There is an unsolved riddle in the career of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose successes were equivocal and whose rhetoric was unique for its twists and turns. Kissinger's record is strangely mixed; for it was Professor Kissinger, the "hawk of hawks," that talked Nixon into unilaterally destroying America's biological arsenal in 1969. He prepared the way for Soviet nuclear superiority with the ABM and SALT treaties. He lobbied for a disadvantageous cease-fire agreement in Vietnam. He manipulated the collapse of Rhodesia, which afterward declared itself a Marxist-Leninist state. Then he misadvised President Ford when the communists once more broke the peace in Vietnam so that the whole of Indochina fell, with millions perishing in the aftermath. And finally, as if to sow even greater confusion into U.S. policy, it was Kissinger who lent intellectual legitimacy and prestige to Nixon's China policy.
To demonstrate Kissinger's bureaucratic method it is only necessary to look back to the war in Vietnam. Consider the following incident, reported by General Bruce Palmer, one of our top generals in Vietnam. "An otherwise uneventful day was interrupted by a phone call from the White House in the person of an irate Henry Kissinger," wrote Palmer. "He has just received word from Chinese authorities ... claiming that U.S. aircraft on a daylight combat mission over Vietnam had violated Chinese air space and territory."
Kissinger's call came during the famous LINEBACKER air offensive against North Vietnam, which culminated in the Christmas bombings of December 1972. According to Palmer, "Kissinger seemed to be very angry and upset, demanding that commanders concerned be roundly upbraided and threatened that 'heads vould roll' among senior military leaders if it should happen again."
Kissinger had accepted the Chinese allegations about U.S. air attacks without waiting to hear the American side of the story. Gen. Palmer later investigated the incident, discovering that "Chinese radar was probably out of calibration...." In other words, our pilots did not violate Chinese air space. "In retrospect," wrote Palmer, "it has occurred to me that Kissinger's anger may have been more for show than for effect."
But why did Henry Kissinger put on this "show"?
If we examine other famous outbursts we will find that Kissinger's anger suggests a curious pattern -- like the time he pushed Nixon into going after Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. At first Nixon did not care about Ellsberg. Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, later wrote: "After all, the Papers covered events which had occurred during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, and they weren't really all that important anyway."
But Kissinger nonetheless goaded Nixon to action by saying: "It shows you're a weakling, Mr. President."
Haldeman tells us: "Henry really knew how to get to Nixon."
Some observers think that Kissinger planned his tantrums carefully, and knew how to push the right buttons, like when he waved the word "weakling" in front of Nixon. One has to wonder what Kissinger was after. Bob Haldeman probably guessed the answer when he wrote: "Henry had a problem because Ellsberg had been one of his 'boys.'"
Ellsberg had lectured at Kissinger's Harvard seminars. Ellsberg, therefore, was a stain that had to be wiped away. It was a calculated thing, an image problem. Kissinger had to divert attention from his past relations with a subversive element. Given this, General Palmer was right to compare Kissinger's Vietnam outbursts to "a show." And Bob Haldeman saw things the same way. In fact, it was not simply a matter of fake temper tantrums. Kissinger seemed to possess multiple fake personalities and multiple fake points of view. For example, James Reston wrote in the New York Times that "Mr. Kissinger ... has said nothing in public about the bombing in North Vietnam, which he undoubtedly opposes." In reaction to this, Haldeman wrote: "Nixon was furious.... I talked to Henry.... He hotly denied that he had said anything about the bombing to anyone. In particular, he vehemently claimed he had never talked to the Times columnist."
Was Kissinger being devious?
Haldeman knew that "Reston's story implied that he had spoken to Kissinger." So Haldeman did some checking. And guess what? Kissinger had conversed with Reston. Haldeman later wrote: " I confronted Henry: 'You told us you didn't give Reston an interview but in fact you did talk to him,' and he said, 'Yes, but that was only on the telephone.'"
The many-sided Kissinger was not an easy man to penetrate. CBS executive Frank Shakespeare said: "Henry Kissinger can meet with six different people, smart as hell, learned, knowledgeable, experienced, of very different views, and meet with them back to back, and persuade all six of them that the real Henry Kissinger is just where they are."
It is no wonder that President Nixon harbored doubts about Kissinger. But these doubts never led anywhere. Despite all the evidence of Kissinger's many-sidedness, Nixon never saw Kissinger as dangerous. About this, Machiavelli once wrote:
Men in general judge by their eyes rather than by their hands; because everyone is in a position to watch, few are in a position to come in close touch with you. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are. And those few dare not gainsay the many....
Consider the way Kissinger talked to Nixon, as opposed to Reston: I'm a hawk, Mr. President. I'm for smashing Ellsberg. I'm for bombing the North. I'm for playing one communist country against another communist country. Notice how Le Duc Tho grates on my nerves. Listen to my anti-communist outbursts. Listen to me, Mr. President. It's time to sign a treaty with the Soviets. It's time to sign a cease-fire agreement with the North Vietnamese. It's time to bolster Red China. Don't miss this opportunity Mr. President. Don't be a weakling.
