Henry Kissinger: An Unpunished Criminal

China alone from the BRICS world has mourned Kissinger’s death. He was very helpful in organising US President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing and the political-economic rapprochement that soon followed.

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Henry Kissinger speaking about Vietnam during a White House news briefing in Washington on October 27, 1972. | Photo Credit: AP

At last. He is finally gone. The Rolling Stone headline says it all: “Henry Kissinger, War Criminal Beloved by America’s Ruling Class, Finally Dies.” He was a world-class criminal and, as in better times, the late Verso author Christopher Hitchens said in his excellent polemical book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, many offences big and small had to be laid at his door. I debated him on CBS in 1965 and wrote an account of it in Streetfighting Years:

“The debate began and ended fairly predictably. None of us were impressed with Kissinger, whose performance was dull and mediocre… When Kissinger repeated a well-worn fiction blaming the Vietnamese for refusing peace by not agreeing to negotiate, I responded by referring to this remark as obscene and asked whether the United States would have negotiated with the Japanese a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some of the Harvard people had applauded, while Kissinger had stared across the screen at me in horror. I suppose that in a highly protected ideological environment, equations of the sort I had made were too wild even to gain admittance….

“A few weeks later, after the Christmas break, I was amazed to receive hundreds of letters from the United States…An overwhelming majority of the letters supported the stance I had taken…The bulk of the mail was from school and university students, who wrote to express their amazing (or so it seemed at the time) hostility to their own government’s war in Asia. This was the first concrete sign, as far as I was concerned, that something was changing in the United States. In later years I often wondered how many of the 14-16 year olds who had written to me and to whom I had replied at length had graduated to join SDS or the mushrooming Committees to End the War in Vietnam.”

Crimes in Indo-China and Chile

Kissinger’s principal crimes were in Indo-China. He endlessly delayed peace talks, suggested, organised, and defended extending the war to Kampuchea and the US supported the crazed Pol Pot regime that emerged. For his role in Indo-China, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by the Cold War scumbags who ran the organisation. To cover up, they awarded it jointly to Le Duc Tho, the prime negotiator for Vietnam, who refused with a very dignified statement.

In Chile, as is now well-known, Kissinger was centrally involved in helping plot the Augusto Pinochet coup d’etat that unfolded on September 11, 1973, and toppled the popular socialist government of President Salvador Allende, who was gunned down by soldiers outside the La Moneda palace. It was not yet the custom for the US (aka “international community”) to describe these events as “regime changes” to defend “humanitarian values”. Tension organised by Kissinger, Pinochet, and the generals was leading to a confrontation. What was to be done? A huge debate erupted on the Chilean Left. From Cuba, Fidel Castro sent a private message to Salvador Allende:

“…and I can imagine that tensions must be high, and that you want to gain time to improve the balance of power in case fighting breaks out and, if possible, find a way to continue the revolutionary process without civil strife, avoiding any historical responsibility for what may happen. These are praiseworthy objectives. But if the other side, whose objectives we are not able to judge from here, continues to carry out a perfidious and irresponsible policy, demanding a price which is impossible for Socialist Unity to pay, which is quite likely, don’t forget the extraordinary strength of the Chilean working class and the firm support it has always given you in difficult moments…it can block those who are organising a coup, maintain the support of the fence-sitters, impose its conditions, and decide the fate of Chile…”

Kissinger got there first. The more liberal Army Chief, Carlos Pratts, was assassinated, Pinochet put in place, the coup set in motion. Neoliberal economics under a brutal dictatorship was a perfect model for that period. The total casualties of socialists, communists, and leftist intellectuals ran into thousands.

Elsewhere in the world, the US, with Kissinger in the lead, backed apartheid South Africa and the despatch of South African troops to crush the liberation forces in Angola. Here, they suffered a defeat. Cuba sent in troops to help the Angolans. The first major defeat for the white regime in Pretoria came in Angola. Some suggest it was Kissinger who suggested that Israel send the state in Pretoria the know-how to make nukes, which it did. It would certainly be in character for him to have done so, but I have yet to see evidence of his direct involvement in “Operation Samson”.

Involvement in South Asia

In South Asia, with India already possessing nukes in the 1970s, the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government in Pakistan was determined to get its own. Libya agreed to fund it. The US got worried, not so much for India as for Israel, which saw this as an “Arab bomb”. In his death-cell memoir If I am Assassinated, Bhutto wrote that during a visit to Pakistan in 1976, Kissinger threatened him mafia-style: Unless Bhutto desisted from the bomb, “we’ll make a horrible example out of you”. A senior Pakistani Foreign Office staffer present at the meeting confirmed this years later, in January 2008, in an interview to Business Recorder:

“…Kissinger waited for a while, and said in a cultured tone, “Basically I have come not to advise, but to warn you. The USA has numerous reservations about Pakistan’s atomic programme; therefore you have no way out except agreeing to what I have to say.” Bhutto smiled and asked, “Suppose I refuse, then what?” Kissinger became dead serious. He locked his eyes on Bhutto’s and spewed out deliberately, “Then we will make a horrible example out of you.” Bhutto’s face flushed….”

On the night of July 4-5, 1977, a US-greenlit coup toppled Bhutto’s government. In September 1977, the large crowds greeting Bhutto nationwide scared the military; he was arrested and charged with murder. At 2 a.m. on April 4, 1979, after two lengthy and controversial trials (a 4-3 Supreme Court verdict is usually enough to avoid execution), Bhutto was hanged. Yet another successful Kissinger operation.

Kissinger was now worshipped in Foggy Bottom, regularly invited to the White House. His verbal advice was sought about both Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Did he suggest that they both be bumped off? No evidence, but it is not unlikely. Indira Gandhi was hostile to the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship and Mujib had moved too close to the Soviet Union. So, why not? One of the Sikh bodyguards who killed Indira Gandhi had visited Sikh training camps outside Lahore. A triple murder would be quite an achievement for the once-modest Harvard professor. A year before the Soviet Union collapsed, Kissinger had advised the White House that even if the result was a “Pinochet-style dictatorship”, the new system could still work.

US-China relations

China alone from the BRICS world has mourned Kissinger’s death. He was very helpful in organising US President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing and the political-economic rapprochement that soon followed. In recent times, he was critical of the Cold War tone towards Beijing. A decade ago, he was invited to The Nation’s annual party in New York. He was reluctant to attend, but could not resist mingling with the enemy. A friend of mine overheard him saying to Katrina van den Heuvel, the American editor and publisher: “Strange being at a party where I know that most of the other people here think I’m a war criminal.” Probably the truest sentence the man ever spoke.

Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali has written more than two-dozen books on world history and politics—the most recent of which are The Extreme Centre, The Dilemmas of Lenin and The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan—as well as the novels of his Islam Quintet and scripts for the stage and screen. He is a long-standing member of the Editorial Committee of New Left Review and lives in London.

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