Disregarding Henry

Disregarding Henry
Both candidates kowtowed to the disgraceful Kissinger. Only Obama cited him correctly.
By Christopher Hitchens
Sept. 28, 2008

How extraordinary to find that, for two straight days, the American media would preoccupy themselves with the question of who had the greater right—in a debate over foreign-policy “experience,” of all things—to quote Henry Kissinger. And how even more extraordinary that it should be the allegedly anti-war Democratic candidate who cited Kissinger with the most deference and, it even seems, the greater accuracy.

It began with that increasingly embarrassing process that might be describable (but probably isn’t) as the on-the-job education of Gov. Sarah Palin. On last Thursday’s CBS Evening News, facing the mild-as-milk questioning of Katie Couric, the thriller from Wasilla should have been relieved when the topics stopped being about the Bush doctrine or the thorny matter of Russian-Alaskan propinquity and could be refocused instead on Sen. Barack Obama’s weakness. But, having duly attacked him for being ready to meet with the dictators of Iran and Syria without “preconditions,” she was reminded that her new friend and adviser Henry Kissinger, furnished to her only that very week by the McCain machine, endorses direct diplomacy with both countries. “Are you saying,” Ms. Couric inquired with complete gravity, “that Henry Kissinger is naive?” The governor’s lame response was to say that: “I’ve never heard Henry Kissinger say, ‘Yeah, I’ll meet with these leaders without preconditions being met.’ ”

This enabled CBS to tack on a post-interview fact-check moment, confirming that Henry Kissinger did indeed favor such talks with such regimes “without preconditions.” This cannot have been hard to do, since only last week at a forum at George Washington University, consisting of himself and four other former secretaries of state, Kissinger had told his audience: “Well, I am in favor of negotiations with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it.” He then added something that can hardly have startled anyone who ever watched him usurping presidential prerogatives during the Nixon and Ford administrations: “I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level” before, as the New York Times put it with uncharacteristic brusqueness, “he trailed off.” Nonetheless, asked if such talks should be “at a very high level right out of the box,” his response was to say, “Initially, yes,” which is as much as to say “yes.” He then said: “I do not believe we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations,” which would appear to justify the use of the term unconditional in conjunction with “very high level.”

“Trailed off” is too kind a phrase even so for the drivel spouted above. Apparently Kissinger believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran is unaware of what we think about its nuclear program, has not studied our position, has not learned anything from its protracted and dishonest negotiations with the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Authority, but might be induced to do so if favored by a sit-down with Condoleezza Rice. Apparently, he does not know that the envoys of the Iranian foreign ministry are only ciphers, easily overridden by the mullah-dominated “Guardian Council” that holds all real power in Tehran. Evidently, he also thinks that Iran is deeply concerned about the maintenance of stability in the region. But then, Kissinger’s last memorable intervention in this area was to tell the readers of the Washington Post op-ed page that neighboring Iraq should be handled with care because it was a Sunni majority country. He has been to some trouble since to erase and rewrite this laughable ignorance on his part from the written record: For a trace of his evasiveness, please check here.

Finally, of course, there is Kissinger’s habitual fondness for any form of dictatorship. To have been the friend of Pinochet, Videla, and Suharto, while almost simultaneously fawning on Brezhnev and especially on Mao, is to have been a secretary of state who was soft on fascism—and soft on communism, too! Unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad and Assad? Why not? They are the sort of people with whom he (and Kissinger Associates, the firm that introduces despots to corporations) prefers to do business.

Thus for McCain, a full day and night after the exposure of his shaky running mate to such ridicule, to make the same mistake himself in Oxford, Miss., was really something to see. It was even worse if you heard it on radio, as I initially did, than if you saw it on television. (You can hear that geezerish whistle in his pipes much more ominously than when you are looking at his elderly face.) Anyway, on the same question of “without preconditions,” he walked into Obama’s tersely phrased riposte, which was to quote Kissinger in precisely the same way as Couric had already done. McCain looked and perhaps felt a fool at this point, and may have been only slightly cheered up when Kissinger told the Weekly Standard after the debate that he after all doesn’t, at least not for this precise moment, “recommend presidential high-level talks with Iran.” Which, when compared with his earlier remarks, makes it seem that he has no idea what he currently thinks and should either be apologized to by, or should apologize to, either Sarah Palin or Katie Couric, or conceivably both.

But the true farce and disgrace is that this increasingly glassy-eyed old blunderer and war criminal, who has been wrong on everything since he first authorized illicit wiretapping for the Nixon gang, should be cited as an authority by either nominee, let alone by both of them. Meanwhile, I repeat my question from two weeks ago: Does Sen. Obama appreciate, or do his peacenik fans and fundraisers realize, just how much war he is promising them if he is elected? Once again on Sept. 26 in Mississippi—at the end of a week when American and Pakistani forces had engaged in their first actual direct firefight—he repeated his intention of ignoring the Pakistani frontier when it came to hot pursuit of al-Qaida. Out-hawked on this point, as he was nearly out-doved on the Kissinger one, McCain was moderate by comparison. Obama went on to accuse Iran of having built more centrifuges than most people think it has. This allegation has a confrontational logic of its own, above and beyond the minor issues of preconditions and the “level” of diplomacy. I think Obama is to be praised for doing this—always assuming that he does in fact know what he is doing. But as we all press bravely on, the debate would look more intelligent, and be conducted on a higher plane, if it excluded a discredited pseudo-expert who has trampled on human rights, vandalized the U.S. Constitution, deceived Congress, left a trail of disaster and dictatorship behind him, and deserves to be called not a hawk or a dove but a vulture.

