Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Day That Will Not Be Celebrated In Saigon

Today is Henry Kissinger's birthday.

I have a question. Kissinger is renowned the world over as an expert on diplomacy. So what did he ever do in his diplomatic career that constitutes a success for the United States?

The linked Wikipedia article cites several examples. The first is detente with the Soviets. Since this "peace process" involved a bunch of treaties that the Soviets cheated on, and didn't contribute to the demise of Communism, I can't really see what was so great about it.

Kissinger engaged in a critical secret conference with Zhou Enlai prior to Nixon's historic visit, laying the groundwork for our semi-normalized relations with Red China. I'm not sure what the US gets out of this other than another trade partner (which is not a trivial thing), but on the surface it does seem that the opening of China influenced the nation to become a better place for the average Chinese citizen than it would have otherwise, even if ever so modestly.

He also negotiated the end of the Yom Kippur War:

Though Israel regained the territory it had lost, Kissinger pressured the Israelis to cede land to the Arabs, contributing to the first phases of a lasting Israeli-Egyptian peace. The move saw a warming in U.S.–Egyptian relations, bitter since the '50s, as the country moved away from its former pro-Soviet stance and into a close partnership with the United States. The peace was finalized in 1978 when U.S. president Jimmy Carter mediated the Camp David Accords, during which Israel returned the Sinai in exchange for an Egyptian agreement to recognize Israeli statehood and end hostility.

This appears to be a net benefit - Egypt switched sides in the Cold War, and our ally Israel got peace and official recognition from the Egyptian government. But I do have some questions. Was there a better alternative to Kissinger's plan? Did Egypt's defection make a significant difference in the Cold War, or in Mideast tensions?

Kissinger did foster favorable relations between the US and Chile after the Pinochet coup, but Jimmy Carter put an end to that for the duration of his presidency. At least Carter's alienation of Chile didn't foster totalitarian revolution as his alienation of Iran and Nicaragua did.

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