And Haldeman, after serving time in jail, wrote:
We knew Henry as the 'hawk of hawks' in the Oval office. But in the evenings, a magical transformation took place. Touching glasses at a party with his liberal friends, the belligerent Kissinger would suddenly become a dove -- according to the reports that reached Nixon.
Henry was fooling people. But what was Henry's game? Was it ambition, power, patriotism? Haldeman relates the following curious story about Kissinger:
I'd get out of the President's office almost every day around one o'clock and have lunch with Higby in my office. About that time, Henry would drop in to find out what was happening.... But he also tried to read everything of interest on my desk. He would take a ten-minute 'Great Circle' route around the office as he was talking, meanwhile reading everything he could on the desk and conference table. We used to have fun with him because we knew what he was doing. We'd deliberately place letters or documents that looked very interesting in an exposed area. Then, when Henry got there, Hibgy would take his lunch tray and set it on top of the paper, as if by accident, just as Henry started to read it. So Henry would move around, and we'd always stay one step ahead of him in covering things up. And everyone kept a straight face.
From this we can see that Kissinger had a greedy appetite for interesting documents. But there is nothing unusual about this. After all, Kissinger used to work for U.S. Army intelligence -- which was brought out during a Kissinger press conference held on August 14, 1975.
Reporter: Mr. Secretary, we received a report that a Colonel General Michael Goleniewski, who was a Polish Army intelligence officer ... had identified a list of KGB and GRU agents and officers who have since been arrested, tried and convicted. The General ... also identified you, Mr. Kissinger, as having worked for a Soviet intelligence network -- code named ODRA -- headquartered in West Germany during World War II, at the same time you were a U.S. Army counter-interrogator and instructor in a military intelligence school.... Is this true? And, if not, how do you explain your name being on General Goleniewski's list?
Kissinger: I don't know who Colonel Goleniewski is, but I think he should be given the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Is it possible that Henry Kissinger had never heard of Goleniewski? -- a man responsible for exposing so many Communist spies; a man who has been talked about and gossiped about in the highest circles? But Kissinger said he had not heard of him. And even though Kissinger arranges the President's daily intelligence briefing, there is nothing further to add.
Goleniewski? Who is that?
It just so happens that Goleniewski furnished Western intelligence services with thousands of secret documents and the names of hundreds of East Bloc agents, exposing spy rings in England, Sweden, West Germany, France and Denmark. Haldeman wrote: "And it always amused me that Henry ... was constantly worried that his ... telephone was tapped."
Why would Henry Kissinger worry about a phone-tap?
Maybe he was afraid somebody would notice that when the Defense Department ordered the generals to do X, Dr. Kissinger would call up and order the opposite of X. Gen. Palmer wrote about this phenomenon, stating:
Over time, [Gen.] Abrams developed a unique way of coping with this problem. In his living quarters at Tan Son Nhut airbase, not far from HQ MACV, Abrams's routine practice in the evening was to stay up very late sipping scotch and water and listening to Wagnerian operas played in stereo at maximum volume. He would sit back in his chair for hours without speaking a word while soaked in the music. He explained that in this way he was better prepared to respond to the inevitable urgent and sometimes contradictory messages that daily arrived from Washington, and that it helped him maintain his sanity. When I visited Vietnam I stayed with him, but found it difficult to remain awake so late and would go to bed with the wild strains of the 'Ride of the Valkyries' thundering against my eardrums.
And if mere phone calls failed to penetrate the thundering Wagnerian strains, Kissinger could always send his favorite pest, Al Haig, to buzz in Abrams's ear; to plague his staff, even conquering the Valkyries. In this respect Haig was Kissinger's ideal co-conspirator. And due to his exceeding usefulness, Col. Haig quickly became Gen. Haig. According to Palmer:
When Nixon became president, Haig was a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who had been selected for promotion to colonel but not yet promoted. Initially the Army nominated several other colonels to Kissinger for the job -- men with much wider experience and broader background than Haig, but Kissinger rejected them all. Finally Kissinger made it clear that Haig, and no one else was his specific choice for the job.
Thereafter, Haig's rise in the army was meteoric. He was promoted quickly to brigadier general and then major general, skipped the rank of the lieutenant general, and four years later, in January 1973, was promoted by the president to full general -- four stars." But why? What was so special about Al Haig?
We ought to wonder that Kissinger would pick a man he had never met over others that were offered to him. General Palmer happened upon the reason, and explained it as follows:
I was also getting the benefit at this time of F. G. ("Fritz") Kraemer, a special assistant to the Army's DCSOPS, whose specialty was interpreting important international developments and the foreign defense policy implications for the United States. Kraemer and Kissinger, both German born, had served together in the U.S. Army (Intelligence Section, 84th Infantry Division) in Germany during World War II and were old, close friends. Kraemer had been instrumental in having Haig assigned to the NSC staff under Kissinger. Kraemer was much older and in many ways had been Kissinger's mentor.
