UNITED STATES: Henry Kissinger, a former diplomat and presidential advisor, turns 100 on Saturday, outliving many of his political contemporaries who helped the United States navigate one of its most turbulent eras, including the presidency of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War.
Born in Germany on May 27, 1923, Kissinger is best known for his pivotal role in shaping American foreign policy during the 1960s and 1970s, including efforts to eventually withdraw the country from Vietnam. However, before that could happen, he became irrevocably tied to many of the conflict’s most contentious decisions.
The centenary of David Kissinger’s birth “might have an air of inevitability for anyone familiar with his force of character and love of historical symbolism,” David Kissinger wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday.
He has not only lived longer than the majority of his contemporaries, notable critics, and pupils, but he has also kept up his unflagging activity far into his nineties.
This week, the elder Kissinger will celebrate by travelling to New York, his native Fürth, Germany, and London, penned David Kissinger.
In recent years, Kissinger has remained influential among Washington’s decision-makers as an elder statesman. He maintains an international consulting business through which he gives speeches in the German accent he has not lost since fleeing the Nazi regime with his family when he was a teenager. He has advised Republican and Democratic presidents, including the White House during the Trump administration.
During his eight years as a national security adviser and secretary of state, Kissinger was involved in significant foreign policy developments, such as the first instance of “shuttle diplomacy” to bring about peace in the Middle East, covert talks to thaw relations between the two nascent superpowers with China, and the instigation of the Paris peace talks to put an end to the Vietnam War and American military presence there.
When North Vietnamese communist forces overran Saigon in 1975 as the surviving American personnel evacuated what is now Ho Chi Minh City, Kissinger and Nixon got the brunt of the blame from American friends.
Kissinger was also accused of planning the conflict’s spread into Laos and Cambodia, which helped the genocidal Khmer Rouge dictatorship rise to power and slaughter an estimated 2 million Cambodians.
Among his accolades, Kissinger was acknowledged as a key figure in the detente era, a diplomatic endeavour between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1979 to ease Cold War tensions through trade and armaments agreements, particularly the Strategic Armaments Limitation Talks Accords.
Throughout Nixon’s presidency, which spanned from 1969 to 1974, Kissinger remained one of the president’s most dependable advisors, and the Watergate scandal, which led to the 37th president’s impeachment, further increased his influence.
In 1977, Gerald Ford, who had just taken over as president after his predecessor resigned, gave Kissinger the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying that he had “wielded America’s great power with wisdom and compassion in the service of peace.”
Others have charged Kissinger with being more interested in power than peace while in Washington, implementing realpolitik measures that favoured American interests while helping or enforcing authoritarian governments in Pakistan, Chile, and Indonesia.