I just read about the death of the U.S. statesman, Henry Kissinger. It wasn’t his death which surprised me; it was his longevity. He was a complicated man, but an important political advisor to several leaders in powerful positions. I first got to know him in 1966 when he began to spend most of his time in Washington, D.C. as a key advisor of Nelson Rockefeller. Kissinger was a member of the faculty of Harvard University. He was asked to join the political caucus forming around Nelson Rockefeller who was preparing for a major role in the Republican Party. Kissinger was brought into the world of active politics because, unbeknownst to the general public, Nelson Rockefeller was autistic. Kissinger was brought in as Rockefeller’s ‘reader.’ All the policy studies, press comments and sourced comments made in his field he read and briefed Nelson. I met Kissinger through the Rockefellers when they asked me to have look at the political manoeuvres of Spyros Agnew, then Governor of Maryland. He was being vetted for the Nixon campaign and, although a Republican, he was being opposed by a racist Democrat from the Eastern Shore. I was then filling in for Walter Reuther as head of the Foreign Policy Commission for the Americans for Democratic Action, preparing the foreign policy plank for the Democrats for the 1968 election. They asked me to go to Baltimore to have a look at Agnew’s group. I went up for a meeting and was appalled by the sheer incompetence and ignorance of the group around Agnew. I reported on this to the Democratic National Committee and the Rockefellers. The Rockefellers were most upset with Kissinger who, despite mainstream Republican distaste for Agnew, moved his support from Nelson to Agnew as a post in the Nixon Administration was promised him.
The ability to act on personal advantage over political loyalty was Kissinger’s leitmotif. I had a friend who was working with Kissinger (Andrew Hamilton) at the NSA who was fired twice in one day by Kissinger because Kissinger ignored the months of careful research by Hamilton on Mutual Balanced Force Reduction to make a statement which contradicted the thrust of current policy and then he changed his mind, firing Hamilton after each mind change. Hamiliton stayed on to be fired a few more times. Kissinger ordered the FBI to conduct a major surveillance of the letters, phones and messages of several members of his staff after this. However, one should not doubt his wit. We were all together for a briefing at the Pentagon one afternoon after learning of Kissinger’s exposure as the man who sanctioned the covert bombing of Cambodia and Laos. In the course of the briefing the Ambassador of Sweden rose to say “Mr. Secretary, the Government of Sweden objects to the illegal bombing of Camdodia and demands that you cease this immediately”. Kissinger rose from his seat and said “Well, that is interesting. I wonder what the Government of Botswana thinks?”
Kissinger continued his career post-government and was frequently sought after for advice. However, most of those who sought this advice were fully aware of the Kissinger policy of self-advancement and coloured his responses accordingly. As Lyndon Johnson often said “That’s Henry. There’s a lot less than meets the eye!”