These nuances of fact, and the way the pieces fit together, place Kissinger's massive program of unilateral disarmament and retreat in an altogether new light. There is rich ore here in the old Army Intelligence connections -- like Hal Sonnenfeldt, a key Kissinger appointee who has since been accused of turning over secret information to "agents of a foreign power."
Another Kissinger help-mate (though he was not from the old Army Intelligence days) was Jesse MacKnight, a man in charge of White House security checks who was accused of spying for the communists. MacKnight was instrumental in helping Kissinger get William O. Hall approved as Director General of the U.S. Foreign Service, even though Hall had been identified as a security risk with long-time communist affiliations. After Hall there was James S. Sutterlin, another security risk.
From these misadventures it would seem that Kissinger's "circle of associates" included some rather curious people. Did Kissinger favor individuals with shady left-wing backgrounds? Did he promote communists within the State Department and the National Security Council staff?
And why did Kissinger withhold from Congress five intelligence reports on Soviet treaty violations? But not to worry, Kissinger was a hawk. He was, in Haldeman's words, "the hawk of hawks."
In 1971 people at the CIA wanted to investigate Kissinger. James Angleton, the chief of CIA counterintelligence, was already bothered by Kissinger's behavior. "He [Kissinger] refused CIA debriefings," said Angleton in a later interview. "We were worried that he would inadvertently say something. At first I thought it was arrogance. Later I began to suspect the worst."
Soon, however, the investigation of Kissinger was dropped. It became a political hot potato. By that time Kissinger had gained Nixon's total confidence. Later, a leading CIA counterintelligence official, Leonard V. McCoy, would suspect Kissinger in an incident involving the arrest and execution of an American spy -- code named TRIGON -- in Russia. The incriminating piece of evidence against Kissinger involved an NSA intercept from the Soviet Embassy in Washington. It was a cable sent by Ambassadaor Anatoly Dobrynin to Moscow, referring to "advice" given by Professor Kissinger.
Because of this incident, McCoy wondered if Kissinger was a Soviet agent. He went to his colleague, David Sullivan and asked: "Am I crazy to think this about Kissinger?" Sullivan did not think McCoy was crazy at all. Later Sullivan would say that McCoy "shared with me ... his damage assessment on TRIGON. What he shared with me was his punch line. His punch line said that the only way to describe Kissinger's actions ... was treason."
In this light, we ought to return to the question of Col. Haig, who so suddenly rose out of the Vietnam mists. Haig was, like Kissinger, a "hawk of hawks," winking at the hardliners while steering a serpentine course toward an "indecent interval." Haig liked to a good laugh, too, and had a great store of jokes. For example, he liked to tease Haldeman for being a "Nazi," and kept explaining how the Jews were out to "get" Nazis. But Haldeman never got the joke.
Leon Jaworski, the famous Watergate Special Prosecutor, once called Kissinger's creature, Al Haig, "our thirty-seventh-and-a-half President." Jaworski, however, was not joking. Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. said that Haig was "extremely ambitious." After Nixon's resignation, while Gerald Ford addressed a cheering joint session of Congress, Jules Witcover noticed Haig in the VIP gallery of the House and noted that Haig was "in a sense applauding his own deft achievement of presidential transition never contemplated in quite that way by the Founding Fathers." Witcover said it was "a bloodless presidential coup engineered by an army general, a man who had gravitated to the very right hand of one president and who, when that president fell, saw to a swift removal of the body...."
As it happens, there is a book that attempts to show Haig's role in Watergate. The book is entitled Silent Coup. In it, Haig is depicted as the man who overthrew Richard Nixon. Why? Because Haig was the secret creature of the Joint Chiefs, working to thwart detente. But this is wrong. General Haig was the creature of Kissinger�s agenda. The ever-observant General Palmer pointed out:
Had Watergate not occurred, there was at least a slim chance for South Vietnam to obtain adequate U.S. aide and to hold its own despite the grave disadvantage of the cease-fire agreement.
Wherefore this grave disadvantage in the cease-fire agreement? What about this slim chance for South Vietnam? In the spring of 1975 Soviet-built tanks rumbled through Saigon while the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge took control of Phenom Penh. The allies of Red China and Soviet Russia had won, submerging Indochina in tyranny and terror. True, we had extricated ourselves from our commitment. We had retreated in disgrace -- thanks, in part, to Kissinger's "brilliant" policy of exploiting the Sino-Soviet rivalry. And how do we account for this "brilliant" policy that led to millions of deaths? Here we find a mystery.
But from Dzerzhinsky Square, at the other end of the Cold War chessboard, America's brilliant failure might be counted as communism's most brilliant victory.