The Trial of Henry Kissingerby Christopher Hitchens
"If the courts and lawyers of this country will not do their duty, we shall watch as the victims and survivors of this man pursue justice and vindication in their own dignified and painstaking way, and at their own expense, and we shall be put to shame."
Forget Pinochet, Milosevic, Hussein, Kim Jong-il, or Gaddafi: America need look no further than its own
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"If the courts and lawyers of this country will not do their duty, we shall watch as the victims and survivors of this man pursue justice and vindication in their own dignified and painstaking way, and at their own expense, and we shall be put to shame."
Forget Pinochet, Milosevic, Hussein, Kim Jong-il, or Gaddafi: America need look no further than its own lauded leaders for a war criminal whose offenses rival those of the most heinous dictators in recent history-Henry Kissinger.
Employing evidence based on firsthand testimony, unpublished documents, and new information uncovered by the Freedom of Information Act, and using only what would hold up in international courts of law, THE TRIAL OF HENRY KISSINGER outlines atrocities authorized by the former secretary of state in Indochina, Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus, East Timor, and in the plight of the Iraqi Kurds, "including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture."
With the precision and tenacity of a prosecutor, Hitchens offers an unrepentant portrait of a felonious diplomat who "maintained that laws were like cobwebs," and implores governments around the world, including our own, to bring him swiftly to justice.
A disturbing glimpse into the dark side of American power, whose consequences in remote corners of the globe are all too often ignored. Its countless victims have found an impassioned and skillful advocate in Christopher Hitchens."Sunday Times (London)"
An eloquent and devastating indictment of Henry Kissinger's involvement in the war in Indochina, genocide in East Timor, and many other acts of indiscriminate murder."Village Voice"
This book is so studiedly defamatory that if Kissinger values his reputation, he really must sue."Literary Review"
I find it contemptible."Henry Kissinger
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The Trial of Henry Kissinger
By Hitchens, Christopher
TwelveCopyright © 2012 Hitchens, Christopher
All right reserved.
Curtain-Raiser: The Secret of ’68
There exists, within the political class of Washington, DC, an open secret that is too momentous and too awful to tell. Though it is well known to academic historians, senior reporters, former cabinet members and ex-diplomats, it has never been summarized all at one time in any one place. The reason for this is, on first viewing, paradoxical. The open secret is in the possession of both major political parties, and it directly implicates the past statecraft of at least three former presidencies. Thus, its full disclosure would be in the interest of no particular faction. Its truth is therefore the guarantee of its obscurity; it lies like Poe’s “purloined letter” across the very aisle that signifies bipartisanship.
Here is the secret in plain words. In the fall of 1968, Richard Nixon and some of his emissaries and underlings set out to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam. The means they chose were simple: they privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one. In this way, they undercut both the talks themselves and the electoral strategy of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The tactic “worked,” in that the South Vietnamese junta withdrew from the talks on the eve of the election, thereby destroying the “peace plank” on which the Democrats had contested it. In another way, it did not “work,” because four years later the Nixon administration concluded the war on the same terms that had been on offer in Paris. The reason for the dead silence that still surrounds the question is that, in those intervening four years, some twenty thousand Americans and an uncalculated number of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians lost their lives. Lost them, that is to say, even more pointlessly than had those slain up to that point. The impact of those four years on Indochinese society, and on American democracy, is beyond computation. The chief beneficiary of the covert action, and of the subsequent slaughter, was Henry Kissinger.
I can already hear the guardians of consensus scraping their blunted quills to describe this as a “conspiracy theory.” I happily accept the challenge. Let us take, first, the White House journal of that renowned conspirator (and theorist of conspiracy) H.R. Haldeman, published in May 1994. I choose to start with this for two reasons. First, because, on the logical inference of “evidence against interest,” it is improbable that Mr. Haldeman would supply evidence of his knowledge of a crime unless he was (posthumously) telling the truth. Second, because it is possible to trace back each of his entries to its origin in other documented sources.
