Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger is dead. This has lead me to have another think about why I disliked him so much. I'm writing my thoughts down in an attempt to coordinate them.

I want to avoid the simplistic approach of military stuff kills a lot of people, he made that happen, he's bad. In the middle of the Cold War, things were a bit more complicated, and I don't have the analytical powers to look at history and determine what would have happened otherwise.

I wish I had. If I could know the outcomes of a non-Kissinger approach, I could have much stronger convictions of my belief. Otherwise, all I can do is criticise the overall approach, the internal logic, and the apparent effectiveness.

And I'm not a real historian. My half-assed analysis may actually be totally wrong. I guess if I write it down people can tell me where the biggest mistakes are.

Kissinger apparently didn't like the label of "Realpolitik". However, from his actions it's clear that in the fight against communism he either didn't actually value liberal democracy, or took such a "the ends justify the means" approach to render it meaningless.

He would support authoritarians and despots in order to undermine communists. This had a number of problems. It didn't advance the cause of liberal democrary, only do its best to stay communism. It meant that several horrible regimes could be seen as being due to, and supported by the US. It destroyed trust, and made it look like the US didn't really stand for anything. It probably made communism look that bit more attactive for a small, poor country, if the alternative was a fascist puppet government installed by the US.

In short, there are people who pride themselvess on making difficult decisions, and Kissinger was one of those. "Difficult decisions" really mean decisions that's going to hurt someone (generally not the decider) and likely be unpopular.

The thing about making difficult decisions, is they still need to be good decisions. If you make difficult, bad decisions, you're just hurting people. Some people seem to think difficult decisions have intrinsic value. They don't. They're only good if they're good.

Strategically, they don't look great. If you want to keep the US democratic via some kind of domino theory, having a bunch of authoritarians that you support and a bunch of countries thinking you'll bomb or coup them on the thinnest pre-text is probably not a great place to be.

Tactically? Well, despite all the bombing in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, they lost that war. And Cambodia got Khmer Rouge. Maybe things would look worse in an alternate timeline, but that looks pretty unsuccessful.

The world is not a scientific experiment, we can't know how it'd have gone otherwise. Yet despite the failures, despite supporting evil regimes coming back to bite, the conviction remained that killing lots of people is the best way forward.

In some ways, he was an incredibly Nixon advisor. Watergate was a stupid, bad idea, but it was sneaky and tricky, so they did it anyway. Secretly recording conversations in the White House? Might well come back to bite him, but it's sneaky, so let's do it.

Kissinger was so enthralled with the idea of doing what was necessary, that he did the unnecessary. And millions died.

Posted 2023-12-01.