The Secret Life of Henry Kissinger
Hertsgaard, Mark, The Nation
THE SECRET LIFE OF HENRY KISSINGER Nothing, it seems, succeeds like failure. How else to explain the media visibility of Henry Kissinger during the Persian Gulf crisis? After all, the former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser's record of achievement in that part of the world has been checkered at best. Not only did he help to make the Middle East war of 1973 inevitable by "his need to dominate [then-Secretary of State William] Rogers and his willful misunderstanding of the limits of Soviet influence inside Egypt," as Seymour Hersh argued in The Price of Power, but he was also the man who pressured President Carter into allowing the deposed Shah of Iran into the United States in 1979, thus precipitating the calamitous and entirely predictable seizure of the American Embassy and hostages in Teheran.
Nevertheless, in the weeks after Iraq invaded Kuwait, Kissinger was a ubiquitous presence on the nation's airwaves and in newspaper columns. He was interviewed on ABC's This Week With David Brinkley, published at great length on the opinion page of The Washington Post (and, though the Post-Los Angeles Times syndication service, in newspapers across the country) and respectfully quoted in The New York Times. He was, as they say, a player again.
Not that he ever truly lost access to ruling circles. Since leaving government in 1977, Kissinger has maintained a lucrative global network of business and political contacts and has made a special point of cultivating influence in the news media. Besides circulating opinion columns through the Post-Times syndicate, he has served on the board of CBS Inc. and has been a paid consultant to both NBC News and ABC News.
Whatever one thinks of Kissinger's deeds on a substantive level, the "most favored expert" status that the U.S. media have bestowed on him is odd, if only because of his demonstrated record of contempt for an independent press and the free flow of information upon which it depends. Kissinger has admitted to wiretapping reporters and his own aides during his years as Richard Nixon's National Security Adviser. Kissinger requested the wiretaps (which were handled by former F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover and by Alexander Haig, then the White House Chief of Staff) in order to find out who was leaking information to the press about American policy toward Vietnam. Kissinger, of course, was hardly opposed to leaks in principle; he spent a good portion of his working days spoon-feeding such influential denizens of the Washington press corps as Time's Hugh Sidey and CBS's Marvin Kalb. But Kissinger trusted no one else with this delicate task, which is perhaps understandable, given the considerable distance between his private version of events and the reality of his policies. Indeed, his wiretaps can be seen as part of a multifaceted White House campaign to keep the nation ignorant of the true nature of his and Nixon's foreign policy.
Kissinger's obsession with keeping everyone -- the citizenry, the Congress, even his own Administration colleagues -- in the dark about his actions is displayed in all its banal iniquity in the State Department document printed on page 492. So are his casual disdain for law and constitutional procedure, his disregard for the human consequences of his policies, his bizarre personal paranoia and his petulant sense of self-importance. "You have a responsibility to recognize that we are living in a revolutionary situation," he admonishes aides at one point, adding ominously, "Everything on paper will be used against me."
What provoked this particular outburst on Kissinger's part was the State Department's dispatch of the "cable on [East] Timor" that he refers to in the third sentence of the minutes. As Secretary of State, Kissinger had just returned from a tour of Asia with President Gerald Ford. One objective of this tour seems to have been psychological. Saigon had fallen to North Vietnamese forces that April, and Kissinger apparently thought it urgent to send a message to friends and foes alike that the United States remained a power to be reckoned with and would not retreat an inch in the global struggle against Soviet and Chinese "adventurism. …