In January 1973, the Nixon-Kissinger administration—for which Mr. Haldeman took the minutes—was heavily engaged on two fronts. In Paris, Henry Kissinger was striving to negotiate “peace with honor” in Vietnam. In Washington, DC, the web of evidence against the Watergate burglars and buggers was beginning to tighten. On 8 January 1973, Haldeman records:
John Dean called to report on the Watergate trials, says that if we can prove in any way by hard evidence that our [campaign] plane was bugged in ’68, he thinks that we could use that as a basis to say we’re going to force Congress to go back and investigate ’68 as well as ’72, and thus turn them off.
Three days later, on 11 January 1973, Haldeman hears from Nixon (“The P,” as the Diaries call him):
On the Watergate question, he wanted me to talk to [Attorney General John] Mitchell and have him find out from [Deke] De Loach [of the FBI] if the guy who did the bugging on us in 1968 is still at the FBI, and then [FBI acting director Patrick] Gray should nail him with a lie detector and get it settled, which would give us the evidence we need. He also thinks I ought to move with George Christian [President Johnson’s former press secretary, then working with Democrats for Nixon], get LBJ to use his influence to turn off the Hill investigation with Califano, Hubert, and so on. Later in the day, he decided that wasn’t such a good idea, and told me not to do it, which I fortunately hadn’t done.
On the same day, Haldeman reports Henry Kissinger calling excitedly from Paris, saying “he’ll do the signing in Paris rather than Hanoi, which is the key thing.” He speaks also of getting South Vietnam’s President Thieu to “go along.” On the following day:
The P also got back on the Watergate thing today, making the point that I should talk to Connally about the Johnson bugging process to get his judgment as to how to handle it. He wonders if we shouldn’t just have Andreas go in and scare Hubert. The problem in going at LBJ is how he’d react, and we need to find out from De Loach who did it, and then run a lie detector on him. I talked to Mitchell on the phone on this subject and he said De Loach had told him he was up to date on the thing because he had a call from Texas. A Star reporter was making an inquiry in the last week or so, and LBJ got very hot and called Deke [De Loach] and said to him that if the Nixon people are going to play with this, that he would release [deleted material—national security], saying that our side was asking that certain things be done. By our side, I assume he means the Nixon campaign organization. De Loach took this as a direct threat from Johnson…. As he recalls it, bugging was requested on the planes, but was turned down, and all they did was check the phone calls, and put a tap on the Dragon Lady [Mrs. Anna Chennault].
This bureaucratic prose may be hard to read, but it needs no cipher to decode itself. Under intense pressure about the bugging of the Watergate building, Nixon instructed his chief of staff Haldeman, and his FBI contact Deke De Loach, to unmask the bugging to which his own campaign had been subjected in 1968. He also sounded out former President Johnson, through former senior Democrats like Governor John Connally, to gauge what his reaction to the disclosure might be. The aim was to show that “everybody does it.” (By another bipartisan paradox, in Washington the slogan “they all do it” is used as a slogan for the defense rather than, as one might hope, for the prosecution.)
However, a problem presented itself at once. How to reveal the 1968 bugging without at the same time revealing what that bugging had been about? Hence the second thoughts (“that wasn’t such a good idea…”). In his excellent introduction to The Haldeman Diaries, Nixon’s biographer Professor Stephen Ambrose characterizes the 1973 approach to Lyndon Johnson as “prospective blackmail,” designed to exert backstairs pressure to close down a congressional inquiry. But he also suggests that Johnson, himself no pushover, had some blackmail ammunition of his own. As Professor Ambrose phrases it, the Haldeman Diaries had been vetted by the National Security Council (NSC), and the bracketed deletion cited above is “the only place in the book where an example is given of a deletion by the NSC during the Carter administration. Eight days later Nixon was inaugurated for his second term. Ten days later Johnson died of a heart attack. What Johnson had on Nixon I suppose we’ll never know.”