24 Replies to “Disregarding Henry”

  1. JR-
    Didn’t look at the author of this until after I got to the end and thought to myself, I have to dig up and send on to you that article from the Atlantic wherein Hitchens flayed Kissinger. Obama must be back snorting the snow again.

  2. Hitchens! Stop, stop, I can’t take it any longer! Waterboarding is preferred…

    F*ck him! And, f*ck his war between cultures bullsh*t. Yes, Kissinger is a war criminal. Yes, Bush et al. are war criminals. Obama has yet to become a war criminal. So shall we look at our current war criminal. “No nation building.” Is that what we got? If you ask me to bet between McCain and Obama, on who is more likely to push the button and push it hard, I bet McCain. In fact I put it all on McCain.

    Did I say f*ck Hitchens? Just curious. BTW, I am far from a peacenik. I’d sooner place skulls on stakes than lose at miniature golf. So again, f*ck Hitchens and his neocon friends lacking follow through…

  3. As if Massachusetts is going to be a red, or even pink state, light blue even. JR, let’s all write in Alfred E. Newman! It won’t make any difference.

    “and in his obituary of Ronald Reagan called the man the stupidest president this country has every had.”

    Well, maybe second stupidest. We’ve really got a moron in there now. Good thing Cheney knows how to govern–NOT.

  4. Any bets on the DOW dive point spread if elite rescue version Plan B (or is it Plan 9 for Earth?) goes down in flames manana?

  5. “f*ck Hitchens and his neocon friends lacking follow through…”

    Wa’ chu talking about? Does Hitchens have a problem with his swing or something? Let’s get the bitch a box of naked lady tees, an air conditioned cart, and a few well placed lessons with the resident pro.


    As to the alleged war between cultures… don’t you think at this point that it’s more about (the other meme of) energy security? Then again, if your culture is about preventing us from buying your shit with funny money, well then maybe we DO have a problem.

  6. I’m not wavering on O really. I think that it would be stupid for him to discuss specifics when nobody else is gong to do so. I know what I’m getting, in the same way that anybody who bothered to read W’s words prior to the election in 2000 knew what they were getting. Starve the beast! Mission accomplished. Does anybody have any comments on the fact that this was his goal? We are exactly were he wanted us to be…

    Here’s what I’m voting for: higher taxes (we want more with less!), diplomacy over intervention (the opposite of neocons), figuring out health care (somewhere between nationalization and partnership), and the ability to say the words “global warming” without a smirk. Am I wrong? So, I am voting O. I was responsible for the health insurance in my business. Fucking ick.

    Hitchens and Sullivan were for a war without a definition. Somewhere east. I find that ridiculous, childish, and foolish. There was no amount of planning in the world that would turn anything outside of Afghanistan into a success. Remember where Bin Laden got his start. As I have a son of age, it truly pisses me off that anyone near my age is exempt from having to go themselves. In my mind Hitchens is no different than many of the neocons insulated from their decisions.

    He has always been entertaining. Tis true. That does not remove the “ass” label. I am always tired of comments like peacenik. My feeling is that you want to pull a trigger get ready to be spattered with blood. Having grown up in the city, you don’t waste energy on anything but saving yourself from losing to a psychopath. Plenty of friends are no more without the need for a clash of cultures.

    Holmes, I agree that it was always about oil. And, we will increasingly find the purchase of goods problematic. Unfortunately, we have a tired horse and have a long way to go.

    Sorry, I have no idea how the Typepad filters work…

  7. “Between zero and 10,000.”

    I like that! I still think that 10,500-ish is bottom pending catastrophe. What was bottom in 2000? 7,500? Add some inflation, 8 years, and the base seems appropriate barring meltdown.

    The traders are freaked. That I have never seen…

  8. BTW, reading the article again without the venom coursing through my veins, I have a few comments.

    Citing your opponent’s varying opinions is not supporting your opponent’s war criminal advisor. Sooner or later opinions will be in agreement regardless of your foe. Stating the commonality is a childish rhetorical scheme in a debate. Likewise, Hitchens is digging for fodder here. Do I believe that Obama has much of anything in common with Kissinger? Nope. Does Hitchens? “I think Obama is to be praised for doing this—always assuming that he does in fact know what he is doing…”

    He simply desires a higher plane of conversation. One that the America of today is incapable of having. Hitchens feels for Kissinger in the same manner I feel for him. Talk about venom!

  9. I was an obnoxious evangelical in high school (1974-7), bought the whole rapture shebang, figured it was “any minute now.” We (me & my fellow OEs) spent a lot of time talking about how it would happen, and especially who was going to be the Antichrist. Kissinger’s name came up quite often during those discussions.

    Like Nick, I’m voting Obama because I know what I’ll get (pretty much what Nick said), and especially *not* voting McCain because I know what I’ll get (four more years of Bush, or worse: 2 more years of Bush, and 2 years of Cheney in Drag).

    If you were an Apple fan, you would realize that Obama has a Reality Distortion Field (RDF) like Steve Jobs. Rayguns had one too. I’ve thought of Obama as the Dems’ version of Reagan; it’s not what he himself brings to the table so much as what he’ll enable.

  10. Nicholas, thanks for your further comments. I get where you’re coming from — in the refreshingly old school notion of a commentator perhaps being physically accountable, directly and personally, for what he says. Yes, only those capable of swinging a sword would have standing to comment on matters that could possibly bring about a rumble. A lifetime of learning necessarily silenced once one can no longer vault onto the back of a horse. There is your garden, old man. Tend to it. An intractable and tragic squandering of tribal resources in my view, if indeed industrial humans may be characterized as members of a tribe.

    This free speech thing (who would have ever thought it possible or even desirable?) sure can be tricky.

  11. Hey, those old Greeks went off to war. Didn’t Socrates barely escape with his life at 40?

    I simply find the pounding for war, a war that such people seem to feel is a defining moment in our history, as something demanding more than words. Hell, people can’t even tolerate a tax increase let alone actual combat. Tis truly sad.

    I am for mandatory national service of some form or another, unless one is truly brilliant.

  12. Yes, I agree. Absolutely, a progressive tax levied to fully fund the Iraq excursion would have much more rapidly and vividly brought things into focus, engaging far more people directly in the debate, with everyone — a true home front being established — surrendering their respective financial and/or corporal pound of flesh to the process.

    I’ll have to revisit and parse Hitchen’s writings with greater care to see if he is truly/unequivocally pounding for war.

    Hyrdocarbon Liberator is taking fire. Cover the left flank, Hitch! Praise the functional equivalent of the lord and pass the typewriter.

    Unless one is truly brilliant… good one.

  13. Professor Geoman! What are you doing here in this trench? [Sound of German 88 shell bursts in background, ground rumbles and shakes]

    Aren’t you Hitchens, the writer, you were in my undergraduate marine resources class, correct?

    Yes it’s me, I’m a war correspondent (drafted), but sir, why are you here at your age?

    Well, I was going to retire, but instead received this written test, and sadly for me, I only scored at bright, not truly brilliant level. [Boom! Sounds increase as 88s move closer to trench area, ground shakes violently]

  14. Sadly, most of us are not brilliant. I suppose the question would be, would it be better to not waste two years of such person’s life because they could actually make a relevant contribution… I don’t mean to be snarky simply to say, that placing Einstein in harms way isn’t good for anybody.

  15. LBJ had a similar program that I enjoyed the benefits of during part of the Vietnam War. I had a IIS college student deferment from the draft from 1968 – 1972. To continue to qualify, you had to maintain a B or better GPA, which I did. I think the deferment extended into graduate school.

    In 1973, Nixon revamped the draft and went to a national lottery system. My number was 179 ( a number you never forget). Our county draft board didn’t reach that high that year (low 120s), and then your selection lot was placed at the end of each new draft year lottery draw. It was all over by 1975, as I was finishing my M.S.

    It was just another reason to study hard–you flunk, you die.

  16. “…Obama as the Dems’ version of Reagan; it’s not what he himself brings to the table so much as what he’ll enable.”

    An idealogue. Except trashing the place was probably an easier change-quest to fulfill, as compared to building universal social greatness with an empty checking account and boxes of unpaid bills.

    And I don’t think Reagan was the stupidest, rather it was the onset of dementia that steadily eroded cognitive abilities, increasingly irrational and magnified, distorting his ideology, and people around him taking full advantage too. Toward the end of his office he became a twisted Charleton Heston-like caricature.

    Don’t know a lot about Hitchens, but as a polemic he seems to be the professional hit man polemic. He has dedicated his craft to targeting conventional thought and herd mentality. It seems whatever is going on in the group-think he loves to come ripping into it from the side and shake things up. This is his challenge. He is a bastard and he doesn’t care. Like OEO sort of. Lots of writers try to do this, but Hitchens is among the most talented and brazen. I think this is probably useful if it makes people stop and think about why they believe what they believe. His attack on the reputation of Mother Teresa was pretty over the top though IMO, even if he was right.

  17. “Obama as the Dems’ version of Reagan!”

    Dear god, the man taught at the University of Chicago. Read what he says. You may not agree with it, but don’t tell me he’s a blank slate. The man ain’t no man-child like our current dear leader.

    As I said, the current situation is exactly what I expected out of Mommy Bush’s boy. Starve the beast. Nobody ever comments on that! Why. Can somebody defend this little mother f*cker.

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