an often told story of how he had been ordered by Kissinger to redraft a document no fewer than eight times. Each time Kissinger said "Is that the best you can do?"

Finally, the eighth time, a despairing and exhausted Lord said yes. Then Kissinger said "Now, if that really is the best you can do, I will read it!"

Once Lord tried to test Kissinger by putting a sentence in the middle of a paper that made no sense, containing a list of all the titles of his books; Kissinger picked it out, and roared with laughter at the joke. "He pushed me hard — but I was very grateful...We were very loyal.... We all recognized the pressures on him. Yes, there was an element of brutality — then he would make up for it, not apologizing, but making up." Another very close collaborator, Lawrence Eagleburger, who remained an "ardent admirer, a friend" of Kissinger's, endorsed this: "Hell to work with? Yes. But, he trusted you.... He could be unpleasantly hard to work with.... I quit five times — we got mad at each other, but I had huge respect, and came away with great affection." Perhaps surprising, considering the brutality, almost all of Kissinger's team, like Winston Lord and Peter Rodman, from the 1970s remained loyal friends; some, like Rosemary Niehuss, as we have seen, worked for him for three decades and more.

As Walter Isaacson shrewdly notes in his massive biography: "Kissinger was acutely aware of the world around him and self-aware of his role in it. Nixon was not." While Nixon, continues Isaacson, when attacked by critics, withdrew "into Walter Mitty-like fantasies and pretended to be impervious to what others thought," Kissinger was painfully sensitive, endeavoring to "coopt his enemies and ingratiate himself with his critics." Brent Scowcroft saw the insecurity that underlay both Nixon and Kissinger as having led to a strange, "constant rivalry." Though it didn't come across in the telcons, Scowcroft "saw it all the time — they were always trying to be one up on the other — in this brilliant partnership."

It was, all through his life, a curious facet of this immensely gifted man that — having achieved almost everything life and fame could offer, every post with the exception of (and only just) president of the United States — Kissinger should remain so sensitive to the opinions of others, and of far lesser mortals. When engaged in researching this book, I sensed him constantly worrying about what I was going to say, questioning friends as to whom I was seeing in Washington, worrying (often unnecessarily) over how I saw his image over specific issues. He was furious when the State Department thirty years later decided to publish (without consulting him) conversations with Nixon about Indira Gandhi during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, in which he was quoted as having castigated her as "a witch" and "a bitch."

As of 1973, his reputation stood at a high peak. Yes, there were stern critics who attacked him for the bombing of Cambodia, but it was no accident that Time had selected him for its Man of the Year. Victoria Legge-Bourke, as a twenty-one-year-old social secretary to the British ambassador Lord Cromer in 1971, recalled the news on TV of Kissinger's visit to China being "shatteringly exciting," so much so that when he came into the room she felt "quite gob-smacked." At the beginning of 1972, a columnist in the New York Times expressed widely felt views when he lauded Kissinger as "Mister Professident of the United States." The secret missions into "Deepest Unrecognized China...Mysterious flights in and out of Paris — in dead of night, presumably; certainly in disguise; false beard, smoked glasses" made of him a latter-day Scarlet Pimpernel. "One can imagine Leslie Howard playing this damned elusive Professident.... He has made a lot of red-blooded American boys want to be professors when they grow up."

At the year's end, the same journalist (Russell Baker) was jesting how (in an article headed "Public Celebrity Number One"), by sharp contrast to his somber boss, "unapt for capering to the public lute, and hence despair of editors," "Henry" suddenly appeared, "as though in fulfillment of ancient prophecy that a successor to Jackie would one day come, another great public star whom America could address, as its passion, by first name.

" 'Henry.'..."

How the owlish professor, ever eager for public approbation, must have loved all this — as much as the brooding genius in the Oval Office resented it — yet knowing there was no price at which he could do without "Henry"!