The professor’s conclusion here is arguably too tentative. There is a well-understood principle known as “Mutual Assured Destruction,” whereby both sides possess more than enough material with which to annihilate the other. The answer to the question of what the Johnson administration “had” on Nixon is a relatively easy one. It was given in a book entitled Counsel to the President, published in 1991. Its author was Clark Clifford, the quintessential blue-chip Washington insider, who was assisted in the writing by Richard Holbrooke, the former Assistant Secretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations. In 1968, Clark Clifford was Secretary of Defense and Richard Holbrooke was a member of the United States negotiating team at the Vietnam peace talks in Paris.
From his seat in the Pentagon, Clifford had actually been able to read the intelligence transcripts that picked up and recorded what he terms a “secret personal channel” between President Thieu in Saigon and the Nixon campaign. The chief interlocutor at the American end was John Mitchell, then Nixon’s campaign manager and subsequently Attorney General (and subsequently Prisoner Number 24171-157 in the Alabama correctional system). He was actively assisted by Madame Anna Chennault, known to all as The Dragon Lady. A fierce veteran of the Taiwan lobby, and all-purpose right-wing intriguer, she was a social and political force in the Washington of her day and would rate a biography on her own.
Clifford describes a private meeting at which he, President Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and National Security Advisor Walt Rostow were present. Hawkish to a man, they kept Vice President Humphrey out of the loop. But, hawkish as they were, they were appalled at the evidence of Nixon’s treachery. They nonetheless decided not to go public with what they knew. Clifford says that this was because the disclosure would have ruined the Paris talks altogether. He could have added that it would have created a crisis of public confidence in United States institutions. There are some things that the voters can’t be trusted to know. And, even though the bugging had been legal, it might not have looked like fair play. (The Logan Act prohibits any American from conducting private diplomacy with a foreign power, but it is not very rigorously or consistently enforced.)
In the event, Thieu pulled out of the negotiations anyway, ruining them just two days before the election. Clifford is in no doubt of the advice on which he did so:
The activities of the Nixon team went far beyond the bounds of justifiable political combat. It constituted direct interference in the activities of the executive branch and the responsibilities of the Chief Executive, the only people with authority to negotiate on behalf of the nation. The activities of the Nixon campaign constituted a gross, even potentially illegal, interference in the security affairs of the nation by private individuals.
Perhaps aware of the slight feebleness of his lawyerly prose, and perhaps a little ashamed of keeping the secret for his memoirs rather than sharing it with the electorate, Clifford adds in a footnote:
It should be remembered that the public was considerably more innocent in such matters in the days before the Watergate hearings and the 1975 Senate investigation of the CIA.
Perhaps the public was indeed more innocent, if only because of the insider reticence of white-shoe lawyers like Clifford, who thought there were some things too profane to be made known. He claims now that he was in favor either of confronting Nixon privately with the information and forcing him to desist, or else of making it public. Perhaps this was indeed his view.
A more wised-up age of investigative reporting has brought us several updates on this appalling episode. And so has the very guarded memoir of Richard Nixon himself. More than one “back channel” was required for the Republican destabilization of the Paris peace talks. There had to be secret communications between Nixon and the South Vietnamese, as we have seen. But there also had to be an informant inside the incumbent administration’s camp—a source of hints and tips and early warnings of official intentions. That informant was Henry Kissinger. In Nixon’s own account, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, the disgraced elder statesman tells us that, in mid-September 1968, he received private word of a planned “bombing halt.” In other words, the Johnson administration would, for the sake of the negotiations, consider suspending its aerial bombardment of North Vietnam. This most useful advance intelligence, Nixon tells us, came “through a highly unusual channel.” It was more unusual even than he acknowledged. Kissinger had until then been a devoted partisan of Nelson Rockefeller, the matchlessly wealthy prince of liberal Republicanism. His contempt for the person and the policies of Richard Nixon was undisguised. Indeed, President Johnson’s Paris negotiators, led by Averell Harriman, considered Kissinger to be almost one of themselves. He had made himself helpful, as Rockefeller’s chief foreign policy advisor, by supplying French intermediaries with their own contacts in Hanoi. “Henry was the only person outside of the government we were authorized to discuss the negotiations with,” says Richard Holbrooke. “We trusted him. It is not stretching the truth to say that the Nixon campaign had a secret source within the US negotiating team.”
