When I heard the news Wednesday evening that Henry Kissinger died at age 100, my immediate reaction was "I didn't think he could die."
As an influential presence in U.S. foreign policy for six decades, and one who had advised presidents from John F. Kennedy to Donald Trump, Kissinger was easily one of the most iconic figures of modern history — the first foreign-born (Germany) secretary of state and the first Jew to hold the job, the only person in history to hold the positions of secretary of state and White House national security adviser simultaneously, a pivotal player in the U.S. opening to China under Richard Nixon, the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, the early efforts toward peace between Israel and Egypt, and so much more.
Richard V. Allen advised Nixon on foreign policy in his winning 1968 campaign and, to his great dismay, was passed over as national security adviser in favor of Harvard Prof. Kissinger, who had been advising Nixon's GOP rival and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.
Allen served briefly as his deputy and quit. But upon hearing of Kissinger's death, Allen (who would hold the NSC portfolio under Ronald Reagan) told Newsmax: "Henry Kissinger has been a singular person in our modern history, arriving on the national scene with his incisive study, 'Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy' in the mid-1950s. He has left an indelible mark on events of the last half-century."
The last time I saw Kissinger was at the Financial Times Festival in May 2022. With police holding back protesters who still blamed him for the military coup that overthrew Chile's Marxist President Salvador Allende in 1973 (when Allende promptly committed suicide), Kissinger called for a resumption of dialogue and better relations with Beijing's Communist government.
This was three days before the Chinese-controlled Hong Kong security forces arrested 90-year-old Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen and two other human rights advocates in the city-state that is officially a "special administrative region" of China.
But Kissinger predicted that "the geopolitical situation globally will undergo significant changes after the Ukraine war is over. And it is not natural for China and Russia to have identical interests in all foreseeable problems. I don't think we can generate possible disagreements but I think circumstances will."
Who else, at age 99, and 45 years after he last held office, could offer a new idea and generate headlines, debate and controversy worldwide other than Kissinger?
But the man who once described himself to Playboy interviewer Oriana Fallaci as "the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse," knew as much about publicity as he did foreign policy.
His distinct German accent, imitated by impressionists as well as actors who played him on TV and in films, was a calling card. Everyone knew what Kissinger sounded like — although more than a few close to him suspected he cultivated the accent and noted that his brother, younger than Henry by a year, spoke flawless English. As to why he had no accent, Walter explained "I'm the Kissinger who listens."
Before his marriage to second wife Nancy in 1974, Kissinger crafted the image as a swinger who often had gorgeous Hollywood actresses on his arm, with Jill St. John being a frequent date of his.
Fellow Nixon White House alumnus Pat Buchanan recalled his first meeting with Kissinger in Key Biscayne when, sitting by a pool and working on his tan, he "bemoaned the fact that though he was national security adviser to the most powerful man on earth and had secret papers lying all about him, no beautiful women had tried to seduce him." (A famous Kissingerism is "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac").
"Brilliant, charismatic and with a wonderful wit," wrote Buchanan, "Henry would identify with those to whom he was speaking by taking on their ideological coloration."
He knew, for example, that Buchanan admired columnist James Burnham and his apocalyptic columns in National Review under the title "The Third World War."
Kissinger's first words to his new colleague Buchanan were, "Basically, I think Burnham is right."
But once on the cocktail circuit in Georgetown, according to Buchanan, "he sounds like [liberal Washington Post columnist] Joe Kraft."
As both head of the NSC and later secretary of state and as a private citizen, Kissinger was a high priest of realpolitik — that is, dealing with politics through practical rather than moral considerations.
To conservatives, this meant détente with the Soviet Union, an acceptance of its grip on captive nations in Eastern Europe, and accommodating Communist China at the expense of America's longtime friend Taiwan
And when Reagan challenged then-President Gerald Ford for renomination in 1976, Kissinger and his realpolitik were major targets. A TV spot prepared by the political team of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., portrayed Communist gains throughout the world and featured an actor imitating Kissinger's unmistakable voice.
Reagan himself drew cheers when he declared that although it was against the law for a candidate to say who would be secretary of state before the election, it was not illegal to say "who the secretary of state won't be, and, if I'm elected, it won't be Henry Kissinger."
But when Reagan actually became president in 1981, he named Kissinger to chair a twelve-member commission on how to deal with Soviet meddling in Central America.
Kissinger, Reagan wrote in his memoirs, "urged me to consider imposing a blockade around Nicaragua to send a stronger signal to Moscow that we didn't like what the Soviets were doing in Central America, but a blockade would have been an official act of war. I didn't want a state of war existing between us and Nicaragua – and no one would tell where efforts to blockade Soviet ships bound for Central America would lead."
Martin Klingst of the venerable German weekly Die Zeit recalled to Newsmax a long interview he conducted for a biography about a close friend of Kissinger's in his New York apartment in the fall of 2019.
"Young friend," he said in a cautionary tone to Klingst, "I only have a short time, 20 minutes at most."
But after asking his questions, "he [Kissinger] turned the tables and asked me a hundred questions about Germany and German politics. We sat together for two and a half hours and Kissinger asked and asked. Finally, his wife Nancy and his assistant reminded him that guests were about to arrive for dinner and that he had to fly to India the next morning.
"We had a stimulating and sometimes controversial discussion about the world situation and Germany's position. But regardless of whether you agreed with Henry or not, he enjoyed the exchange. That's how he was, this Henry Kissinger, a little gnarled at first, then more approachable, always curious and inquisitive and always restless to the end."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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