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George Will on Henry Kissinger

George Will on Henry Kissinger

George Will/ The Washington Post

The list of secretaries of state includes many giants of public stature - Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, James Madison, James Monroe, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, Daniel Webster, William Seward, Elihu Root, William Jennings Bryan, Charles Evans Hughes, Edward Stettinius, George Shultz, and James Baker. However, no one brought more style and flair to this office than the first immigrant to the post.

Although Henry Kissinger ranks, with John Quincy Adams, John Hay, and Dean Acheson, among the most intellectually sophisticated and culturally cosmopolitan American secretaries of state, even in his 10th decade, love for this country had an almost childlike purity. This suited him, who had seen Hitler's Germany through the eyes of a child.

Kissinger, who died Wednesday at the age of 100, made America less American by inoculating it with a European sense of life's irredeemably tragic dimension. Yet, as immigrants often are, he was a romantic for the nation that accepted him and allowed him to grow.

Kissinger wove romanticism with cynicism while teaching realism to this nation. What critics called elegant immorality, he considered the granite foundation of true morality—the confrontation with unpleasant and intractable facts. One such is the temporality (impermanence) of permanence (permanence) in the international system.

A consequence of this maxim is the inevitable imperative of power balances. Hence, Kissinger's most outstanding achievement was helping, as Richard Nixon's national security adviser, bring China into the game of nations. Kissinger admired the Chinese as "scientists of balance, artists of relativity." He also admired Charles de Gaulle, "son of a continent covered in ruins," who understood that finality is a chimera: "History knows no resorts and plateaus" because "managing a balance of power is a permanent undertaking, not an endeavor that has a predictable end.”

Kissinger became Secretary in the most eventful year of the post-World War II era, which marked, like a tectonic crash, the creative quarter-century of American diplomacy that began with the Marshall Plan of 1948. In 1973, while the authority of the President faded, and an ephemeral "peace" was concluded in Vietnam, a revolution in energy prices was precipitated by the Yom Kippur War, a crisis on the scale of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the most dangerous moment of the War Cold.

Politics has its physics, and Kissinger's gluttony for power, his sharp elbows in bureaucratic warfare, and his erratic inability to tolerate idiots combined to make him enemies in Washington, which admires few for many. Time. Although he came from the academic world to be a planet revolving around the sun of presidential power, he stayed to become the sun himself. When Nixon, who had put Kissinger on the path to glory, resigned, one of the first decisions of his successor, Gerald Ford, was to reassure an anxious world that Kissinger's hand would remain in foreign policy. By the time Kissinger left office, he had ranked, along with George Marshall, among America's most historic public officials who had never served in elected or judicial office.

Kissinger tempered his strategic pessimism with tactical optimism. He thought that, as a Confederate cavalry officer, he would accumulate time for the West with courage and skill. The Soviet Union, like Gulliver, could be held back by numerous tiny threads of political, arms control, and economic agreements.

Kissinger's pessimism about Western exhaustion arose from two miscalculations. He underestimated the resistance of the bourgeois societies of the West. One reason he was wrong about the resilience of these societies to withstand the course of the Cold War was his overestimation of the economic backbone of the Soviet system.

A decade after Kissinger left the State Department, communism, whose creed derived from the economic determinism of Marxism, learned a brutal, indeed fatal, lesson in the importance of economic factors. 1976 Ronald Reagan challenged Ford for the Republican nomination, running against Kissingerism. And at the 1986 summit in Iceland, Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev that if there was an intensified arms race, he could guarantee America would win. The statesman's task, Kissinger believed, is "to rescue a predetermined element under the pressure of circumstances." He helped manage the Cold War until the nation elected a president determined not to work but to win the war.

What Andre Malraux said of De Gaulle can be said of Kissinger: Steeped in history, he was "a man of yesterday and the day after tomorrow."

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