So the likelihood of a bombing halt, wrote Nixon, “came as no real surprise to me.” He added: “I told Haldeman that Mitchell should continue as liaison with Kissinger and that we should honor his desire to keep his role completely confidential.” It is impossible that Nixon was unaware of his campaign manager’s parallel role in colluding with a foreign power. Thus began what was effectively a domestic covert operation, directed simultaneously at the thwarting of the talks and the embarrassment of the Hubert Humphrey campaign.
Later in the month, on 26 September to be precise, and as recorded by Nixon in his memoirs, “Kissinger called again. He said that he had just returned from Paris, where he had picked up word that something big was afoot regarding Vietnam. He advised that if I had anything to say about Vietnam during the following week, I should avoid any new ideas or proposals.” On the same day, Nixon declined a challenge from Humphrey for a direct debate. On 12 October, Kissinger once again made contact, suggesting that a bombing halt might be announced as soon as 23 October. And so it might have been. Except that for some reason, every time the North Vietnamese side came closer to agreement, the South Vietnamese increased their own demands. We now know why and how that was, and how the two halves of the strategy were knit together. As far back as July, Nixon had met quietly in New York with the South Vietnamese ambassador, Bui Diem. The contact had been arranged by Anna Chennault. Bugging of the South Vietnamese offices in Washington, and surveillance of the Dragon Lady, showed how the ratchet operated. An intercepted cable from Diem to President Thieu on the fateful day of 23 October had him saying: “Many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm. They were alarmed by press reports to the effect that you had already softened your position.” The wiretapping instructions went to one Cartha De Loach, known as Deke to his associates, who was J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI liaison officer to the White House. We met him, you may recall, in H.R. Haldeman’s Diaries.
In 1999 the author Anthony Summers was finally able to gain access to the closed FBI file of intercepts of the Nixon campaign, which he published in his 2000 book The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon. He was also able to interview Anna Chennault. These two breakthroughs furnished him with what is vulgarly termed a “smoking gun” on the 1968 conspiracy. By the end of October 1968, John Mitchell had become so nervous about official surveillance that he ceased taking calls from Chennault. And President Johnson, in a conference call to the three candidates, Nixon, Humphrey and Wallace (allegedly to brief them on the bombing halt), had strongly implied that he knew about the covert efforts to stymie his Vietnam diplomacy. This call created near-panic in Nixon’s inner circle and caused Mitchell to telephone Chennault at the Sheraton Park Hotel. He then asked her to call him back on a more secure line. “Anna,” he told her, “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position, and I hope you made that clear to them…. Do you think they really have decided not to go to Paris?”
The reproduced FBI original document shows what happened next. On 2 November 1968, the agent reported as follows:
MRS ANNA CHENNAULT CONTACTED VIETNAMESE AMBASSADOR BUI DIEM, AND ADVISED HIM THAT SHE HAD RECEIVED A MESSAGE PROM HER BOSS (NOT FURTHER IDENTIFIED), WHICH HER BOSS WANTED HER TO GIVE PERSONALLY TO THE AMBASSADOR. SHE SAID THAT THE MESSAGE WAS THAT THE AMBASSADOR IS TO “HOLD ON, WE ARE GONNA WIN” AND THAT HER BOSS ALSO SAID “HOLD ON, HE UNDERSTANDS ALL OF IT.” SHE REPEATED THAT THIS IS THE ONLY MESSAGE. “HE SAID PLEASE TELL YOUR BOSS TO HOLD ON.” SHE ADVISED THAT HER BOSS HAD JUST CALLED FROM NEW MEXICO.
Nixon’s running mate, Spiro Agnew, had been campaigning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that day, and subsequent intelligence analysis revealed that he, and another member of his staff (the one principally concerned with Vietnam), had indeed been in touch with the Chennault camp.
