Marvin Kalb and Bernard Kalb
Doubtless the most famous of the national security advisers, Henry Kissinger, who served
during the Nixon Administration, converted the NSC staff into another—and more impor-
tant—Department of State within the White House. The Kalbs profile his meteoric career
through the 1960s and 1970s, and reveal a few sides of this notable statesman's complex
Henry Alfred Kissinger is an extravaganza—all by himself. At fifty-one, after only five years in Washington, this energetic balancer of power has emerged from the relative obscurity of a Harvard professorship to become the most celebrated and controversial diplomat of our time. He has come to be recognized as the very portrait of American diplomacy, the way George Washington is identified with the dollar bill. A legend in half a decade, he has been described as, among other things, the "second most powerful man in the world," "conscience of the Administration," "official apologist," "compassionate hawk," "vigilant dove," "Dr. Strangelove," "household word," "the playboy of the Western Wing," "Nixon's Metternich," "Nixon's secret agent," "the Professident of the United States," "Jackie Onassis of the Nixon Administration," "Nobel warrior," "Mideast cyclone," "reluctant wiretapper," and "Secretary of the world"—a long list, especially in Washington, where praise of any sort is the only thing that never exceeds its budget.
From the beginning, Kissinger outraged the gray men who guarded the corridors of Richard Nixon's White House. His accent, his brilliance, his flair for self-promotion labeled him a heretic, destined for banishment. Yet it turned out that they—the Haldemans, the Ehrlichmans, those caught up in the torrent of Watergate—were to go, and he was to go on to even greater heights. From his start in the basement of the West Wing of the White House, as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, he would vault to the seventh floor of the State Department as Secretary of State, a position once held by Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Webster, and John Foster Dulles. It was an unprecedented leap for someone of his origins—a refugee from Nazi Germany, a Jew. En route, Kissinger acquired such a formidable reputation that, by the beginning of 1974, he would be viewed by many of Nixon's critics as the sole legitimizer of a President discredited by Watergate. Whereas Kissinger had once needed Nixon as a channel to power, Nixon now needed Kissinger to help him remain in power. Their relationship had become so topsy-turvy that the academic aide at Nixon's side was seen as perhaps the last fortress against the unmaking of a President.
Henry Kissinger arrived in Washington at a ripe moment internationally. The United States and the world, he recognized, were in a fluid, transitional period. For the first time, the nuclear superpowers were beginning to appreciate the limits of their own power and the need to find some way of reducing tensions. And the other fellow's increasingly bigger bomb wasn't the only convincing reason; wherever Kissinger looked, he saw significant changes taking place within countries and among countries.
From Marvin Kalb and Bernard Kalb, Kissinger (Boston: Little, Brown, 1974), 3–13.
The brothers Marvin and Bernard Kalb are journalists who have covered U.S. foreign affairs.