In sharp contrast to Nixon, with his obsessive loathing of journalists, Kissinger made a point of currying favor with them. He had his preferences and also his dislikes. Nixon, for instance, would never have had a real friend, like Joe Alsop*, among the media with whom he could relax and let his hair down. But with all of them Kissinger would go to immense trouble to see they got a story right, catering skillfully to their own characteristics, strengths, and vulnerabilities, what in more modern terms would be described as spin; or swiftly put them right, should they get it wrong. When one reads the list of his daily calls, how he found the time to do all the personal telephoning he did is a mystery, and a miracle. Those in favor at the time were led to believe they were being fed special treats; often they were not. The treats might vary subtly; but always there was a clear purpose behind each one. It was a subject at which Henry Kissinger was a master ahead of his day. Wrote the New York Times some three decades later: "He schmoozed, spun and lectured his way into the heart of Washington's media establishment, and that transformed him into Super-K, escort of starlets, perennial magazine cover story and master of foreign affairs." The schmoozing was also something of a two-way traffic. Many Washington journalists of the day could have competed for Private Eye's "Order of the Brown Nose": "Despite all appearances to the contrary," veteran CBS correspondent Marvin Kalb is quoted as remarking (during a chaotic period in 1975, the year after Nixon's downfall), "you still have some friends." While Ted Koppel of ABC News about the same time told Kissinger, "We are lucky to have had you."

On the other hand Kissinger would not hesitate to try to block publication of pieces he did not like. There were also ugly rumors, prior to Watergate, of Kissinger's involvement in the wiretapping of a number of eminent journalists in 1969-70. One of those concerned was the august correspondent of the London Sunday Times, Henry Brandon, a Czech refugee by origin — and himself a strangely opaque figure. While even close members of the Kennedy administration thought the issue exaggerated ("Every president did it"), Kissinger sidestepped the accusations, laying responsibility entirely at FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's door. Nevertheless, it was a long time before the Brandons would speak to Henry Kissinger. Walter Isaacson raises the query here: "Did Kissinger reinforce Nixon's dark side by catering to it?" though he comes up with an ambivalent conclusion.

Again, however, in sharpest contrast to the misanthropic Nixon, Kissinger actually derived pleasure from the media. At its most frivolous level he placed them in the category of "court jesters." He also loved the high, and not so high, life of Tinsel Town and Broadway; in between calls from the president, the Soviet ambassador, etc., his telcons abound with social calls from Frank Sinatra, Jill St. John, and Danny Kaye. All would find an open door when they came to Washington. "Yes, that's a good description," he remarked to me, when I had suggested the notion of the court jester.

"Well, that's just what they were, in a way — my court jesters. It was relaxation. They made no demands. Of course I never asked them for advice on foreign policy! Washington then was a very compressed city, compared with now. You were always on display. People had no other interests. They were obsessed by what the columnists said — the columnists were obsessed by themselves — whereas nobody in the rest of the country gave a damn."

Copyright © 2009 by Alistair Horne

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  • Posted August 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting, but could have been better

    I had read a previous book by Alistair Horne "To Lose a Battle", which was a excellent book (As good as WW2 book I have ever read), but this book is not as good.
    First, there are several factual errors in this book that really bothered me. A major one is that he stated the death of FBI directer J Edgar Hoover as occuring in 1973 (He died in 1972), and never was involved in the Watergate investigation, as this book alleges. There were many other mistakes, as when he refers to Rabin as a foreign minister (He was Israel's Ambassador to the U.S.). The information contained in this book was not researched as it should have been.
    Second, this book told the story too much from Kissingers point of view, and lacked objectivity. This showed up most glaringly (In my opinion), when the subject turned to Vietnam. Too often, the blame for the failure of the North Vietmanese to hold to the agreement was placed on the congress. In my view, this was completely disingenuous. The treater left large NVA armies in the south (What did Kissinger think was going to happen?). The American public would not have tolerated the reintroduction of American forces into Indochina, and it seem silly to think that sending South Vietnam military equipment could have saved it when 500,000 U.S. soldiers couldn't. U.S. bombing would have led to planes being shot down, and more POWs. It would have saved lives to "cut and run" in 1969. In other areas, such as Kissingers negotiations with the USSR and China, the results were mixed in my opinion (though I do applaud his opening to China in general).
    In general, this is a interesting book about a interesting time, but I was hoping for better from this author.

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    Posted March 5, 2011

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