The beauty of having Kissinger leaking from one side, and Anna Chennault and John Mitchell conducting a private foreign policy for Nixon on the other, was this. It enabled him to avoid being drawn into the argument over a bombing halt. And it further enabled him to suggest that it was the Democrats who were playing politics with the issue. On 25 October in New York, Nixon used his tried-and-tested tactic of circulating an innuendo while purporting to disown it. Of LBJ’s Paris diplomacy he said, “I am told that this spurt of activity is a cynical, last-minute attempt by President Johnson to salvage the candidacy of Mr. Humphrey. This I do not believe.”
Kissinger himself showed a similar ability to play both ends against the middle. In the late summer of 1968, on Martha’s Vineyard, he had offered Nelson Rockefeller’s files on Nixon to Professor Samuel Huntington, a close adviser to Hubert Humphrey. But when Huntington’s colleague and friend Zbigniew Brzezinski tried to get him to make good on the offer, Kissinger became shy. “I’ve hated Nixon for years,” he told Brzezinski. But the time wasn’t quite ripe for the handover. Indeed, it was a very close-run election, turning in the end on a difference of a few hundred thousand votes, and many hardened observers believe that the final difference was made when Johnson ordered a bombing halt on 31 October and the South Vietnamese made him look a fool by boycotting the peace talks the very next day. But had things gone the other way, Kissinger was a near-certainty for a senior job in a Humphrey administration.
With slight differences of emphasis, the larger pieces of this story appear in Haldeman’s work as cited, and in Clifford’s memoir. They are also partially rehearsed in President Johnson’s autobiography The Vantage Point, and in a long reflection on Indochina by William Bundy (one of the architects of the war) entitled rather tritely The Tangled Web. Senior members of the press corps, among them Jules Witcover in his history of 1968, Seymour Hersh in his study of Kissinger, and Walter Isaacson, editor of Time magazine, in his admiring but critical biography, have produced almost congruent accounts of the same abysmal episode. I myself parsed The Haldeman Diaries in The Nation in 1994. The only mention of it that is completely and utterly false, and false by any literary or historical standard, appears in the memoirs of Henry Kissinger himself. He writes just this:
Several Nixon emissaries—some self-appointed—telephoned me for counsel. I took the position that I would answer specific questions on foreign policy, but that I would not offer general advice or volunteer suggestions. This was the same response I made to inquiries from the Humphrey staff.
This contradicts even the self-serving memoir of the man who, having won the 1968 election by these underhand means, made as his very first appointment Henry Kissinger as National Security Advisor. One might not want to arbitrate a mendacity competition between the two men, but when he made this choice Richard Nixon had only once, briefly and awkwardly, met Henry Kissinger in person. He clearly formed his estimate of the man’s abilities from more persuasive experience than that. “One factor that had most convinced me of Kissinger’s credibility,” Nixon wrote later in his own delicious prose, “was the length to which he went to protect his secrecy.”
But that ghastly secret is now out. In the December 1968 issue of the establishment house organ Foreign Affairs, written months earlier but published a few days after his gazetting as Nixon’s right-hand man, there appeared Henry Kissinger’s own evaluation of the Vietnam negotiations. On every point of substance, he agreed with the line taken in Paris by the Johnson-Humphrey negotiators. One has to pause for an instant to comprehend the enormity of this. Kissinger had helped elect a man who had surreptitiously promised the South Vietnamese junta a better deal than they would get from the Democrats. The Saigon authorities then acted, as Bundy ruefully confirms, as if they did indeed have a deal. This meant, in the words of a later Nixon slogan, “Four More Years.” But four more years of an unwinnable and undeclared and murderous war, which was to spread before it burned out, and was to end on the same terms and conditions as had been on the table in the fall of 1968.
