Henry Kissinger, the controversial Nobel Peace Prize winner and diplomatic powerhouse whose service under two presidents left an indelible mark on American foreign policy, died Wednesday at the age of 100, according to his geopolitical consultancy Kissinger Associates Inc.
Kissinger died at his home in Connecticut, Kissinger Associates said.
Kissinger had been active beyond his centenary, attending meetings at the White House, publishing a book on leadership styles and testifying before a Senate committee on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. In July 2023, he made a surprise visit to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In the 1970s, he participated in many of the decade’s defining global events while serving as Secretary of State under Republican President Richard Nixon. The German-born Jewish refugee’s efforts led to China’s diplomatic opening, historic negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union on arms control, and the expansion of ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors and the Paris peace accords with North Vietnam.
Kissinger’s reign as the principal architect of American foreign policy declined with Nixon’s resignation in 1974, amid the Watergate scandal. Yet he continued to be a diplomatic force under Nixon’s successor, President Gerald Ford, and to express strong opinions throughout his life.
While many praised Kissinger for his genius and vast experience, others called him a war criminal for his support of anti-communist dictatorships, particularly in Latin America. In his later years, his travels were limited by efforts by other countries to arrest or question him about past U.S. foreign policy.
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His 1973 Peace Prize – awarded jointly to North Vietnamese Le Duc Tho, who refused it – was one of the most controversial of all time. Two members of the Nobel committee resigned following the selection and questions arose regarding the secret US bombing of Cambodia.
Ford called Kissinger a “supersecretary of state” but also highlighted his irritability and assertiveness, which critics were more likely to characterize as paranoia and selfishness. Even Ford said, “Henry, in his mind, never made a mistake. »
“He had the thinnest skin of any public figure I’ve ever known,” Ford said in an interview shortly before his death in 2006.
With his austere expression and deep German-accented voice, Kissinger was not really a rock star but had the image of a ladies’ man, scrounging up starlets around Washington and New York when he was single. Power, he said, was the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Voluntary on politics, Kissinger was reticent on personal matters, although he once told a reporter that he considered himself a cowboy hero, going off on his own.
From Harvard to the White House
Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born in Furth, Germany, on May 27, 1923, and moved to the United States with his family in 1938, ahead of the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jews.
Anglicizing his name to Henry, Kissinger became a naturalized American citizen in 1943, served in the military in Europe during World War II, and went to Harvard University on a scholarship, earning a master’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1954. He was at Harvard University. teacher for the next 17 years.
During much of this period, Kissinger served as a consultant to government agencies, including in 1967, when he acted as an intermediary for the State Department in Vietnam. He used his connections with President Lyndon Johnson’s administration to relay information about the peace negotiations to the Nixon camp.
When Nixon’s promise to end the Vietnam War won him the 1968 presidential election, he brought Kissinger to the White House as national security adviser.
But the process of “Vietnamization” – shifting the burden of war from half a million American troops to the South Vietnamese – was long and bloody, punctuated by massive American bombing of North Vietnam, mining of the ports of North and bombings. from Cambodia.
Kissinger declared in 1972 that “peace is near” in Vietnam, but the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973 were little more than a prelude to the final Communist takeover of the South two years later .
In 1973, in addition to his role as national security advisor, Kissinger was appointed secretary of state, giving him undisputed authority in foreign affairs.
The intensifying Arab-Israeli conflict launched Kissinger on his first so-called “shuttle” mission, a highly personal, high-pressure form of diplomacy for which he became famous.
Thirty-two days spent shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus helped Kissinger forge a lasting disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
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In an effort to diminish Soviet influence, Kissinger contacted its main communist rival, China, and made two trips there, including a secret one to meet with Premier Zhou Enlai. The result was Nixon’s historic summit in Beijing with Chairman Mao Zedong and the eventual formalization of relations between the two countries.
Diplomatic skills, but with limits
The Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to resign barely touched Kissinger, who was not connected to the cover-up and remained secretary of state when Ford took office in the summer of 1974. But Ford replaced him as national security advisor with the goal of hearing more voices on foreign policy.
Later that year, Kissinger traveled with Ford to Vladivostok, Soviet Union, where the president met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and agreed to a basic framework for a strategic arms pact. The agreement ended Kissinger’s pioneering efforts at détente, which led to an easing of U.S.-Soviet tensions.
But Kissinger’s diplomatic skills had their limits. In 1975 he was accused of failing to persuade Israel and Egypt to agree to a second disengagement in the Sinai.
And during the 1971 India-Pakistan war, Nixon and Kissinger were heavily criticized for their tilt towards Pakistan. Kissinger was heard calling Indians “bastards” – a remark he later said he regretted.
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Like Nixon, he feared the spread of left-wing ideas in the Western Hemisphere, and his actions in response would create deep suspicion of Washington on the part of many Latin Americans for years.
In 1970, he plotted with the CIA on how best to destabilize and overthrow the Marxist but democratically elected Chilean president Salvador Allende, while declaring in a memo following Argentina’s bloody coup in 1976 that he had to encourage military dictators.
When Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, in 1976, Kissinger’s days in government power were largely over. The next Republican in the White House, Ronald Reagan, distanced himself from Kissinger, whom he saw as out of step with his conservative constituency.
After leaving government, Kissinger established a very expensive and powerful consulting firm in New York, which offered advice to the world’s corporate elite. He served on corporate boards and various foreign policy and security forums, wrote books, and became a regular media commentator on international affairs.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush selected Kissinger to head an investigative committee. But outcry from Democrats, who saw a conflict of interest with many of his consulting firm’s clients, forced Kissinger to resign from his post.
Divorced from his first wife, Ann Fleischer, in 1964, he married Nancy Maginnes, an aide to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in 1974. He had two children by his first wife.
(Editing by Bill Trott, Diane Craft and Rosalba O’Brien, additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb)