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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kissinger and Power

Henry Kissinger and the American Century by Jeremy Suri

Kissinger has been dissected by numerous authors and Jeremy Suri, in Kissinger… does not attempt to compete with them. He takes a look at Kissinger’s foreign policy influence (considerable) and from where his ideas have sprung. As a Jewish refugee from Germany, Kissinger was influenced very heavily by .. Kramer, who believed that power was the only way to peace. Kissinger was to become the embodiment of that belief and he had the influence to bend numerous administrations to his way of thinking. Having seen the failure of the Weimar Republic, Kissinger set about preventing its failures. Vietnam had less to do with Vietnam than it did preserving the French empire. He was afraid that the loss of Vietnam would undermine and destabilize France and thus Europe. His was a very Eurocentric policy.

Indeed, that influence is still apparent. Using his Kissinger Associates consulting firm, he has as clients, many global companies including Coca Cola as well as a variety of companies. He fails to see the inherent conflict of interest in consulting for countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United States. That he should fail to see the problem reflects his enormous hubris and self-confidence. I suspect his true motivation is to promote his own self-interest, but that’s merely speculation. He continues to fly between countries, visiting with top leaders, telling each what the leaders of the other have to say and think; useful perhaps, but fraught with danger nevertheless.

One of Suri’s themes is to discover how well-intentioned men wind up creating such bad ends. He suggests three reasons: a lack of humility, power becomes trap; failure to reassess one’s assumptions; and the centralization of power. It would be fascinating to have a conversation with the current crop of candidates about how they might avoid the same pitfalls.
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