This was what it took to promote Henry Kissinger. To promote him from being a mediocre and opportunist academic to becoming an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity; the power worship and the absence of scruple; the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects were also present: the uncounted and expendable corpses; the official and unofficial lying about the cost; the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. Kissinger’s global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies.
By Way of Warning: A Brief Note on the 40 Committee
In many of the ensuing pages and episodes, I’ve found it essential to allude to the “40 Committee” or the “Forty Committee,” the semi-clandestine body of which Henry Kissinger was the chairman between 1969 and 1976. One does not need to picture some giant, octopuslike organization at the center of a web of conspiracy: however, it is important to know that there was a committee which maintained ultimate supervision over United States covert actions overseas (and, possibly, at home) during this period.
The CIA was originally set up by President Harry Truman at the beginning of the Cold War. In the first Eisenhower administration, it was felt necessary to establish a monitoring or watchdog body to oversee covert operations. This panel was known as the Special Group, and sometimes also referred to as the 54/12 Group, after the number of the National Security Council directive which set it up. By the time of President Johnson it was called the 303 Committee and during the Nixon and Ford administrations it was called the 40 Committee. Some believe that these changes of name reflect the numbers of later NSC directives; in fact the committee was known by the numbers of the successive rooms in the handsome Old Executive Office Building (now annexed to the neighboring White House) which used to shelter the three departments of “State, War and Navy,” in which it met. No mystery there.
If any fantastic rumors shroud the work of the committee, this may be the outcome of the absurd cult of secrecy that at one point surrounded it. At Senate hearings in 1973, Senator Stuart Symington was questioning William Colby, then Director of Central Intelligence, about the origins and evolution of the supervisory group:SENATOR SYMINGTON:
Very well. What is the name of the latest committee of this character?MR. COLBY:
Forty Committee.SENATOR SYMINGTON:
Who is the chairman?MR. COLBY:
Well, again, I would prefer to go into executive session on the description of the Forty Committee, Mr. Chairman.SENATOR SYMINGTON:
As to who is the chairman, you would prefer an executive session?MR. COLBY:
The chairman—all right, Mr. Chairman—Dr. Kissinger is the chairman, as the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
Kissinger held this position ex officio, in other words. His colleagues at the time were Air Force General George Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; William P. Clements, Jr., the Deputy Secretary of Defense; Joseph Sisco, the Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs; and the Director of Central Intelligence, William Colby.
With slight variations, those holding these positions have been the permanent members of the Forty Committee which, as President Ford phrased it in the first public reference by a president to the group’s existence, “reviews every covert operation undertaken by our government.” An important variation was added by President Nixon, who appointed his former campaign manager and attorney general, John Mitchell, to sit on the committee, the only attorney general to have done so. The founding charter of the CIA prohibits it from taking any part in domestic operations: in January 1975 Attorney General Mitchell was convicted of numerous counts of perjury, obstruction and conspiracy to cover up the Watergate burglary, which was carried out in part by former CIA operatives. He became the first attorney general to serve time in jail.
We have met Mr. Mitchell, in concert with Mr. Kissinger, before. The usefulness of this note, I hope and believe, is that it supplies a thread which will be found throughout this narrative. Whenever any major US covert undertaking occurred between the years 1969 and 1976, Henry Kissinger may be at least presumed to have had direct knowledge of, and responsibility for, it. If he claims that he did not, then he is claiming not to have been doing a job to which he clung with great bureaucratic tenacity. And, whether or not he cares to accept the responsibility, the accountability is his in any case.
Even while compelled to concentrate on brute realities, one must never lose sight of that element of the surreal that surrounds Henry Kissinger. Paying a visit to Vietnam in the middle 1960s, when many technocratic opportunists were still convinced that the war was worth fighting and could be won, the young Henry reserved judgment on the first point but developed considerable private doubts on the second. Empowered by Nelson Rockefeller with a virtual free hand to develop contacts of his own, he had gone so far as to involve himself with an initiative that extended to direct personal contact with Hanoi. He became friendly with two Frenchmen who had a direct line to the Communist leadership in North Vietnam’s capital. Raymond Aubrac, a French civil servant who was a friend of Ho Chi Minh, made common cause with Herbert Marcovich, a French biochemist, and began a series of trips to North Vietnam. On their return, they briefed Kissinger in Paris. He in his turn parlayed their information into high-level conversations in Washington, relaying the actual or potential negotiating positions of Pham Van Dong and other Communist statesmen to Robert McNamara. (In the result, the relentless bombing of the North made any “bridge-building” impracticable. In particular, the now-forgotten American destruction of the Paul Doumer bridge outraged the Vietnamese side.)
