China shares praise, Cambodia throws shade, Germans show pride … and from Moscow?
PARIS — The death of Henry Kissinger at the age of 100 marks not only the end of a U.S. foreign policy legend, but the end of an era in geopolitical history. The controversial German-born architect of late 20th-century American power influenced statecraft around the world before, during and well after his years as U.S. secretary of state and national security advisor under two presidents.
Whether considered the consummate “Machiavellian” operator, bloodstained Cold War puppet master or the embodiment of the American Dream, the entire world is marking the passing of this highly divisive and influential diplomat and power broker:
Kissinger is getting near-hero treatment in China, noting his contribution to improving the country’s relations with the U.S. and the rest of the West by helping to orchestrate then President Richard Nixon’s breakthrough visit to Beijing with Mao Zedong in 1972.
State-run news agency China News Service praises Kissinger for having had a “remarkable” and “legendary” life, praising his vision in which he could “see through the world.” The Chinese daily calls Kissinger an “old friend of the Chinese people”, adored by many Chinese politicians and citizens of many generations and backgrounds.
Press reports noted that the former Secretary of State had stepped foot in China more than 100 times over 40 years, most recently this past July, meeting leaders from Chairman Mao and Xi Jinping. He was even shown how to eat with chopsticks from the first Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.
His first visit was in July 1971 as part of a secret meeting to help arrange the Nixon summit, which occurred in February of the following year. Since then, Kissinger’s fondness for China grew, and he advocated cooperation between the U.S and China as “vital” to world peace and development.
The Chinese daily mourns Kissinger’s death, “There is one less legendary figure in the diplomatic world,” he has finished his “legendary life” and now “an era has gradually passed away with his departure.”
On its homepage, the website for the Khmer-language, Phnom Penh-based daily Kampuchea Thmey chooses not to refer to Henry Kissinger by name in its headline, instead writing that “The man behind the U.S. bombing that killed 50,000 Cambodians has died,” referring to the former Secretary of State’s role in the 1969-1970 tactical bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War known as Operation Menu.
For some countries, Henry Kissinger is an interesting figure to deconstruct philosophically, but for others, his choices and actions had very real consequences. Nowhere does Kissinger’s shadow loom larger than in Chile, where he was instrumental in the coup d'état by Augusto Pinochet in 1973 that overthrew Salvador Allende, who would up dead by murder or suicide.
Kissinger once summarized his decision to intervene in an address to the Forty Committee, a secret operations group once headed by him, when he said: “I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people.”
Chilean newspapers, such as the daily El Mercurio, based in Santiago, featured Kissinger’s death prominently on Thursday’s front pages: “Both admired and criticized, he dominated U.S. foreign relations and was a determining protagonist of the big decisions which left a mark on the world in the post-war.”
The United States will be replaying Kissinger’s life and analyzing his legacy for days and weeks to come. For now, virtually all major newspapers featured his death prominently: The Washington Post summed it up this way: “Statesman exerted an outsize role in global affairs, at great cost”. A man who needs no introductions.
Henry “the German” Kissinger. That’s how Die Welt’s Torsten Krauel titles his in-depth look back on the career of “the anti-idealist” who “achieved great foreign policy successes and shaped an era.” Bavaria-born Kissinger, Krauel writes, “understood very well the fear of the powerful, based on his experiences in Germany.”
Die Welt concludes that although a highly controversial figure, “No German emigrant, however, has achieved as much success in U.S. politics as Kissinger.”
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had written a letter to Kissinger’s family for his 100th birthday in June, in which he mentions the diplomat’s German roots and his visit for his hometown of Fürth: “It touched me very much to see that the country that had once driven him away had now become a patch of home for him again.” Writing about Kissinger’s momentous June visit to Fürth, journalist Mathias Döpfner paints the following scene at a state reception, in the inner courtyard of the Ludwig Erhard Center:
At some point a former New York correspondent for a German television station arrives. The two know each other briefly from back in the day. Kissinger asks: “And what are you doing now?” The correspondent says: “Nothing, I’m retired.” Kissinger replies without missing a beat, almost frightened: “Nothing? That’s unbearable.”
The German daily also quotes the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, as saying that “With his death, a piece of Bavarian-Jewish history has been lost today.”
May 18, 1973, St. Nom-la-Breteche, France: Henry Kissinger walks with Vietnamese leader Le DucC Tho.
Keystone Press Agency/ZUMA
According to French daily Les Echos, the death of Kissinger marks the passing of a true symbol of the 20th century, an icon of the American brand. It was not only his far-reaching political influence and diplomatic power that propelled Kissinger into mythical status, but the very ladder which he had to climb to get there.
“He was the embodiment of the American Dream, a son of German immigrants fleeing persecutions of Europe in the 1930s who achieved glory and international renown. He became, in the eyes of the world, the “last great diplomat,” playing a prominent role and leaving his mark from Vietnam and China to the Middle East, as well as in Latin America where he strengthened, in the shadow of military dictatorships and coups d'état, the influence of the United States.”
In a portrait of Kissinger called “The Last Diplomat,” Les Echos compares him to Cardinal Richelieu, the French political operator of the 16th century whom Kissinger “admired so much.” His “constantly reiterated goal” of keeping the United States as the top global power was akin to that of France’s dominance in Europe from the appearance of Richelieu in 1624 to the proclamation of the German empire in 1871.
Italy is the homeland of one of Kissinger’s most nurtured psycho-political practices: Machiavellianism.
As the Turin-based dailyLa Stampa writes in their retrospective on the political player, Kissinger’s memory will be that of “author of the famous phrase ‘power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,’ the legacy of the Machiavellian statesman will continue to be debated among those who see him as either a diplomatic genius or a genius of evil.”
It is precisely that debate – evil, or not evil? – that the Italian obituary of Kissinger disregards. According to Macchiavelli’s political philosophy, in order to even acquire and maintain a political state one must engage in evil, so the question of Kissinger’s stance on the matter is practically null.
What is important for his character, in true Macchiavellian fashion, is that according to Kissinger “the world was a gigantic puzzle in which each piece played an important and distinct role toward a single goal: the U.S. as an international superpower, even at the cost of realpolitik interventions on the world stage judged by many as brutal and illegitimate”.
Russian state news agency Tass features Kissinger's passing on its homepage
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a letter of condolences to Kissinger's widow Nancy, which was posted on the Kremlin website, noting their many encounters in the years after the diplomat was out of public office.
Russian official news outlets made a point of heaping praise on the deceased diplomat for his "vision" and "wisdom," one calling him the ultimate foreign policy "guru." In the post-Cold War era, Kissinger repeatedly emphasized the need for the West to accept Russia's sphere of influence.
Even as the geopolitical chessboard continues to shift, Kissinger's influence may already be extending beyond his life.