This weightless mid-position, which ultimately helped enable his double act in 1968, allowed Kissinger to ventriloquize Governor Rockefeller and to propose, by indirect means, a future détente with America’s chief rivals. In his first major address as a candidate for the Republican nomination in 1968, Rockefeller spoke ringingly of how “in a subtle triangle with Communist China and the Soviet Union, we can ultimately improve our relations with each—as we test the will for peace of both.” This foreshadowing of a later Kissinger strategy might appear at first reading to illustrate prescience. But Governor Rockefeller had no more reason than Vice President Humphrey to suppose that his ambitious staffer would defect to the Nixon camp, risking and postponing this same détente in order later to take credit for a debased simulacrum of it.
Morally speaking, Kissinger treated the concept of superpower rapprochement in the same way as he treated the concept of a negotiated settlement in Vietnam: as something contingent to his own needs. There was a time to feign support of it, and a time to denounce it as weak-minded and treacherous. And there was a time to take credit for it. Some of those who “followed orders” in Indochina may lay a claim to that notoriously weak defense. Some who even issued the orders may now tell us that they were acting sincerely at the time. But Kissinger cannot avail himself of this alibi. He always knew what he was doing, and he embarked upon a second round of protracted warfare having knowingly helped to destroy an alternative which he always understood was possible. This increases the gravity of the charge against him. It also prepares us for his improvised and retrospective defense against that charge—that his immense depredations eventually led to “peace.” When he falsely and prematurely announced that “peace is now at hand” in October 1972, he made a boastful claim that could have been genuinely (and much less bloodily) made in 1967. And when he claimed credit for subsequent superpower contacts, he was announcing the result of a secret and corrupt diplomacy that had originally been proposed as an open and democratic one. In the meantime, he had illegally eavesdropped on and shadowed American citizens and public servants whose misgivings about the war, and about unconstitutional authority, were mild compared to those of Messieurs Aubrac and Marcovich. In establishing what lawyers call the mens rea, we can say that in Kissinger’s case he was fully aware of, and is entirely accountable for, his own actions.
Upon taking office at Richard Nixon’s side in the winter of 1968, it was Kissinger’s task to be plus royaliste que le roi in two respects. He had to confect a rationale of “credibility” for punitive action in an already devastated Vietnamese theater, and he had to second his principal’s wish that he form part of a “wall” between the Nixon White House and the Department of State. The term “two-track” was later to become commonplace. Kissinger’s position on both tracks, of promiscuous violence abroad and flagrant illegality at home, was decided from the start. He does not seem to have lacked relish for either commitment; one hopes faintly that this was not the first twinge of the “aphrodisiac.”
President Johnson’s “bombing halt” had not lasted long by any standards, even if one remembers that its original conciliatory purpose had been sordidly undercut. Averell Harriman, who had been LBJ’s chief negotiator in Paris, later testified to Congress that the North Vietnamese had withdrawn 90 percent of their forces from the northern two provinces of South Vietnam, in October–November 1968, in accordance with the agreement of which the halt might have formed a part. In the new context, however, this withdrawal could be interpreted as a sign of weakness, or even as a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Excerpted from The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Hitchens, Christopher Copyright © 2012 by Hitchens, Christopher. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Christopher Hitchens was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Slate, and The Atlantic, and the author of numerous books, including works on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and George Orwell. He also wrote the international bestsellers god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitch-22: A Memoir, and Arguably. He died in December 2011.
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